The History of New York State
Book I, Chapter III
Part V

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


One hardly thinks it would, however, for Hudson's mission was not into what were looked upon as Spanish waters. In any case, Hudson was a servant of the already-chartered East India Company, whose rapidly increasing wealth was too vital a factor of Dutch prosperity to permit the States General to think hastily of curbing its operations. Moreover, England was fast becoming Holland's strongest rival in the East; and the English trading companies had resumed their endeavors to find the back way to the East. So there was reason for extraordinary action by the Dutch in Hudson's case, and also a certain satisfaction in having drawn away from the English company one of the latter's chief navigators, one of whose service the Dutch had outbidden the French. #57

As Motley tells us the Dutch cosmographers were of the opinion that about 10,000 miles of maritime perils could be avoided if the northeasterly way to the East could be found; moreover, the States General had long before set a premium of 25,000 florins upon success in Arctic exploration; nevertheless, had the French not tried to draw Henry Hudson away from the Dutch, his expedition would certainly have been postponed until 1610, and perhaps from a further indefinite period, the political commotion, caused by the truce, having become so chaotic in the state of the republic

The known career of Henry Hudson, as a navigator, covers only five year--1607-11--but in those few years he laid trails which have kept his name prominently before the American people for three centuries, and established him as one of the great English navigators of an age of intrepid explorers. Little is known of his early life. Date and place of his birth are not known, although from portraits published of him, his age, in the last years of his life, may be estimated as between 40 and 50 years. Obviously, he could not have been the Henry Hudson who was associated with other Englishmen in founding the Muscovy Company, in the ‘50’s of the sixteenth century; but, inasmuch as the younger Henry Hudson was "quite familiar with the Englishmen who were identified with the Muscovy company," there is basis for supposing that the two namesakes were of the same family. The younger Hudson grew to manhood "imbued with thoughts of travel and maritime adventure." It is stated that he was born, "probably in Bristol, possibly in London, England." Quite possibly he sailed the seas for the Muscovy Company for many years before 1607, when he was given command of an expeditions to the Arctic. He seems to have become an expert navigator, and to have directed his study especially to Arctic exploration. Probably, he was a man of mature years when given this command, for there is reference to a "wife and children." As commander of the "Hopewell," a ship of 60 tons, Henry Hudson sailed from Gravesend, England, on May 1, 1607, instructed by his employers, the Muscovy Company, "to proceed directly across the pole." He steered northwest, and along the coast of Greenland to about the eightieth parallel, when ice prevented farther northern progress. Skirting the unbroken ice-barrier eastward, he eventually reached Spitzbergen; but, having nowhere found an opening in the almost solid wall of frozen sea, Hudson turned homeward late in the same year. In the next year, he was again in Arctic waters, and although his observations of the previous voyage led him to "originate the theory of an open polar sea," he e was directed by the Muscovy company to seek a northeast passage. So Hudson steed toward Nova Zembla, whither the brave Stephen Burroughs had sailed 58 years before—with like purpose and for the same English trading company. Hudson succeeded hardly any better then Burroughs; he could not sail beyond Nova Zembla. Unsuccessful, Hudson returned to England, much to the disappointment of the Muscovy Company, who thereupon abandoned the quest for a time.

The Dutch authorities seem to have been aware of the Hudson voyages and of their result. Upon Hudson’s return in 1608, he went to Amsterdam. Maybe, his visit was not at the request of the Dutch East India company, though it is said that he "had a call" to Amsterdam. O’Callaghan says that "Hudson resolved to go to Holland, in the hope of meeting there encouragement to attempt again the venturesome enterprise he was so anxious to achieve." #58 Brodhead’s version, which is based on Van Meteren, is that Hudson "shaped his course to Holland, encouraged probably by the efforts making in that quarter to form a new commercial association to trade to the West Indies." #59 Quite possibly, the great navigator was not approached by the Dutch East India Company, but by those who were closely associated with its Amsterdam directors, and more enthusiastic in matters of exploration than of trade.

