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Sheriff John W. Emerson, Jr.

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John W. Emerson, Jr.


31st Sheriff of Chatham County

Served: July 1949-July 1967

Appointed/Elected: Appointed and Elected

Age taking office: 44

Population: 25,392 in 1950/ 26, 785 in 1960

Birth date: Aug 28, 1904

Birth place: Durham, NC

Died: Dec 25, 1974

Buried: LOVES CREEK BAPTIST CHURCH cemetery located in the Matthews Township, Siler City on the north side of US 64 and west of New US 421 in Chatham County, NC.



Mother: Mollie L. King, b. 1868, d. Novemeber, 12 1909

Father: John Watson Emerson, b. October 22, 1860, d. June 4, 1948

Wife: Nannie Maude Dunlap, b. May 1908, d. Mar 13, 1982

Children: (Withheld-Living)


Tenure Notables



Celeste Bryan and Mrs. Lucy Walden worked as office support for Sheriff Emerson

Sheriff Emerson started with two full-time deputies and an ineffective system of part-time deputies.

The jail was operated by a man and wife team, with the wife cooking meals for free.

Sheriff Emerson was a member of the NC Sheriff’s Association.

When raiding a still, a truck tried to escape the raid. As Sheriff Emerson stepped into the trail and threw up his hand for it to stop, a man in the truck fired at him with a shotgun, and the driver tried to run him down. The truck was stopped and all operators arrested.

In 1951, Sheriff Emerson gave up the tax supervisor’s job but retained the tax collector’s job until 1963.

In 1951, the commissioners authorized a forth deputy, C.A. Simmons. The staff of four deputies remained fixed for several years.

In an address to the Siler City Rotary Club in 1960, Sheriff Emerson said crime could better be controlled in the high chair rather than the electric chair. He cited national statistics related to juvenile crime and said in his opinion, three- fourths of the crimes committed by juveniles involved children from broken homes. “Boys and girls are not born bad,” he stated. “They become so due to their environment. Parents and a good home life can do more to prevent juvenile crime than the combined efforts of law enforcement officers and the courts.” He concluded with the statement that society stands on three legs: home, church and school

In 1963, the county did provide funding for uniforms and personal equipment, including side arms.

Sheriff Emerson was the first Sheriff to implement radio communications.

Mrs. Lucy C. Walden replaced Celeste Bryan in the early 1950s and served as office deputy until 1963. (First female deputy)

Sometime after 1963, Edgar Bland became the first black deputy sheriff in the history of the county except possibly during the reconstruction years. Edgar was well liked and respected and worked with the sheriff’s office until his health failed. (First black deputy)

In 1966, Norris Farrell was appointed chief deputy for the department. He was the first deputy in the county to hold that title. (First Chief Deputy)

Of the 10 field deputies that served from 1949-1967, three later became sheriffs of Chatham County - C. A. Simmons, J. A. Farrell and Donald Whitt.


Military Experience


Other Offices


In 1925 John Emerson and his father moved to Siler City and opened a Chevrolet dealership with his brother-in-law, Raymond Upchurch.

John Emerson, Jr. was appointed register of deeds of Chatham County in Noivember 1940, succeeding J. Wade Siler who died while in office. John Emerson served in this position until 1949.

John Emerson was a member of the Chatham County School Board in the early 1930's.