Guest Column: Ghosts of sheriffs past

The nation’s oldest city and county seat is famous for its ghosts, ghost walks and ghost tours. This month I thought it might be a bit of fun to take a look at some of my more interesting 19th Century predecessors.

St. Johns County has had a host of some colorful and controversial chief law enforcement officers.

The first sheriff of what is now St. John’s County was James R. Hanham who put on the badge in 1821. His qualifications included a military background from the War of 1812 and he was not elected. Perhaps he complained that there was no civilian law enforcement and he was appointed sheriff by Major General Andrew Jackson who was serving as military Governor of Florida and would eventually become the 7th President of the United States.

The fifth county sheriff has a heritage that is still a part St. Augustine today. His historic home has become a venue for beautiful weddings and other special events. Whether his ghost still resides there is an intriguing thought, but there is no doubt that Sheriff Jose Simeon Sanchez played a significant role in the development of St. Augustine, St. Johns County and Florida.

Sanchez fought in the 2nd Seminole War. Under the guise of a truce, the famed Seminole Chief Osceola was lured to just West of St. Augustine where he and his lieutenants were captured by troops — likely including Sanchez. Osceola and his men were locked up at the Castillo de San Marcos. The public uproar regarding the breech of military etiquette apparently did not skew his reputation and Sanchez later became county sheriff. He also served in the first legislature and signed the Florida constitution. He served as sheriff until 1847.

Sanchez was succeeded as county sheriff by the fiery publisher and editor of the East Florida Hearld, James Marcus Gould. He was described as being brash and outspokenly belligerent, both in person and in print. He too was elected to the legislature and also held office as Registrar of Public Lands and Justice of the Peace.

Local civil war history involves two sheriffs of the past. William Felix Mickler was sheriff from 1864 to 1865. Earlier he represented the county in the succession convention and voted to withdraw Florida from the Union. He served in the Confederate Army, rising to the rank of Colonel and helped plant mines in the St. John’s River as well as fighting in the Battle of Olustee.

A young man who opposed succession from the Union was A.N. Pacetti, a name still found frequently today in St. Johns County. He served as County Sheriff from 1877 to 1881. A sea captain by trade during the early months of the civil war Pacetti volunteered to take others opposed to succession on his boat to Key West, flying a white flag of truce. Never the less his ship was captured by the Confederates. As he was about to be tried for treason he jumped overboard and made it to land where the next day he had a change of heart and enlisted in the Confederate Navy.

I wonder what the ghosts of these pioneers of law and order in St. Johns County would think if they could see the way our office functions today as one of the most modern and progressive in the State of Florida.

We have a really fascinating section on our website where you can read a more detailed history of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s office. Under the section about 20th Century sheriffs you will find many wonderful stories including how uniforms for deputies came about. It’s very interesting.

As always I appreciate your comments and suggestions concerning this column and any county law enforcement issues. Contact me by e-mail at dshoar@sjso.org.

David B. Shoar
St. Johns County Sheriff

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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