It seems that Hudson was in close touch with Plancius, the cosmographer, in Amsterdam, and also with Jodocus Hondius, a leading cartographer, formerly of London. Plancius gave Hudson Weymouth’s journals, and Hondius "supplied him with translations of certain Dutch papers." Among the papers he eventually received from the latter was one which reviewed Norse voyages to America before the time of Columbus. #60 Hudson also showed to Plancius, says Van Mereten, "a letter and maps of his friend, Captain John Smith, in which the latter explained that there was a sea leading into the Western Ocean north of the English colony #61 (Virginia)." That Hudson himself had then become convinced that a northeast passage did not exist cannot be asserted, but I seems clear that the New World also entered into his calculations at this time.

However, a Dutch West India Company had not been formed, so Hudson’s chances of employment were lessened. Nevertheless, Plancius was eager to persuade the East India Company to set aside a small part of their immense profits to equip an Arctic expedition commanded by the Englishman. The Amsterdam chamber of the Eat India Company seems to have favored the plan, but opposition came from the Zeeland Department; so it was decided to defer consideration of the question until the gathering of the Council of the Seventeen, in the next year.

At this juncture, the French intervened. Hudson was approached by a former officer of the Dutch Company—one Le Maire, a French merchant in Amsterdam—who, supported by President Jeannin, the French ambassador at the Hague, sought to persuade Hudson to enter the service of the French King.

When the Amsterdam directors of the Dutch East India Company were informed of this plan of the French to outwit them, they hastily resolved to engage Hudson. On January 8, 1609, therefore, two of the directors, acting as a committee with power to enter into an agreement, went into conference with Hudson in the offices of the East India company, at Amsterdam. Jodocus Hondius, friend of Hudson, acted as interpreter, and witnessed the agreement, which was made on that date. This agreement seems to have been promptly confirmed by the company, for the French ambassador, on January 29, was regretfully compelled to inform his sovereign that the English navigator was no longer free to serve him. To a manuscript, #62 "History of the Dutch East India Company," now in the Royal Archives of Holland, is appended a copy of the contract entered into by Hudson and the Company, From it one learns that the company undertook to equip a vessel of 60 tons burden for a voyage to the North, "around the northern extremity of Nova Zembla, to continue on that parallel until he could turn to the south and steer for India." Brodhead says that the instructions given to Hudson were "to explore a passage to china by the northeast or northwest," but the contract does not give the explorer such freedom of movement, indeed, the author of the manuscript "History of the Dutch East India Company"--"charges Hudson with a violation of his instructions when he directed his course to the northwest before reporting his previous experiences at Amsterdam." #63 For his service on this voyage to the northeast, the company engaged to pay Hudson "as well for his outfit as for the support of his wife and children," the sum of eight hundred florins ($320), the agreement further providing that "in case he do not come back (which God prevent) the directors shall further pay to his wife two hundred florins ($80) in cash"; but, if he should be successful in his quest, the company promised to reward him "in their discretion.

Preparations for the voyage were busily pursued, not the least important part of the preparations being frequent intercourse between Hudson and the Dutch authorities on navigation--Plancius, Linschoten, Hondius, and others. All previous experiences of Arctic explorers were closely studied. Maps were drawn, journals were studied, and even though the company officially instructed Hudson to confine his explorations to the Northeast, there is reason to believe that these scientists who were advising Hudson were not flatly opposed to an endeavor being made in the opposite direction. Certainly, Hudson was well equipped with cartographic data of the Northwest.

The vessel chosen for the Arctic experiment was a two-masted one, of the peculiar speedy type built for the difficult navigation of the Vlie and Texel. They were known as "Vlie-boats,' fast sailing yachts known to the English as "fly-boats." Usually, they were of about 50 lasts (100 tons) burden, but the "Half Moon," which was equipped or Hudson's voyage, was of only 40 lasts (80 tons).

