November's midterm elections have seriously stirred the nation's political pot, and the roiling is felt all the way down to local offices, like the county sheriff.

Such periodic political uncertainty is not new to Maryland, nor is a profound shift in political winds a solely modern phenomenon - and sheriffs have often been in the thick of it. In Maryland, they've been elected since colonial times and thus had to play politics. Here is the genesis of one "sheriffe," as he was then styled, and his resolution of one man's violent crimes.

James Veitch was born in 1628 amidst the turbulence of Scottish politics at the time of the Protestant Revolution. During Veitch's youth, his family - the house of Dawyck - fought on the side of King Charles as he battled Oliver Cromwell, a decision that placed them on the losing side.

James was the third son and one of seven children. He could thus expect little inheritance or much gentlemanly advancement in Scotland. Facing, as historian Lou Rose put it: "a land seething with religious, political and military struggles," the young Veitch chose to emigrate to England's Maryland Colony.

He wisely sought and received a modest land grant in Lord Baltimore's plantation while still in London, and thus had holdings and the beginnings of stature in the colony when he sailed across in 1651. He arrived in Southern Maryland alone, without support of family or friends, and found that political unrest had migrated across the Atlantic before him, ready to complicate his life yet again.

Earlier, in 1644, Capt. Richard Ingle - half activist, half pirate - claimed that he had a letter of marque authorizing drastic action around the Chesapeake. He joined William Claiborne, who had established an Indian trading post on Kent Island, and together they essentially usurped the government of Maryland. Fighting for the Protestant (or Puritan) cause, they deposed Roman Catholic Gov. Leonard Calvert, Lord Baltimore's representative in the colony. Calvert fled to Virginia when Ingle seized the capital, St. Mary's City. Calvert regained control in 1647, although he became ill and died the following summer.

Back in England, a civil war was raging. Parliament troops defeated Royalists and seized power. King Charles I was beheaded Jan. 30, 1648, an act that Parliament thought would end the English monarchy. In Maryland, the Assembly tried to create some stability among the factions and crafted the Maryland Toleration Act in 1649. Protestant adherents in the colony had expected that Lord Baltimore would be shown the gate, but in England his deft diplomacy enabled him to never quite lose control of his interests in Maryland.

The insecurity and level of fear for both Catholic and Protestant planters was incredible. They could not serve two masters and in choosing one they could be expelled, attacked or even have their belongings plundered by the other side.

Young James Veitch arrived in the thick of this terrible situation. His family had fought on the side of the Royals, and even though they had briefly decided to support Cromwell's Interregnum, the Veitches were on uncertain footing.

James occupied his small parcel of patented land on the north bank of the Patuxent River's Saint Leonard Creek.

His influential neighbor, Richard Preston, who lived just down river, commanded the Calvert County Militia, responsible to Gov. William Stone, who was a Protestant. Veitch, like most gentlemen planters, was commissioned as a lieutenant in the militia, and undoubtedly attended sensitive political meetings at Preston's home. His name appears on a list of those enlisted to ensure eventual complete Puritan (Protestant) control of the colony. Veitch's superior in the militia was Capt. Sampson Waring of Calvert County. For a young man whose family had been on both sides, this must have been an uncomfortable berth.

Veitch was likely a big man. (Exhumed relatives in Scotland had large skeletons.) In his mid-20s, he would have been a disciplinary asset in a colony rife with dissension.

The political and violent military machinations that accompanied the Puritan assault stretched across tidewater Maryland. It included naval as well as land combat, and "breach of quarter" (executing surrendered prisoners) at the Battle of the Severn. (This latter offense violated the code set forth in Cromwell's military manual.) It's not clear how much of this involved Veitch directly.

Starting in 1653, Veitch was elected a deputy or "undersheriff." In this capacity during 1653 and 1654, he answered to a high sheriff named John Smith (not the Smith of Jamestown fame). Their jurisdiction encompassed the entire Maryland province. There was also a "constable" designated in each of the province's "hundreds," or subdivisions.

Veitch's duties included serving on the grand jury, and he was called to act as ordinary juror at Calvert County Court. In 1655, he was sworn in again with the new high sheriff, Sampson Waring, his former militia commander. Both posted valuable quantities of tobacco - the colony's currency - as bond and took an oath to assure they would perform "truly faithfully and diligently, both to the Lord Proprietor and to all the people."

In provincial Maryland, the high sheriff and his deputy were not only responsible for law enforcement but also the elections held during four days each year when landholders (the only voters) expressed their choice for the burgess (representative) from each settled hundred in open forum - and without secret ballot.

James Veitch succeeded Capt. Waring as high sheriff in 1657, at age 29 and in only his sixth year in Maryland. This, in addition to his land, and presumably the tobacco grown thereon, assured him of some income. Sheriffs invoiced colonial government for their services on each case encountered.

Many of the colonists arrived as ne'er-do-wells from England, or distressed commoners bonded to indentured service for four to seven years. All sought a fresh start, but many brought with them personality disorders and violent, unsavory, or even criminal histories. There was little vetting of immigrants in those days. In consequence, there were some pretty rough characters abroad.

Rafael Semmes, in his engrossing book, "Crime and Punishment in Early Maryland," catalogs many crimes, along with the difficulties and errors in their prosecution.

