Plaque Honors Former Sheriffs

 When Scott Gittings is sworn in as   Sheriff of Hancock County, he will become the 38th  individual to assume responsibility for the law enforcement and tax collection of Hancock County.  As current Sheriff Ralph Fletcher concludes his eight-years in the Sheriff’s post and begins his four-year term as a Hancock County Magistrate, he will present a plaque to the County Commission listing all of those who have held the post since Hancock County separated from Brooke County in 1848. Fletcher researched the former Sheriffs using records including History of the Panhandle and old  Blue Books.
 The County of Hancock, Commonwealth of Virginia, predated the birth of the State of West Virginia in 1863.  Initially both Hancock, Brooke and Ohio counties were part of Ohio County.  Brooke County separated from Ohio County in 1797.  In 1848, the 88-square-miles that would comprise West Virginia’s smallest county in size, Hancock, would separate from Brooke.  In an act passed by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia on January 15, 1848, the County of Hancock was established out of the northern end of Brooke County and the first county court was organized on April 1, 1848 at the house of Samuel Allison in what was known as the Manchester House.  The surnames of those who constituted first court are familiar even today:  John Pittenger, David Pugh, Andrew Henderson, John Gardner, David Wylie, Wm. H. Grafton and John Mayhew.    David Wylie and Joseph Cameron were appointed Sheriff’s to conduct the first election and David Wylie, Wm. H. Grafton and John Mayhew were recommended to the Governor of Virginia as fit persons to execute the office of Sheriff.       The term of Sheriff was set as four years with no Sheriff being able to serve more than one term until 1973 when West Virginia voters passed a constitutional amendment allowing sheriffs to suceed themselves.
While Sheriffs could not serve more than one term of office until 1973, many of the earlier sheriffs on the list served in many capacities in their public service and some set out a term before assuming the post again.    John S. Swaney who was elected Sheriff in 1881 sat out a term and was elected to the post again in 1889.  He would later serve a six-year term as county commissioner. 
Those who entered the political arena often sought and captured several public offices throughout their lives.    John W. Hobbs served as Sheriff during the Civil War period following which he became a merchant in Pughtown.  In 1881 he was elected to the Legislature when the Capital was in Wheeling.    Robert R. Hobbs  was elected Sheriff in 1909 and went on to be elected County Clerk.  Richard Brown, Jr. held the office of high sheriff, justice of the peace, county surveyor and was a Colonel in the Militia for seven years.  Richard Hooker Brown also served as County Commissioner prior to the formation of Hancock County.

“J.S.D. Mercer, sheriff of Hancock County, occupies his present position because of his fearlessness as an officer, his executive talents, and his courteousness and pleasing personality.” According to an entry in the History of the Panhandle. His first public post was Clerk of Chester, Mayor of Chester and County Assessor. It was written that Mercer devoted his full time to the position and required only one deputy – his son.
The position of Sheriff can be traced back to England in the Middle Ages. Rural communities were called tons (origin of town) and the shire who was charged with enforcing the laws of the “ton” was the forerunner of modern day sheriffs. The first sheriffs were responsible for the law enforcement and tax collection in their communities. When the first settlers arrived from England in 1634 in Virginia and formed counties they continued the position of Sheriff in the new world. The first counties were established in Virginia in 1651 and the first sheriffs were assigned broad responsibilities including law enforcement and tax collection by the legislature and governors. Today only two states, Hawaii and Rhode Island, have appointive Sheriffs while the State of Alaska is the only state to not have the position of Sheriff.
The narrative of the early history indicates that many of the early Sheriffs were merchants and farmers adding Sheriff to their duties. The complexities of the office now result in modern day sheriffs having law enforcement experience and training.
Sheriff Term
David Wylie 1848-1850
William H. Grafton 1850-1856
Jabez E. Cochran 1856-1858
Samuel W. Wilson 1858-1862
John W. Hobbs 1862-1866
Samuel W. Wilson 1866-1870
John Wilson 1870-1877
Col Richard Hooker Brown 1877-1880
John S. Swaney 1881-1884
Robert R. Lindsey 1885-1888
John S. Swaney 1889-1892
John Porter 1893-1896
A.F. Wilkin 1897-1900
Charles F. Allison 1901-1904
A.F. Wilkin 1905-1908
Robert R. Hobbs 1909-1912
J.S.D. Mercer 1913-1916
Armour S. Cooper 1917-1920
J.S.D. Mercer 1921-1924
J.A. Tope 1925-1928
J.S.D. Mercer 1929-1932
J.A. Tope 1933-1936
W. Dan Ferguson 1937-1940
Dick Wright 1941-1944
Mike Solomon 1945-1948
George Clark Wycoff 1946-1949
Dick Wright 1949-1952
James F. Hill 1953-1956
Clayton Hobbs 1957-1960
Joseph Manypenny 1961-1964
Joseph Rodak 1965-1968
Ralph Patrick, Jr. 1969-1972
Frank A. Rocchio 1973-1976
Ronald A. Donnell 1977-1980
William M. Webster 1981-1984
Ted Dragisich 1985-1992
Warren H. Watkins 1993-1996
Richard Sherensky 1996-1996
Jeffrey P. Woofter 1997-2004
Joseph G. Geisse 2004-2004
Mike S. White 2005-2012
Ralph A. Fletcher 2013-2020

(Many thanks to Sheriff Ralph Fletcher who researched the Sheriffs and compiled this list of their terms of service.)