WHITE, RICHARD, HBC clerk and accountant; b. c. 1707; fl. 1749.
Richard White joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1726 and went “to keep the Books at Albany Fort [Fort Albany, Ont.],” first under Joseph Myatt* and then under Joseph Adams*. He made good there, but because he voiced such dissatisfaction with the increase in wages offered when his contract was renewed in 1731 he was recalled to London two years later. By continuing to hold out for higher terms in 1734 he lost the opportunity of returning to Albany as “second.” Had he gone to Albany, he would probably have succeeded Adams, who died in 1737. Instead, in 1735 he was apparently obliged by circumstances to accept the company’s terms, and he went to Churchill (Man.) as “second.” The post’s location was grim compared to that of Albany, and from 1736 to 1740 he had to serve under the difficult Richard Norton. Uneducated himself, Norton no doubt feared being superseded by some ambitious young man who knew how to keep accounts and write letters, and so jealously did he guard the secrets of his trading methods that he refused to divulge them even to his employers. Not surprisingly, White described the position of “second” as “no more than an empty Title.”
Having returned to England in 1740, White went back to Churchill in 1741 as “Supervisor of the Works” at the stone Fort Prince of Wales, which had been under construction for ten years. He held the position under Norton’s successor, James Isham, and subsequently under Robert Pilgrim. In 1746 he returned to London disappointed, embittered, and with no further hope of employment in Hudson Bay. The quarrelsome Pilgrim had suspended him from duty on the grounds that he was a corrupting influence – one of “the greatest Sotts in Europe” and a “very Dangerous Fellow.”
In 1749 White appeared before the parliamentary committee which was investigating the HBC. Though his own inland journeys had been limited to 40 miles up the Albany River in search of timber, he ventured the opinion that “the Countries adjoining to Hudson’s Bay might be settled and improved.” He testified about the company’s trade, trading methods, and treatment of the Indians, and about life at the bay in general. Reflecting, no doubt, on his personal experience, he remarked that “the Governors loved to have the sole Management of Affairs; and if any inferior Person should offer to interfere in Matters of that Nature, he is sure to be immediately discharged.”
[White’s own account of his service in Hudson Bay is in G.B., Parl., Report from the committee on Hudson’s Bay, 217–20. References to White at Albany (1726–33) and at Churchill (1735–40) are to be found in HBRS, XXV (Davies and Johnson), which also lists the pertinent sources in the HBC Archives. The correspondence between London and Churchill (HBC Arch. A.6/6, A.6/7, and A.11/13) is the main source of information on the years 1741 to 1746. For background information on the period see Rich, History of the HBC, I. a.m.j.]