From Chiefs to Bailiffs: Searching for Photos of Earlier Leaders of the Elkton Police Department

Bailiff Biddle was commonly called the chief by many, including Elkton's newspapers.

Photographs of Elkton Police Chiefs line a wall at the town police station.  Starting with the first, George M. Potts (1908-1935), there are images of many of the departments 20th century commanders. 

But before the officer appointed to maintain law and order carried the rank of chief, the town lawman was known as the bailiff.   During lulls in police work, these hard-working public servants took care of the streets, impounded animals, served as the lamplighter, and collected taxes.  Some tasks, such as lamplighter and tax collector, varied over time, but a primary responsibility was keeping the peace and he was required to prowl the streets in a blue coat, brass buttons, and badge.

On the prowl for old photos and information on earlier leaders of the police department, we recently received a picture of George Collison Biddle.  When he received his first appointment in 1896, his salary for 12-months was $500.  The rookie officer had worked for the Singerly Pulp Mill and lived on East High Street.

Shortly after being sworn in, the Elkton officer received a call for backup from Sheriff Mackey.  Several men were on a train refusing to pay so the sheriff called on every available lawman in the area for help with the free riders.  In addition to the bailiff, that included Deputy McAllister.  When the train pulled in one of the men jumped from the cars and started running up the railroad tracks.  “But Elkton’s new officer was not to be outrun and soon the clutches of the law were upon the victim,“ a newspaper reported.  The Mayor and Commissioners also had street work waiting for the bailiff, so when he wasn’t carting drunks off to jail in a wheelbarrow he worked to fix up the streets.   He was “starting out well as an officer,” the Cecil Democrat noted.  “May he not grow weary in well doing.”

To the consternation and dismay of Elkton troublemakers, the town council provided him with a bicycle in 1900 so he could more effectively whirl through the streets and alleys on his patrols.  When thanksgiving rolled around that year, a local newspaper noted that “Officer Biddle was in good cheer “as he was thankful that the town council had armed him with a unit that allowed him to spin from point to point on his rounds.” 

ticket to last hanging.

George Biddle served as Elkton’s thin blue line until 1903 when he successfully ran for sheriff.  The last execution in Cecil County took place during Sheriff Biddle’s term, when John M. Simpers was hanged on October 20, 1905.   In that era, the sheriff could only serve one term.

The 67-year-old Cecil County lawman passed away on April 26, 1929.  He’d been born in 1861. 

Deputy McAllister & Sheriff Biddle on the platform with Simpers.


4 responses to “From Chiefs to Bailiffs: Searching for Photos of Earlier Leaders of the Elkton Police Department

  1. Looking for information on Edgar W. Start. He was sheriff of Elkton in 1954. He was a relative.

  2. Linda, I’ll get some material for you.

  3. Cecil County News, June 6, 1900: “Cyrus Wilson, colored, better known as ‘Purvin’ was arrested Tuesday by Bailiff Biddle for disorderly conduct on Milburn Street. The trouble arose about the right of way on the street between Wilson and a colored boy. Magistrate Groves fined the offender $1 and costs.” Cyrus “Purvin” Wilson was a Civil War veteran from Cecil County and a “Carter” hauling whatever needed hauling in the Elkton area, including work for the town of Elkton between 1873 and 1896. Learn more about Mr. Wilson and other black veterans of the Civil War from Cecil County at the Black History Month lecture at Cecil College on Wednesday, February 23!

  4. Ms. Wheeler,
    Being a relative of Sheriff Startt you must know Angie Barnett. She is a civilian employee at the sheriff’s office and Sheriff Startt’s grand-daughter. I know she has information and photos.

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