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Hernando County

The Sheriff's 1845 - 1901

From Old Brooksville in Photos and Stories

January 2004 Vol 68
Publisher: Bob Martinez
Used with Permission

Go to Sheriff's 1901 - 1999

The local Sheriff has always been a folk hero. When we were growing up, the westerns always fueled our imaginations of a quiet, lonely and brave soul facing dangers around every corner. The Sheriff commanded respect beyond any other elected official. Hernando County's Sheriff's have also had a colorful past and history almost as interesting as Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickock or Frank Hamer. Listed below is a list and brief bio of each and every Sheriff to serve Hernando County since 1845.

1845 - 1847 James Bates

Obviously, little is known of Hernando County's first Sheriff. He was elected as all Sheriff's would be until 1868, when under government rule, Florida Sheriffs would then be appointed until 1886.

1847 - 1853 N. M. Moody

Moody served for six full years. No record is found of him... He very likely moved away from Hernando County, since no tombstone is found for him.

1853 - 1860 Charles J. McMinn

One of the more popular Sheriffs of his time serving the longest tenure at this early time. We include a Juror's Certificate with his name on it, authorizing payment for a juror during a trial.

1860 - 1862 Thomas W. Law

related to the Law family. The earliest Sheriff link to a current Brooksville family. No picture is known to exist. He was Sheriff during the first two years of the Civil War.

1862 - 1863 T. B. Law

Very likely a brother of Thomas W. Law. Served only one year.

1863 - 1866 John L. Peterson

The first Sheriff to serve after Emancipation Proclamation. Related to the Petersons that lived here during the 20th Century.

1866 - 1867 E. A. Hill

Not very much is known of Mr. Hill. He served only about a year. This could have been the period in which Cato Mills said he served.

1868 Samuel Pearce

Pearce was the county judge in 1863. He served a very short time as Sheriff. Later the same year, he was elected as legislative representative from Hernando County.

1868 - 1870 William Hopp Smith

A colorful character. Smith only served two years but left many stories to tell. The most famous appeared in the Florida Penninsula News of Tampa on Dec. 15, 1869.

"William H. Smith, sheriff of Hernando County almost instantly killed Marvel M. Edwards, Representative of the same county at Brooksville on the 6th. We learn that Smith and Edwards were drinking at the time. Edwards who only weighed 144 pounds insisted he was the best man in Brooksville; to which Smith said it was a damn lie, whereupon Edwards 'made for him' and received the contents of Smith's pistol in his breast. Further, that after Edwards was shot, he beat Smith unmercifully, then fell back and died. Smith, not content with shooting him, stomped on him after he was dead, and then jumped on his horse and rode off saying, 'I guess I'll be living in the swamps for awhile'. Smith was arrested, brought before two Justices of the Peace and admitted to bail in the sum of $500.00."

County Coordinator's Note: William Hop Smith was subsequently acquitted of murder charges on the grounds he acted in self defense. He is buried at Tucker Hill Cemetery with his wife. Many of his descendants still live in Hernando County, his granddaughter, Corinne Smith Young recently celebrated her 100th birthday in April 2010. She is his oldest living descendant. See the Smith Family History Narrative.

1870 - 1871 Zachariah Steward

Steward was the successor to Hopp Smith as Sheriff, but his tenure was short-lived since the pressures of the job and depression got to him. He went mad, turned in his badge then left the area to Polk County returning seven years later.

1871 - 1876 Ben Saxon

A member of one of Brooksville's most prominent families. His brother Frank Saxon was a political star. His dad, Dr. Benjamin very popular throughout the state. Ben was also the county surveyor. After his stretch in 1877, some hogs turned up missing and were found in his yard. The next morning he was found hung from a large oak tree about three miles north of Brooksville.

1877 - 1879 David L. Hedick

Member of one of Hernando County's pioneer families. Hedick was sheriff during one of the bloodiest eras in Hernando County history, culminating to the burning of the Court House in Oct.1877. On March 11, 1879, Hedick was overpowered by two prisoners he was leading up the wooden steps to the court house. One of them grabbed his gun, while the other set himself free, grabbed Hedick from behind, while the other man shot Hedick dead.

1879 - 1885 J. B. Mickler

A Sheriff who could truly relate to the tragedy of crime, Mickler in 1881 was away from home, when according to Bartow Observant newspaper dated July 7, 1881...

"the culprit, a black named Sidney King was working out a fine for burglary with the Sheriff, but suddenly left his job, entered the Sheriff's house and began plundering it. When King was discovered by Mickler's three sons, he shot two and cut the other's throat. When the Sheriff returned home, the man took flight and fled. He was pursued and captured by the indignant citizens and hung".

1885 - 1888 James A. Jennings

By the time Jennings became Sheriff a lot of this area's wildness had calmed down. Jennings was perhaps the most astute businessman of the bunch. He later becomes first president of Hernando State Bank in 1905 and of course The Jennings Building originally built around 1898 bears his name. He is not the man who would later be governor, that was W. S. Jennings. When James A. Jennings died in 1924 the newspapers wrote he was "A substanial citizen, of many interests and a pleasing and quiet demeanor and he left his stamp on the community."

1888 -1890, 1891 - 1892 John W. Johnston

This is the grandfather of Joe Johnston Jr., the attorney. He was the first Sheriff to work within Hernanado County as we know it today. Before 1877 Hernando County consisted of Citrus and Pasco County as well. He died in 1929 and is buried at Brooksville Cemetery.

1890 - 1891, 1892 - 1899 Morris R. Burns

He served after Johnston, then followed him again the following year after Johnston resigned. He served during the 1890's when there was a serious economic depression. He died suddenly at the age of 52 in 1899 and is buried at Brooksville Cemetery.

1899 - 1901 A. M. "Mack" White

Served after the death of Sheriff Burns. Little is known of him other that his nickname was Mack.

Go to Sheriff's 1901 -1999