The Vagabond: Gadsden’s early police force


In 1885, the Gadsden City Council elected Henry C. White as the city’s first marshal and chief of police. White made John S. Hughes his deputy.

White, who served on and off as police chief with much distinction, was an efficient and shrewd officer. He had a way of knowing what boys and young men were doing and where they were doing it at all times of the day and night. Many boys were astonished when White told them what they had been up to the night before and gave them a gentle but firm warning. To the young men, White often dropped a hint that such goings on were bad for one’s health and social standing.

White was a good detective. How he found out so much about everybody in town was never known, but White was a wizard in keeping up with such things. He knew all offenders and could usually put his finger on the perpetrator of a crime.

White was born March 10, l838, near Spartanburg, South Carolina. He event-ually became a native of Marietta, Georgia. It was from Georgia where White enlisted in the Confederate army in the Civil War, fighting under the banner of Philips’ Legion. He was cap-tured and was one of only eight soldiers who survived in the camp in which he was imprisoned.

After the Civil War, White moved by way of flat boat down the Coosa River from Rome, Ga. He married Elizabeth Ruede White (1851-1890) and came to Gadsden in 1883 to open a meat market in one of the new brick buildings erected by John S. Paden in the 300 block on the south side of Broad Street. White engaged in numerous business enterprises, one of them being the manager of the Exchange Hotel and the Printup Hotel.

White served faithfully under many administrations. He had the complete confidence of the people and in primary elections, a confidence that was ex-pressed by an almost unani-mous vote.

White became known as one of the best chiefs of police in Alabama and was regarded as second to none in the business.

On the night of December 25, 1906, White found it necessary to walk to Attalla in the snow to arrest and bring back a prisoner. As a result, he contracted pneumonia and died at his home on Chestnut Street on December 30, 1906, at the age of 69. He is buried at Forrest Cemetery. White was a member of the Masonic and Odd Fellow lodges.

White’s children were W.E. White, secretary of the Ewing Hardware Company; R.J. White, assistant cashier at the Queen City Bank: Ed White of New Orleans, Louisiana; Mrs. Rosa Bla-lock of Atlanta, Ga.; Mrs. R.C. Cobb of Cleaton, Kentucky.; and Bessie White and Lillian White of Gadsden.

At the Gadsden City Council meeting on June 7, 1977, a restored and enlarged picture of Chief White and six officers who comprised the 1888 Gadsden Police Force was presented to the city by George B. White, Jr., the great-grandson of Chief White.

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