Private Hugh White The Sentry at the Customs House
There are few documented historic accounts about Hugh White, one of the British solders who participated in the Boston Massacre. But in the chain of events that lead to the famous milestone of the American history it could have been up to Private White to avoid the disaster.
Pvt. Hugh White was the soldier of His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot. He was thirty years old and had served in the British army for eleven years.
Monday, March 5, 1770, was a chilly day. Snow from a recent storm still lined the streets. That evening, Private Hugh White was stationed at a guard post on King Street. The post was near the Customs House, where British Officials collected duties. Some time after 8 pm a few young men approached White and began to taunt him.
The soldier grew angry and made a move that perhaps changed the course of history. White swung his heavy gun and dealt a blow to one of the youth, Edward Garrick on the side of the head. The crowd immediately saw this as the soldier’s attack on a “peaceful” civilian. The anger energized the mob. When the word spread on the streets the crowd started growing and continued to insult White. As more people gathered, White climbed the steps of the Customs House to stand above the crowd. He loaded the gun and said that he would fire if the crowd attacked. Instead the crowd started throwing chunks of ice at the soldier. Angry and frightened White called for help. Soon Captain Preston arrived with seven men to help White.
The events that unfolded minutes later became one of the biggest symbols of American Revolution. We can only speculate how the night would have turned out if White managed to stay in control and refrained from hitting Garrick or perhaps called for backup earlier. But his emotional state must also be taken in consideration. It is a well known fact that the British regulars in Boston were abused and mistreated not only by Bostonians but by their own officers.
During the Boston Massacre trial Hugh White was indicted for the murder of Patrick Carr. Defended by John Adams White and another soldier were convicted of a lesser charge, manslaughter, but escaped death sentences through a legal technicality and were punished instead by being branded with the letter “M” (murderer) on their left thumbs. White and the other soldiers were soon sent back to England.