On April 4, 1609, #64 this little vessel sailed from Amsterdam, going out of the Zuyder Zee, through the channel between Texel and north Holland on April 6. Scarcely a month later, Hudson, having doubled the North Cape,. Had reached the point where the sea was so full of ice that, on May 5, in the Barentz Sea, he had to realize that to proceed farther eastward was hardly possible. It is suggested that he arrived two or three months too early in the season. Certainly, to some of his crew, men who had been used only to the East India service and bitterly felt the Arctic rigor, the quest seemed hopeless. There was mutinous clamor, which Hudson could not ignore. His crew of 20 was partly English and partly Dutch, somewhat difficult materials to merge, in those days of maritime rivalry. To make matters worse, his lieutenant, or "under schipper," was Dutch, somewhat recalcitrant. #65 Hudson met the murmurs of his men by asking them to choose between two alternatives; one was to sail westward, and seek for a passage across the continent of American, about the latitude of 40 degrees north, "induced thereto by charts which a certain Captain Smith had sent him from Virginia"; the other to go to Lumly's Inlet, and follow up Waymouth's light, seeking for the passage in Davis' Strait. The crew chose the latter course as being that which more legitimately came within the express purpose of their expedition. On May 14 Hudson turned about and sailed for the island of Faro, which he reached on the last day of May. After remaining a day there to water, the voyage was resumed across the Atlantic. When off Newfoundland, the "Half Moon", "spent a mast." They were then in latitude 48° N., and one writer supposes that Hudson had deliberately veered to the southward in crossing the Atlantic. Brodhead, however, seems to believe that the captain did his utmost to keep faith with his men. He writes: "Hudson sailed toward the island of Faro. . . . . thence he stretched westward across the Atlantic; but failing to see the island which Frobisher's ships had visited in 1578, he shaped his course for Newfoundland. After a stormy and perilous voyage, in which he lost his foremast overboard, Hudson arrived, early in July, on the Banks, where he was becalmed." When able, he followed the coastline of Nova Scotia and crossed the Penobscot Bay for repairs. This region, as Van Mereten informs #66 us, was recognized was New France; so Hudson landed, not for the purpose of claiming possession, but merely "in order to replace his foremast with a new one cut from the virgin forest." The work of mending tattered rigging and fitting the new mast occupied a week, during which Hudson was rendered somewhat uneasy by the frequent visits made to the ship by Indians. They came in two French built shallops, and "spake some words of French." When the "Half Moon" was ready for sea, some of the sailors stole one of the shallops, and also did some havoc in the Indian villages. Fearing retaliation, Hudson set sail southward without delay (July 26). He did not make land again for a week. Then, the shallop was used for sounding. Finding the water sufficient, Hudson anchored at the "northern end of a headland, where his boat's crew landed, and found the natives rejoicing to see them." Supposing it to be an unknown island, he took possession of it, for the fatherland of his patron, naming it New Holland. But after vainly trying to find an opening westward, he was, of course, compelled to follow the coastline. In his progress, he became aware that the headland was Cape Cod, which Gosnold had discovered in 1602, and had claimed for England. Champlain had also sighted it some years before Hudson's coming; so the Dutch had no basis for claiming it by right of discovery. Standing out to sea again, Hudson sailed toward the southwest, and a fortnight later reached the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, or rather found himself at "Smith's islands, six or seven miles north of the entrance of Chesapeake Bay." Beginning his survey at 37' 36" latitude, where, according to the map furnished , the survey of smith had ended, Hudson coasted northward. He anchored in Delaware Bay, but made no attempt to navigate the Delaware (South) River. Possibly, he knew of the exploration made of the Susquehanna River in 1608 by John Smith, and had no desire to encroach upon the latitude of his fellow-countryman. It is more probably, however, that the sandbars deterred him. His clerk, Juet, explains in the ship's journal, Hudson's chief reason for not venturing into the Delaware River, the entry reading: "he that will thoroughly discover this great bay must have a small pinnace that must draw but four or five feet water, to sound before him." The determination with which Hudson later negotiated the shallows of New York waters indicates that he either looked upon the Delaware as smith's province, or had greater faith in Hakluyt's belief "that near 40° N. latitude there was a narrow isthmus formed by the Sea of Verrazanno, like that of Tehuantepec or Panama." So Hudson left the Delaware unexplored, and proceeded northward "several days along a low sandy coast, with 'broken islands,' 'high hills' of Navesinck, "which he describes as "a very good land to fall in with, and a pleasant land to see." The next morning he went onward until he came to "three great rivers," the most northerly of which he attempted to enter, but was prevented by the "very shoal bar before it," #67 "So, sending his boat before him to sound the way, he went in past Sandy Hook, and on the evening of the third of September, 1609, anchored the "Half Moon" in the bay, where the waters were alive with fish." #68

