The name “Sheriff” can be traced to England and derived from the term “shire reeve”, which means the King’s representative in the county. The word “Sheriff” was formally used by the Anglo-Saxon King Cnut (1017-1035) in a letter he wrote from Rome in 1027.

“The Office of Sheriff is the most important of all the executive offices of the county.”
-Thomas Jefferson, The Value of Constitutions

After Ohio became a state only three offices were filled through the electoral process and one of these was the office of Sheriff. The Office of Sheriff is specifically named in the first two Ohio Constitutions as being a required elected office in each county. By virtue of this process, this office has become the oldest law enforcement office which is filled through the election method.

On September 1, 1788 Colonel Ebenezer Sproat was appointed Sheriff of Washington County by Governor Arthur St. Clair of the Northwest Territory. Washington County, at that time, covered all of eastern Ohio from the Ohio River to Lake Erie.

The Office of Sheriff was for only a two-year term until 1935, with the limitation that they may only serve a total of four years out of every six years. Today, the term of office for county Sheriffs in Ohio is four years.


The Office of Sheriff is the only elected law enforcement office in the United States. This is due to the fact that early on our ancestors realized that this position of trust and great power was needed and should be filled with an individual who was elected and would serve the best interests of the community.