The Office of the Sheriff is over 1,000 years old and has a long and interesting history. As far back as the beginning of English Law, the Office was the center of local administration of justice. In England, groups of hundreds banned together and were known as “Shires”, similar to a modern day county.
The word “Sheriff” itself came about in an unusual manner. Originally the word “Reeve” meant an administrative official who had the general duties of an overseer or bailiff. His authority extended over various territorial areas, sometimes called his “Bailiwick”. His title was often used in combination to indicate his jurisdiction. The Reeve of a Borough was called a Borough-Reeve, The Reeve of a Church, a Church-Reeve, the Reeve of a Shire, the Shire-Reeve.
Eventually, a Shire-Reeve was shortened to Sheriff, and the word survives to this day. The Sheriff’s principal function in the earliest days seems to have been to protect the interests of both the King and people against the powerful barons. He executed the King’s Writs and presided in the county court and the hundred court.
The Posse Comitatus is the entire body of people who may be summoned by the Sheriff to assist in preserving the public peace or in executing any legal precept, which is forcibly opposed. If a criminal or escaped suspect was at large, it was the Sheriff’s responsibility to give the alarm: the “hue and cry”, as it was called. The term is still used today, although almost invariably the comitatus is dropped, and we speak of the posse, or the Sheriff’s Posse.
In the early days, people ruled themselves through the election of tithingmen and reeves, but eventually the power to appoint Sheriff’s was invested in the Crown. In certain sections, powerful landowners became allied with the Sheriff, and they attempted to make the Office hereditary.
In that period, the Office was on par with that of a member of Parliament, with the Sheriff being a Lord and holding a title. For a time, the duties of the Sheriff included the collection of taxes within the Shire. The Sheriff also accompanied the judges of the assizes when they held court. Assizes are periodical sessions of the Superior Courts in the Counties of England, held for the purposes of administering justice in trials.
The Pilgrims brought the Office of the Sheriff to America. The New Hampshire State Constitution, Part II, Article 71 Adopted June 2, 1784, provides for the election of Sheriffs.
Belknap County Sheriffs since 1900:
1900-1903 Sheriff Charles F. Locke
1903-1917 Sheriff Lester Philbrook
1917-1944 Sheriff Frederick D. Elliott
1945-1956 Sheriff Homer L. Crockett
1956-1972 Sheriff Rodney S. Crockett
1972-1984 Sheriff Donald C. Alden
1985-1990 Sheriff Robert F. Gilbert
1990-2002 Sheriff Stephen G. Hodges
2002-2007 Sheriff Dan Collis
2007-2016 Sheriff Craig Wiggin