A (Very) Brief History of Henry Hudson
Posted on April 27, 2013 by ButtermilkAdmin
A (Very) Brief History of Henry Hudson and the Discovery of the Hudson River
Our property is a microcosm, containing the best of what the Hudson Valley has to offer: local, organic, artisanal cuisine; breathtaking, stunning views of the surrounding outdoors, and above all else, a rich, detailed history, one of which is a piece of the puzzle to piecing together the rich narrative of the Hudson Valley’s past. As we are on the edge of the river itself, perhaps going into some of the history of the river itself will help you to appreciate all of the truly remarkable events that have happened along the river – its discovery, its beginnings as a trade route, and some of the important events that have taken place here to add the river to the large tapestry of Americana which we all, as Americans, share.
Please just be aware that this is a very brief overview of the history of the river, as many books and resources have been devoted to telling its story. At the end of this article I will post links that will delve a little further than the scope of this article for more information regarding the river.
Before being discovered by Giovanni de Verrazzano in 1524, the Hudson River had a few names by the Native tribes who occupied land on and around the river. The Lenape tribe, who resided in the lower banks of the River; what is now Manhattan, northeast New Jersey and some parts of southern Westchester and Rockland counties, called it Muhheakantuck, or “the river that flows two ways,” while the Iroquois, who occupied the upper regions of the Hudson River Valley, called it Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk, or the “Great Mohegan,” named after the Mohegan tribe. While Verrazzano discovered the mouth of the river (he actually thought it was a large lake), two Spanish cartographers, Estêvão Gomes and Diego Gutiérrez have an accurate representation of the Hudson River on maps dated 1529, which they name the river Rio de San Antonio, or St. Anthony’s River.
In 1609, Henry Hudson, an English-born ship captain, aimed to set out on his third voyage across the Atlantic Ocean after two successful voyages to the west and east of England. They were attempting to discover new trade routes to Asia to compete with the Dutch, who were at the time England’s biggest competitor. Their first voyage in 1607 discovered what would come to be known as Greenland; while their second voyage, they headed east, only to turn around in the Arctic Circle, as the ice was too thick to continue on. For his third voyage, Hudson received no financial backing from the various trade companies which had previously employed him, due to what they perceived as failed voyages, as, again, they were looking for a direct route to Asia. So, Henry turned to England’s largest competitor – none other than the Netherland’s own Dutch East India Company, who funded his third voyage to discover the fabled “Northwest Passage” – a direct route west into Asia.
First sailing north, Hudson faced a possible mutiny from his crew, due to the harsh, brutal conditions of the Arctic climes. To prevent the brewing mutiny, he broke his contract with the Dutch, and headed south – toward the New World.
On September 3rd, he discovered a wide bay further south, leading further inland. Assuming this passage would lead west, toward the Pacific Ocean, he continued down the river. The next day, he was greeted by Natives who offered him corn, which he named “Turkish Wheat.” The next day the crew went ashore, where the Natives traded with them tobacco for gifts of knives and beads. Believing the Natives to be friendly, Hudson sent a small crew to explore a tributary to the newfound river, only for that crew to be assaulted by two canoes of Natives, in which one crew member was killed and two others were injured.
A few days after the attack, a group of Natives, adorning some of the dress of the attacked crew, approached the Half Moon peacefully. The crew saw their intention to attack, and after a brief struggle they eventually kidnapped one as insurance from further attacks. Over the next few days he traded peacefully with the native Lenapes, slowly making his way up toward what is modern day Yonkers. During this time, Hudson remarked about how incredibly fertile the land around the valley was, with plentiful produce and fish for the crew.
On September 19th, almost two weeks during their journey up the river, Hudson anchored the Half Moon around present-day Albany. The crew continued to trade goods with the Natives, while Hudson was disappointed to discover that the river became too narrow for the boat to sail through. The next day, he sent a crew north to “sound” for river depth, or to check how deep the water in the river was. Three days later, he was informed that the river became too narrow to continue onwards, so he made the decision to turn back around. After running aground several times and having a few tense encounters with Natives, the crew returned to the island of Mannahattes (what is present day Manhattan) on October 2nd, almost a month after entering the river. A group of about 100 Mannahattes aggressively attacked the Half Moon, chasing the boat with canoes. Both sides fired upon each other, and about 15 Mannahattes were killed.
Two days later on October 4th the Half Moon returned to the mouth of the Hudson, ending at equal times a beautiful, and harrowing, journey, foreshadowing what would largely be how relations between the Natives and Europeans would be in the coming centuries. While the Dutch had then suggested for Hudson to continue up northwest toward Newfoundland, to hunker down for the winter, and attempt to discover the Northwest Passage in the following months, many of his crew threatened mutiny, demanding to be brought home after their journey. They eventually landed in Dartmouth, England on November 7th, concluding Hudson’s third, 7 ½ month long expedition. Despite the Dutch East India Trading Company’s insistence on Hudson returning to Holland, the English government kept them grounded at Dartmouth, accusing Hudson and his crew of treason. Despite this, many English seafarers often worked for other companies, so this accusation of treason probably originated from jealous British trading companies. Hudson was brought to court before King James, eventually being placed on house arrest at his home in London.
While Hudson and his crew never ended up returning to Amsterdam, the Half Moon was released from British docks, returning to Amsterdam the summer of 1610. The Dutch ended up winning the supposed trading arms race, successfully bringing Chinese teas to Europe in 1609. The Dutch also realized the potential of the Hudson River Valley for colonization, eventually sending expeditions there in 1611. Eventually, in 1624 the Dutch settled a fur trading post, as fur was an incredibly lucrative item to sell during that time. They named the post New Amsterdam (which, as you may know, eventually became New York City).
What happened to Henry Hudson and his crew? Eventually, the accusation of treason blew over, and Hudson found, this time, English financial backing for what would be his fourth, and final, expedition. Still in search of the fabled Northwest Passage, Hudson led a crew northwest across the Atlantic. Perhaps because of his recent arrest, he had lost the ability to effectively manage a crew, and the members aboard the ship, from the onset of their voyage, became unruly. Within the first few months, he almost underwent a mutiny, before even reaching the destination of his journey, which was this time an area in the Northeast region of what is now Canada, and now named the Hudson Strait, Foxe Basin, and Hudson Bay. The trip was treacherous and windy and the crew had poor living conditions. Eventually, during their travels along the bay they set up camp to endure a harsh, brutal winter, where many members of the crew had scurvy and were suffering from starvation.
When the ship was set to sail next spring, Hudson wanted to continue his exploration, a decision that would eventually cause him his death. Fights eventually broke out over food, and Hudson accused crew members of hoarding food. Eventually, the crew mutinied, setting Hudson, his son, who was taken along for the expedition and other crew members adrift on a small sloop in the bay. They were never seen or heard from again. While many of the crew died on the return trip to England, some returned and were arrested for mutiny, charges which they were cleared for later. The next spring they set sail to the Bay to search for survivors, none of which were found.
Despite Hudson’s mutiny, he is remembered as the man for whom this rich, beautiful valley is named after, due to his discovery and subsequent recordings of it. And while he is just one thread in the wide tapestry of the Valley’s historic narrative, it is an important thread, and one with which all residents and visitors share.
For more information regarding the Hudson River, and for the sources of this article, please follow the links below:
http://www.ianchadwick.com/hudson/hudson_overview.htm – This is a great overview of the life and nautical career of Sir Henry Hudson.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Hudson_Valley – The Wikipedia portal page contains a wealth of information about the Hudson River Valley, written in terse, clear language.