The Madison County Sheriff's Department came into being eleven years before Alabama became a state when, in December, 1808, Territorial Governor Robert Williams created Madison County and appointed Stephen Neal as our first Sheriff.
Sheriff Neal served in his appointed capacity until Alabama became a state in 1819 and held its first "Constitutional Convention" at what is now known as Constitution Hall Park in downtown Huntsville.
Following the adoption of the Alabama Constitution, Sheriff Neal became Madison County's first elected Sheriff by defeating eighteen opponents, the most candidates to ever run for the office of Sheriff in a local election.
The Constitution limited a Sheriff to serving a single term of three years, probably the first example of governmental imposed "Term Limits." The Sheriff could not succeed himself nor could he work for the incoming Sheriff. An outgoing Sheriff could, however, run for the office again after sitting out one term.
The three-year term remained in effect until the Constitutional Convention of 1901 when it was decided to add a year to the Sheriff's term to one "four" year term and to allow him to work for an incoming Sheriff. Finally, during primary elections in 1938, a constitutional amendment was slipped onto ballots statewide, with very little publicity, to take away a limit on the number of consecutive terms which could be served.
H.C. Blakemore, Chief of Police for the city of Huntsville, stepped down from that post, ran for Sheriff, and, as a result, became the first to serve two consecutive terms in office. There have only been two Sheriffs to serve three consecutive terms, L.D. Wall, elected in the 1950s and Jerry Crabtree, elected in the 1960s. There have only been two Sheriffs, Joe W. Patterson and Blake L. Dorning, to serve four consecutive terms in office. Sheriff Blake L. Dorning's fourth consecutive term will end January 19, 2019.
Incidentally... a footnote to our history... there is no truth to a much talked rumor that outlaw Jesse James, his brother, Frank, and their gang once robbed the 1st National Bank (now Regions Bank) on the Madison County Courthouse Square. In fact, the closest the James gang got to Huntsville during their reign as the most famous robbery team of that time was when they robbed a United States Paymaster near Muscle Shoals in 1881 of some $5,000.
Frank James, however, was housed in the Madison County Jail a few years later and tried in Federal District Court for his part in that robbery. He was found "not guilty."