WHITE, THOMAS, HBC sailor and chief factor; fl. 1719–56.
Thomas White sailed for York Fort (York Factory, Man.) in 1719 as a foremast hand for the Hudson’s Bay Company. It is not always easy to substantiate the details of his service, since Richard White was also in the company’s employ from 1726 to 1746 and some references to “Mr. White” might apply to either man. Thomas White’s entire career was marked by reports of his diligence, honesty, and devotion to the company’s interests. These qualities earned his promotion to steward of York Fort in 1723, but he was recalled in 1724 when his time expired and actually made the journey home in 1725.
White next emerges in 1731, when he was made second in command and book-keeper at York. The double responsibility was held to be too heavy, however, and the following year he was relieved of his book-keeping duties by James Isham. He remained at York and was directed to manage the post when the chief factor, Thomas McCliesh, went home in 1734. White’s integrity was specially praised and he was continued as chief for 1735 and 1736. Anxious to return to England after so long an absence, in 1737 he handed over command to Isham with a report that the post needed substantial repairs, if not complete rebuilding.
In 1741 the London committee called White into their discussions of proposals made by Arthur Dobbs, a noted critic of the HBC, and Christopher Middleton, a former company captain, for the discovery of a northwest passage. White was going to command at York that year, and the committee entrusted him with verbal instructions to Isham, who was posted to Churchill (Man.), regarding the reception of Middleton’s expedition. White was also told to divert as much trade as possible to Churchill, where the great stone bastions of Fort Prince of Wales were being erected to create a defensible centre for English trade, but he was nevertheless instructed to proceed with the reconstruction of York Fort. Although White accepted the policy of directing trade to Churchill, his manner of dealing with the Indians was so fair and affable that he was accused by Robert Pilgrim of “enticing” customers from Churchill to York. His reputation as a trader well beloved by Indians lingered long after he had left the post in 1746 to return to England.
In May 1751 White re-entered the company’s service and was sent to command at Moose, where Pilgrim had died after a long illness and Robert Temple was in charge temporarily. The men at Moose had a reputation for bad behaviour, trade there had steadily declined, and the buildings had fallen into disrepair. White made steady progress with the rebuilding, but he failed to revitalize business in face of competition from French “pedlars” who traded in the interior, saving the Indians the long journey to the coast. In 1756 he left the country for the last time.
White was above all the conscientious servant. Although the HBC had occasionally elicited information from him, he was not consulted at the policy-making level. When he voiced his opinions he seems to have been unprogressive. He moved the new building at York to the old site, which had been abandoned, and he was apathetic and undistinguished where innovations were concerned. He took his orders and endeavoured to carry them out, and he was honest and fair-minded in an age when such virtues were not universal.