Sheriff Nathaniel Rochester's Records, Washington County, 1804-1806
Nathaniel Rochester was Sheriff of Washington County Maryland from October 1804 until Isaac S. White replaced him in 1806. He came to Hagerstown from Hillsboro, N.C. in 1780 along with Thomas Hart. Both men were in the N. C. Militia, attaining the rank of Colonel. The two started a hardware store in Hagerstown, and had other commercial dealings. Rochester was the postmaster for years 1793 to 1803, and the first president of the Hagerstown Bank, which was founded in 1807. In its early years the Hagerstown Bank operated from Colonel Rochester's home, which had been modified to house the institution. Rochester moved from Washington County in 1810 to the Genesee Valley in New York State and purchased land on which the city of Rochester, named after him, is now built.
This book, from the Western Maryland Room of the Washington County Free Library, is the log book belonging to Rochester when Sheriff. The first entry reads Persons in Gaol when Nath'l Rochester received it from Jacob Schnebly Esq on the 30th March 1804. The final entry in the section dealing with prisoners in the Gaol was made in November 1806.
The book has eleven sections according to the cover, the Gaol Docket, Small Judicials, Fines and Forfeitures, Distress for Rent, Ejectments, Jurors, Judges of Elections, Constables, Supervisors of Roads, Summons to O. (Orphans) Court and Retailers Licensed. The ledger does not now include the Retailers Licensed, but does include Summons from other counties and Warrants of Resurvey on Ejectments.
& Science Center
The role of the county sheriff in the early 1800s was significant, “an office of great dignity and included that of tax collector and financial agent of the county” (Williams, 1906). In every action filed in the courts of record, a sheriff is called upon to perform some service. The sheriff served the official writs, summons, and subpoenas and executed all final judgments of the court. The sheriff is responsible for the preservation of the peace; enforcement of laws; arresting felons and committing them to jail; and executing the mandates, orders, and directions of the court.
The records of the sheriff were both those of executive officer of the court and instrument of law enforcement. He was responsible for the care and supervision of the local jail and its occupants. These included run away slaves, debtors, those who had been found playing cards on Sunday and others who had disturbed the peace. Debt could result in imprisonment. Many of those listed in the section Small Judicials appear to have debts and were held in jail. For example James Nerson [Nuson?] owed Chris. Longenecker £0.15.0 and was held in jail for 6 days. Debtors were held until their property could be condemned and sold to pay the debts. Debtors with no property were released, under the Insolvency Law (Szucs, 2006). Peter Rench owed rent to David Denwiddie and Isabella Downey, as shown in the Distress for Rent section of the logbook. The sheriff organized a sale of "one wagon and gears, one cart, one Sleigh, one Windmill, three horses, eight head of cattle, a quantity of wheat and rye in stacks, hay, a quantity of corn in the fields, one still, still cap & two still worms, two cooling tubs, a number of hogsheads and other articles necessary in a Still house" from Peter Rench's dwelling house, as advertised in the Maryland Herald and Hagers-Town Weekly Advertiser of September, 1804.
The ledger also includes a record of all prisoners who were transferred to another jail showing the name, date of commitment, date and place of transfer, reason for transfer, etc. Because the sheriff was frequently responsible to select as well as summon the jurors for each court term, he had a copy of the court's jury records, judges of elections and constables. The book in addition contains a list of the supervisors of public roads responsible for the examination of bridges and reports on their condition, the appointment of individuals from the community to contract for the construction of bridges, the setting of the levy for repairs of public roads, the setting of expenditures for each district for labor on public roads, and the setting of standards for roads.
The accurate interpretation of legal terms used in this ledger is difficult as US law was originally based on English Common Law and changed slowly over time to fit the circumstances. A glossary of legal terms is provided from a book published in 1883 which may provide some assistance.
|The Riggs Conard Trust Fund supported the transcription of these records, by Marsha Fuller, CG.
Western Maryland Regional Library is grateful to Rudi Lamy of the Maryland State Law Library for his assistance with legal terminology. Historical and reference sources may be found at the Maryland State Law Library
We appreciation the assistance of the Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, N.Y. who gave permission to use the illustration of Nathaniel Rochester
Szucs, Loretto D., and Sandra H. Luebking, eds. The source : A guidebook of American genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006.
Williams, Thomas J.C. A history of Washington County, Maryland : from the earliest settlements to the present time, including a history of Hagerstown. Hagerstown: Runk and Titsworth, 1906.
An Act authorising Nathaniel Rochester, late sheriff and collector of Washington county, to complete his collection. Maryland General Assembly Session Laws, 1808, Maryland State Archives.