Sheriff's Office History
The beginning of the Sheriff's Office is somewhat sketchy. What records that are available are incomplete. To the best of our knowledge, these are the events that took place and the order in which they happened.
The first law enforcement person for the Town of Fredericksburg (Fredericksburg's Charter was for a town not a city) was called a "Town Sergeant". The records show that on March 30th, 1782 the town legislative body elected Mr. John Legg as the Sergeant of the Town. Mr. Legg's duties encompassed law enforcement duties as well as a few other responsibilities delegated to him by the alderman of the town. One of the duties of the Town Sergeant was to oversee and administer punishment for crimes. A particularly interesting bit of information is the use of the "Dunking Stool". This device was like a chair strapped to a long pole attached to a fulcrum. The purpose was to strap the guilty, or sometimes innocent, into the device and dunk them in a body of water. The Rappahannock River was usually the body of water that was used. This punishment caused great discomfort and sometimes even death, although this was deemed to be unintentional.
On March 21st, 1821, the Town Sergeant was changed to the Sergeant of the Corporation. The only information that we have on this is that the man elected to this position was a Mr. Hundley. At that time the duties were the same in that he assisted the militia and was the overseer of the firemen and constables.
From that time until about the last decade of the 19th Century things remained the same. Then, at the last decade, a well know Mr. John Conway Chichester took over the role of Sergeant. He was, to the best of our knowledge, in charge of the Fire Department and Police Department and was under the authority of the City Mayor.
The next documented town sergeant was Mr. C. Chichester. It is unsure if the two are related or are in fact the same person. Chichester is a prominent name in the area and the information on the two is vague in that respect. The next three men who held the office of the Town Sergeant are as follows:
- Mr. A. D. Middleton 1942-1946
- Mr. Leonard Chittum 1946-1946
- Mr. Frank Fines 1946-1972
Mr. Fines was the first actual Sheriff, during his time in office the title was changed to Sheriff. From that time on all of the men were called Sheriff and the next Sheriff was Claude A. Hughes. He stayed in office from 1972-1985. He was followed by Roland Oates whose term lasted from 1985-1993 until Phillip C. Robinson took over from 1994-1998.
In 1998 until the present Paul W. Higgs has remained in the position as Sheriff. The history of the City Sheriff's is a little confusing in the beginning and some of the dates are up to interpretation due to poor record keeping in the early stages of Fredericksburg's transformation into an independent town and city. Overall, it is an interesting turnover of extraordinary men holding one of the highest positions in local government and the time they all devoted to the city and its citizens.
1921-1941 Sergeant C. Chichester
1942-1946 Sergeant A.D. Middleton
1946-1946 Sergeant Leonard E. Chiium
1946-1972 Sergeant/Sheriff T. Frank Fines
1972-1985 Sheriff Claude A. Hughes
1985-1993 Sheriff Roland Oates
1994-1998 Sheriff Philip C. Robinson
1998-present Sheriff P.W. Higgs