Next morning, Hudson sought the security of the "Horseshoe" farther inside Sandy Hook, and there, with the broad expanse of the bay before him, decided that he was in "a very good harbour." For a week Hudson remained in the Lower Bay, while soundings were made. He held frequent intercourse with the native savages of Monmouth, New Jersey," and could not keep the natives off the ships. The waters were dotted with canoes, the Indians seeming to be more inquisitive than hostile, though it is hard to accept the statement made by Adrian Van der Donck, in his "History of New Netherland," in 1656, that Indians with whom he had conversed, assured him that before the coming of the "Half Moon," they had been unaware that there "were any other people in the world than those who were like themselves." #69 in color, and habits. The boat's crew, meanwhile, continued to sound the waters, and the "Half Moon," shifted her position occasionally, steadily advancing. It is said that a boat's crew landed on the long beach of Congu, or Coney Island, on the 4th, "the first Europeans who trod the shore of the great New Netherland harbor." #70 On the 6th, a boat passed through the Narrows, into "a noble harbor," with "very good riding for ships." Exploring farther, the Bergen Neck, "a narrow river to the westward, between two islands." The land on both sides was "as pleasant with grass, and flowers and goodly trees, as ever they had seen, and very sweet smells came from them." Six miles up this river they saw "an open sea" (Newark Bay). But the sun was now near the horizon, so the crew turned their boat. Suddenly, the explorers were beset by Indians, who came canoes, shot one flight of arrows, and them made off into the deepening twilight. One of the English sailors, John Colman, was fatally wounded, and two others received wounds. Losing their way in the night and storm, the crew did not regain the ship until late in the morning of the next day. At noon, Colman was buried on the beach, Sandy hook being then given the name of Colman's Point, in his memory.

The ship was now "put into a condition of defence," and when Indians next came to the ship, Hudson, "suspecting their good faith," seized two and held them as hostages, "putting red coats upon them." But he has not for a moment thought of abandoning the quest because of this hostile demonstration. The prospect was too bright. Before him seemed to be the Northwest Passage, a noble arm of the sea which connected the Atlantic and the Pacific. But he did not venture to explore in the ship's boat again for some time. Cautiously moving down the Lower Bay, the "Half Moon," on September 11, "went into the river," past the Narrows, and anchored neat the mouth of the Kills, in "a very good harbor or all winds." Next morning, the aborigines came alongside in 28 canoes "made of single hollowed trees," but, remembering Colman's fate, Hudson "durst not trust them." They were not permitted to board the "Half Moon," though their oysters and beans were gladly purchased. In the afternoon the ship ran six miles farther up, the crew being "enraptured by the loveliness of the surrounding country." First in Hudson's thoughts no doubt was the bright possibility that this beautiful broad channel of salt water, which rose and fell with the tides, was the long-sought western way to the East; still, he could not refrain from expressing his delight with the land itself. "It is a beautiful a land as one can tread upon" he reported, "and abounds in all kinds of excellent ship timber"--surely, an attractive asset to a nation of sailors.

