History of the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department
1818 Through 2008
The history of Gwinnett County and the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department run hand in hand. The county was created on December 15, 1818, when the Georgia legislators marked out 436 square miles from frontier land which had been ceded to the Stage of Georgia by the Creek Indians. Gwinnett County was named for Button Gwinnett, one of three Georgians that singed the Declaration of Independence.
During its early days, Gwinnett County had three different county seats. The first was the home of Elisha Winn. The home, built in 1811, is located on Dacula Road near the intersection of Hurricane Shoals Road, east of the Appalachee River. During the first 15 months, the first courts, elections and sheriff’s sales were held at that location. Additionally the first county jail was also located on the site with criminal courts being held in the Winn’s parlor. This court was soon moved to the barn where the Winn’s children could not listen to the proceedings. The second county seat was about two miles west of the present historic courthouse on the square, between Lawrenceville and Oakland. There a temporary courthouse was erected and used until the permanent site was selected. Built by John Cupp, the first jail in Lawrenceville was a two story log home directly south of the courthouse square, a far cry from the current facility.
Between 1820 and 1830, the population of Gwinnett County jumped from 4,589 to 13,289, but then fluctuated over the next several decades. With the addition of a rail line in 1871, the population began to grow again and hasn’t stopped. Along this initial rail line, the cities of Norcross, Duluth, Suwanee and Buford were created. A second spur line linked the cities of Lilburn, Lawrenceville and Dacula.
According to records, William Potts was the last Jackson County Sheriff to serve the areas of the newly formed Gwinnett County. These areas and responsibilities were taken over by the first Gwinnett County Sheriff, William Blake. As the first sheriff, he received his commission from the Governor of Georgia on March 25, 1819, at the home of Elisha Winn. Blake married Mrs. Sally Madox in Jackson County in 1807. He appears on the 1820 United States Census in Gwinnett County. Listed in his household were six males and five females. His name does not appear on the 1830 or 1840 census. The first advertisement for a sheriff’s sale appeared in a newspaper in Milledgeville on September 14, 1819.
The second sheriff, William Nesbit, served this post several times. The years 1820-1821, 1824-1825, and finally from 1828-1829. Nesbit is credited for marking out Peachtree Road, from the Fort at Standing Peachtree to Fort Daniel at Hog Mountain. In 1827, he and others ordered the building of a bridge across Sweetwater Creek at a cost of $40. As shown in the minutes of the Inferior Court (October Term 1829), Nesbit tendered his resignation as Sheriff for Gwinnett County. Due to this resignation, William Martin was appointed to the office of the sheriff by the Inferior Courts and served from 1829-1830, or until a formal election could be held.
Sheriff James Lockridge was elected as the first Tax Collector for the county in the elections of 1819. He was then elected to served as sheriff during two terms, the first from 1822-1823 and then again from 1826-1827.
Throughout the 1800s sheriffs were elected annually to serve this position. Each made their mark on the office, the formation of the early government of Gwinnett County and the region as a whole forming the foundation for the current department.
Over the past 190 years, there have been 44 persons elected to the office of sheriff. The department has seen tremendous change and continues to reinvent itself to fit the changing needs of the citizens of the county we serve. We have seen the staff grow from one employee -Sheriff Blake in 1819 – to the current staffing of 707 in 2010.
We have seen a one room jail near the barn of the Elisha Winn home to a facility that can hold 2,744 persons. Our department has seen the service of one female sheriff who was appointed to her husband’s post after his death in 1949. Our deputies have ridden horses, driven wagons, drove cars, trucks, buses and armored vehicles in the performance of their duties. The rich history of the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department continues to grow and now is being written by the current employees.
Special thanks to the Gwinnett Historical Society and its president, Steven Starling, for their assistance in this section.