Steve's Place

His Lordship’s Patronage

Ralph Forster was Sheriff of Prince George County of Maryland 1772-1776 or so. The “or so” is because records are a bit scant, and because it seems that rent rolls continued with some payments after he’d been succeeded in office by Frank Leeke, his partner in law, and the last proprietary sherrif appointed by Maryland’s governor. Already, the governor of Maryland had essentially no power. His government had begun shutting down when elected Lower House representatives failed to pass a pay schedule for any appointed officials, and as Committees of Observation in counties around the province began coordinating elections and writing new rules. Everything was changing.

Sheriffs had been an “office of profit” — meaning that once one paid the large bond required in order to secure the nomination for a patronage position, one had the authority to exercise rights and priveleges of the office. There was essentially no scheduled compensation, though the sheriff was expected to bill for services incurred in the position. He owned the jail and built it, though he would lease it to the county. Stocks and implements of punishment he furnished for the job, though each point of use was talled as a fee item. The sherrif feed detainees, and billed accordingly. They even collected taxes, and paid on behalf of those who could or would not, though in doing so they gathered interest and fee gathering mortgages along the way. Sheriffs who weren’t good businesspersons often suffered financially, though others could do quite well.