The crew ere amazed at the strong current, and also seemed to wonder where this vast interior waterway would lead them. Progress was slow. Drifting with the tide, and anchoring when it ebbed, about 11-1/2 miles were made next day, the explorers anchoring overnight not far above Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Thence, "a high point of land" was seen, "which shewed out to us bearing north by east five leagues off us." This was the Hook Mountain, which towers over the village of Nyack. Next day, when they had reached the broader expanse of the Tappan Zee and Haverstroo of later New Netherland topography, the sailing was more rapid. The Hook (which later came to be known to Dutch sailors as Vedrietig, meaning tedious, because it was generally to so long in sight) was soon passed. In fact, 36 miles were covered on the fourteenth, the "Half Moon" having passed "the beetling walls of the Palisades," and reached "the very portals of the Highlands." Before nightfall they passed through the narrow gap in the mountains that had seemed to stand unbroken in their way, and marked the end of their quest. Hudson was thus saved an anxious, perhaps gloomy, might. The heavy shadow of the frowning Donderberg conveyed no ill omen to the voyagers, now that they knew there was a good passage beyond. As night fell, the "Half Moon" came to anchor near West Point, "in the midst of the sublimest scenery" of the Highlands. As the "little yacht anchored at night, with her lights marking the one gleam of life in the silent expanse of river and forest" well might her crew have thought themselves to be in the darkness and stillness of an isolated region never before traversed by white men.

Next morning, as they were about to set sail, the two Indians who had been held as hostages escaped, leaping through a porthole and swimming ashore. The usual September mist hung heavily over the water, but a bright autumnal sun soon dispelled it, and , with a fair wind, the vlieboat went on speedily among the Highlands. The channel was deep, the weather was ideal, and "the ever-changing scenery" and "magnificent hues," stirred even the most phlegmatic among the crew to expressions of delight. Some were no doubt impressed by the majesty of the Matteawan Mountains. In their homeland, although water courses were literally at their door, they had none that could in majestic grandeur compare with the Hudson River. the Netherlands could provide no such gorge and mountain scenery. Though they sailed 20 leagues on that day, mountains were always insight, high mountains; and ere they hove to for the night, they had come almost under the lee of even loftier mountains, the Catskills, which, said Hudson, "lie from the river's side." At this point, Catskill Landing, they encountered a tribe of "very loving people and very old men."

Indians, unquestionably friendly, flocked on board the vessel next morning, as she lay quietly at anchor. They brought "ears of Indian corn, and pumpkins, and tobacco,' which the eagerly exchanged for trifles." After filling their water-casks, the explorers sailed on; but only for six miles, however, for they had now reached shallower water, calling for careful navigation. The :Half Moon" rested for the night near the marches which divide the channel, opposite the present city of Hudson. Next day, slowly working their way through the shoaling channel, the voyagers, made only 18 miles, anchoring, probably between Schodack and Castleton. There the next day was spent, Hudson going ashore "with an old savage, a governor of the country," who "made him good cheer." #71 Before nightfall, Hudson returned to his ship, notwithstanding pressing invitations to remain.

Next morning, with the early good-tide, the "Half Moon" ran higher up, two leagues above the shoals, "anchoring in deep water, "hear the site of the present city of Albany." Here the yacht "lingered several day"; in fact, it seems that she went no farther up the river. No other interpretation of Juet's "Journal" #72 can hardly be drawn than that this was the highest point reached by the yacht. Hudson despatched a boat's crew to sound farther up, and this crew on a second trip reached the ford and Troy sites of today--and to this point the "half Moon," might have followed the boat, but apparently did not. Juet's "Journal" for the last days of the exploration is given #73 in the footnotes, and is conclusive evidence.

The ship was visited by many Indians at Albany. They came not only with foodstuffs, but with peltries--beaver and otter skins--to barter for beads, knives, and hatchets. Here, at least, was a trading center, even though Hudson by this time was bout to abandon his belief that he had found the strait of the South Sea. The channel was narrowing, but the Straits of Magellan, "drew its banks together to within even a smaller distance than that which separated the shore of this great "River of the Mountains." However, now Hudson realized that the downward current was fresh and clear. Still, unwilling yet to think that he had failed, and that this was only a river, he despatched his mate with a boat's crew to explore farther up. They went "eight or nine leagues.' And, finding themselves on the second trip to be in only seven feet of water, they returned, reporting that they had "found it to be at an end for shipping to go in." #74

The captain was at last compelled, very reluctantly, no doubt, to face the actuality--that this was a river, not a strait. So no more time was lost. Next morning, the anchor was weighted when the tide was on the ebb, and the "Half Moon" sailed. The direction was south, not north, the decent had begun.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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