MARIETTA — Sheriffs from across Ohio recently paid their respects to the man who started their profession 229 years ago.
They did so by installing a new memorial marker at the grave site of Ebenezur Sproat, who was the first Sheriff of Ohio in 1788.
Marietta is situated about 200 miles southeast of Sidney, about a 3 ½ hour drive, and sits along the Ohio River near Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart who was one of 27 Ohio Sheriffs to attend explained “I was at one time the youngest sheriff to serve in Ohio, and now I am currently the oldest serving sheriff in Ohio. To find myself there with fellow sheriffs from around Ohio paying tribute to the very first Sheriff of Ohio was very humbling to me.
“Just a few days before going to Marietta, I found out that Sheriff Sproat may also have been a Mason,” said Lenhart. “Contact was made with the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of Ohio and they were able to confirm that Sheriff Sproat was indeed a Mason and that he also helped found the first Masonic Lodge in Ohio. As a fellow Mason, paying my respect to our first Sheriff and one of the 1st Masons of Ohio was truly a unique experience for myself and other Masonic Sheriff’s that attended.”
Since Sproat help found the first Masonic Lodge in Ohio on Dec. 8, 1790, current Masons from that same Masonic Lodge (Marietta Masonic Lodge 1) also attended the ceremony with the sheriffs.
While in Marietta, Lenhart and other sheriffs met with Bill Reynolds, historian for the Campus Martius Museum in Marietta. Reynolds personal collection of historical artifacts included an original, hand written “Summons on Arrest” manuscript written by Sproat himself in 1789.
Reynolds, also a fellow Mason and past Master of the Marietta Lodge 1, believed a fellow Masonic sheriff should be in possession of Sproat’s manuscript. Reynolds gave the historic document to Lenhart. Although greatly honored to be in possession of this document, Lenhart believed it should be shared with all Ohio Sheriffs, not just himself. Lenhart then donated the original to the BSSA. (Buckeye State Sheriff Association) to be displayed in their Office in Columbus.
A copy of Sproats manuscript will be given to each sheriff in Ohio. Lenhart will hang his copy at the Sheriff’s Office once it is received.
Sproat was born in Middleborough, Massachusetts, on Feb. 9, 1752. During his youth, he assisted his father in cultivating the farm. During this time he became interested in the public affairs of the colony.
Sproat was in the field with the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War, and was engaged in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth, Lexington and Concord. He was one of the officers who wintered at Valley Forge with General George Washington during the winter and spring of 1777-1778. Sproat was promoted to Colonel during September 1783, shortly before the end of his eight and one-half years of service in the Continental Army.
In 1786, he was appointed as surveyor for the state of Rhode Island, and went to Ohio to survey the new territory. Arriving in Ohio, he bought stock in the Ohio Company of Associates (the first non-Native American group to settle in the present-day state of Ohio) and proceeded to participate in the development of Marietta.
In 1788, Sproat was appointed sheriff of the North West Territory, which covered what would later become Ohio. His territory reached from the Ohio River to Lake Erie to the north and from the Pennsylvania border to the east to the Scioto River (Columbus) to the west. Sproat ruled the Northwest Territory with a sword, not a gun.
As a tall red haired man standing well over 6 foot tall, Sproat had made an impression on everyone, including the local Indians who nicknamed him “Hetuck” meaning “Big Buckeye.” Many believe this is where the nickname “Buckeyes” for Ohioans originated.
Until Ohio achieved statehood in 1803, the position of sheriff was filled through appointments made at the pleasure of the Colonial Governor. Sproat served as the only sheriff for 14 years.
Sproat died in Marietta on Jan. 7, 1805, and is buried in Mound Cemetery in downtown Marietta.
This year is the 300th anniversary of the formation of the first Masonic Grand Lodge in England. Today there are 471 Masonic Lodges in Ohio with a statewide membership of 79,000.
The Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association paid and organized to have the new marker installed, recognizing him as the first sheriff. Sprout’s previous marker was the original tombstone and gave no indication that he served as sheriff.
Today the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association makes reference to Sheriff Sproat in the motto that is affixed to today’s marked patrol vehicles. On the rear of quarter panels of each vehicle is the B.S.S.A logo along with the words “First To Serve Since 1788.”