Galveston County was formed by an act of the Congress of the Republic of Texas on May 15, 1838. Under that act, William F. Wilson was appointed the County’s first Sheriff. One of his first acts was to establish a county jail, which was placed in the Elbe, a vessel beached during a hurricane in 1837.
In that era, just as now, the Sheriff had the responsibility for maintaining law and order in the county, operating the county jail, and, in certain cases, carrying out sentences – including death sentences – for persons found guilty of crimes. In November, 1840, Sheriff Wilson was ordered by Judge Shelby, judge of the 1st Judicial District, to hang a man after The had been convicted of burglary and “prison-breaking.” With regret, and with cries from the public not to carry out the sentence, Sheriff Wilson took the man to the gallows in what was reportedly the first hanging in the County’s history. The last Sheriff that had to carry out such a sentence – according to available information – took place around 1886 under Sheriff William Owens.