Friday, July 9, 2010

The High Sheriff



When we first moved to the mountains, I was charmed with the many unusual and antique turns of speech I heard from our older neighbors. "High Sheriff' was one of these, immediately reminding me of Robin Hood's evil nemesis -- The High Sheriff of Nottingham.  
  
Some states actually have High Sheriffs (usually the head sheriff in the state) and in England it is a ceremonial position. But as far as I can tell, in North Carolina it's not an official title -- just one used by the older people. Maybe a survival from earlier days in England or Scotland? I don't know.  But it's still heard now and again.

The word "sheriff" itself is a contraction of the term "shire reeve" -- a position that predates the Norman Conquest (1066). ( Remember the Reeve in The Canterbury Tales?)  The shire reeve was charged  with keeping the peace  throughout a shire or county on behalf of the king.

The mission is much the same today -- keeping the peace.

 The picture below from the early Twenties is 'High Sheriff'  Jesse James Bailey -- shown here with a mountain of seized moonshine stills. The Madison County Courthouse is in the background.

Not so much moonshine these days -- meth and marijuana are the illicit substances that today's high sheriff has to worry about.
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12 comments:

Pat in east TN said...

I love the picture of the pile of stills ... wonder how long it took to 'collect' those?

With all the things going on in our mountains anymore, I don't really think I would want to be a sheriff, but thank goodness we both have good ones that seem to stay on top of things as best they can.

Brian Miller said...

its been a while back...but i worked for the sheriff once...though we are the moonshine capital...no stills broken on my watch...though plenty of traffic duty...argh...

estaminet said...

My uncle was a protégé of Jesse James Bailey and can imitate his voice/accent/mannerisms brilliantly. We'll have to arrange for you to hear that sometime. :)

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

Linguistics of an area is always so interesting. You did a great job on explaining the roots of the colloquial word HIGH SHERIFF. I have not heard the word used in central Kentucky but now I will keep my ears open for it. Would be interesting to know if the word carried into the interior during settlement. Great post. -- barbara

Friko said...

I used to adore Westerns when I was small and the sheriff was always a goodie, who invariably caught the baddies.

Tammy said...

Well, I learned something new today! :-) Had no idea that was where the word sheriff orignated. Around here it's just the 'sheriff' and 'deputies'. I've heard of Under Sheriffs though(which seems to be in some of the western states--of course all knowledge of this is from mystery stories I've read of course...;-)
Around here it is meth with a few marajuana patches still. Towards my teen years, we had to be careful in our wanderings not to stumble onto a marajuana patch and get killed (our parents said). Now Meth has pretty much taken front seat and is a horrid, horrid thing.
Tammy

NCmountainwoman said...

I also love "high sheriff." Another commonly used phrase around here is "the law," as in "He beat his wife so bad she had to call the law on him."

Deanna said...

Now that was just plain interesting. I had no clue and had never heard the term High Sheriff before. Too bad the baddies aren't still running moonshine, rather than meth :(

Vicki Lane said...

I'm going to have to meet estaminet's uncle -- I know there are lots of great stories about JJB and I'd like to get them down. There are quite a few good one about a more recent sheriff --E.Y.Ponder -- but it was too hot last night to write a long post. Later...

Another phrase I love is 'to law' as in 'to sue.' "That feller's cows kept getting in my garden but he didn't fix his fence till I threatened to law him."

And yes -- meth is purely evil.

Deanna said...

I am in the middle of reading your first book and after I posted that I've never heard of high sheriff, you mentioned high sheriff. Now I've heard of high sheriff twice in a few days!

Tipper said...

Pap still says High Sheriff-if he's talking about a man of the past or the one currently in office : )

Vicki Lane said...

Good for Pap! I think I'm going to make an effort to do the same from now on.