From just 150 settlers in 1634, Maryland's population grew to 583 in 1640, then swelled to 4,504 people by 1650, just before Veitch's arrival. It nearly doubled in the next decade. This many people spread widely over the rural province left many characters to lead unregulated and undisciplined lives.

Young John Dandy was one of them. A gunsmith, Dandy had the potential of being a rare and valuable tradesman when, with eight other men, he was indentured as servant to Clobery and Company in the 1630s. His next appearance, though, is on an "endorsement of writ" by John Lewger to the sheriff of St. Mary's City." Dandy is in some unspecified trouble with the law. In 1649, while aboard a "shippe then riding in (Saint) George's river," he quarreled violently with Capt. Richard Husband, who told Dandy: "you long to raise a second Ingle here" (a reference to Richard Ingle's 1644 rebellion), then prepared to punish his unruly behavior.

His hand was stayed in this by William Eltonhead, a gentleman who then held a royal patent on thousands of acres in Calvert County. It's thought Eltonhead wanted to assure Dandy's gunsmith skills were not lost to the colony. In 1650, Dandy opened a forge to ply his trade at Newtown in what today is St. Mary's County. Dandy and his wife, Ann, had two children.

They appear to have had a young female indentured servant, who on pickling some peaches for winter, gave some to Thomas Maidwell, an employee of Dandy's. Ann Dandy observed the exchange and pursued Maidwell (likely with tongs) holding "a smith's cinder," the glowing dross or slag from their forge. John Dandy joined in the attack and struck Maidwell with his forge hammer. The youth regained his feet and fled crying out for aid. Maidwell sued Dandy for assault and battery, but inexplicably withdrew his claim. He died shortly after. Both historians, Rose and Semmes, suggest it was most likely from injuries inflicted by his employer. Perhaps he was too ill to appear and so the charge was dropped. This was the first man to die at Dandy's hand.

Dandy was indicted in another case, the death of an Indian boy named Edward. The indictment reads:

"Dandy's gun charged with bullets against said Edward did discharge and…wound (him) in the right side of his belly, near the navel, so that he pierced his guts, of which said wound the said Edward within the space of three days died…"

Found guilty of murder and felony in a subsequent jury trial, Dandy managed to have his sentence commuted on some technicality. He was ordered to serve the lord proprietor for seven years. One of his duties was to be the public executioner for the colony. It was a strange penance, given that Dandy's reputation as a tempestuous and abusive man was by then apparently widespread in the colony.

In May 1657, Dandy lost control again. His apprentice Henry Gouge had been sent to get live coals from a nearby kiln for the forge and when he was too slow at this task, Dandy pursued him. Neighbors said they heard screams, cries of pain and distress. Dandy returned saying the boy had run away. His body was found the next day naked and floating down a creek near a still at Newtown. A search for his clothes - suspecting he'd disrobed to swim - revealed nothing. The corpse was black and blue, with the marks of a savage attack. Strangely, Dandy was with the search party and volunteered to help drag the body ashore. Bystanders claimed that when Dandy touched the corpse, Gouge's mouth and a deep cut in his head started to bleed. In the 17th century, this was admissible evidence at trial as it was supposed to indicate the corpse identifying its slayer.

Not long after the killing, Sheriff Veitch and two physicians were charged with investigating, and had the then-decomposing body exhumed, examined and to "cause the said head to be carefully lapped up and warily brought to the court with what convenient and possible speed as maybe." One supposes the purpose was so that the wounds could be examined.

Dandy in the meantime, escaped from custody and fled across the Potomac to Virginia. There he was pursued by Sheriff Veitch, who apprehended him and returned him to Maryland. The sentence pronounced by the provincial judges was death, and Veitch conveyed Dandy to an island in St. Leonard Creek.

I view two possibilities for the location of the site where Dandy was taken. First, the tip of Petersen Point at St. Leonard Creek's mouth was a low sandy erosional hook before modern shoreline stabilization and might periodically have cut off as an island. Second, there is still a free-standing island in the creek above its confluence with Johns Creek. As recent as 40 years ago, it had high banks and large trees, although it has since eroded to a symbolic remnant. Nearly 350 years ago, it would have likely had high old growth trees - unlike the adjacent mainland where clearing for tobacco agriculture had taken place. It was also near the sheriff's original 70-acre land holding on Veitch's Cove.

Whichever site it was, on Oct. 3, 1657, Veitch did his civic duty, and John Dandy was hung by the neck until dead—the first Englishman tried and executed in Maryland.

Two days later, Veitch submitted his invoice to the court for "the imprisonment, and other necessary and usual fees concerning the trial and executing of John Dandy."

He continued as sheriff into 1658 and was a grand or petit jury foreman in five subsequent years.

Transferring a cow as payment, he bought the transport and indenture of two English girls, Ann Kidde and Mary Gakerlin. He later married Mary, and she bore his six children, ensuring, after his death in 1685 at age 57, a line of descent that dots North America today.

In an ironic footnote, his descendant, Deputy Sheriff Will Veach of Sheridan, WY, was gunned down in June 1914 during a confrontation with a notorious horse thief and outlaw. The papers that day cited his law enforcement ancestor, Sheriff James Veitch, in the eulogy.