The English explorer Henry Hudson emerges from the fog of history not long before his historic voyage. Little is known of his ancestry. What is known is that Captain Hudson was determined to realize the centuries-old mariner's dream of shorter water route to China. Hudson's two previous voyages, underwritten by English interests, were foiled by mountainous Arctic ice floes and storms as he headed northeast along the upper reaches of the Norwegian coast.
Click here to download the book by Russell Shorto and Geert Mak on the history of Hudson, Amsterdam and New York.
On his now legendary third voyage, under the auspices of the wealthy Dutch East India Company, Captain Hudson, set sail unceremoniously from Amsterdam with a crew of no more than twenty Dutch- and Englishmen in the decidedly cramped, triple-masted vessel, the Half Moon (Halve Maen in Dutch), on April 4, 1609. It has been suggested that the inferior ship was an expression of the wariness of Hudson's new sponsors, who thought he was overpaying the crew. The Dutch and English were archrivals at this time.
Their suspicions were well founded, for Captain Hudson again proved unmanageable. This time. when he encountered ferocious weather near Norway, the ambitious Hudson, despite having received instructions to search only for a northeasterly route, instead of returning to port, made a three thousand mile detour in search of warmer weather and the passage he was convinced he'd find along the northeast coast of America. He never found it. But he did come upon "a very good harbor for all windes," a discovery that gave rise to the founding of Nieuw Amsterdam and, ultimately, New York.
In mid-July, 1609, traveling south, the Half Moon cast anchor off the coast of Maine, passing Cape Cod in the first days of August, making it as far south as the Chesapeake Bay by mid-month. He then reversed course, trawling for his imagined passage to the Orient and anchored inside Sandy Hook on September 3.
On September 11, 1609, after exploring the Bay for about a week, Hudson came upon the entrance to cas fine a river as can be found", the mile-wide river that now bears his name. The crew sailed upriver nearly to Albany on the 14th, far enough to convince Hudson that he'd come upon another dead end. The disgruntled mariner set sail for Europe on October 5, arriving in England in November where suspicious Britons detained him for a full eight months.
While Hudson had not uncovered the passage he would die trying to find two years later, he was able to report to his sponsors that in addition to an outstanding harbor and river he'd found, the lands to either side of the tidal river were 'the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon,' a fur-trader's paradise populated by on-balance peaceable natives with whom they could do business. The Dutch were quick to see the possibilities and Hudson's patrons were delighted with his findings. They based their claim on the Tri State Area on Hudson's discovery under Dutch flag.
Seventeenth century Dutch is perhaps as understandable to an Amsterdammer in 2009 as Middle English to the average contemporary New Yorker, and recent scholarship emerging from the translation -by Charles Gehring and his team- of 12,000 official documents in old Dutch on parchment (contracts, letters, etc.) makes it increasingly clear that the socially progressive, enterprising nature of the Dutch, with their unbending focus on commerce as the source of the common good, was in many ways responsible for the character of New York as the world has come to know her. Seventeenth century Amsterdam was the most liberal, dynamic city in Europe and the Dutch settlers' tradition of tolerance became a hallmark of conduct in its new world colony.
Nieuw Amsterdam, an outpost of the Dutch West India Company, was the teeming frontier enterprise with a multi-ethnic face that provided the foundation for the wide-open, ethnically diverse, cosmopolitan culture for which New York City has always been revered around the world. It is an ancestry that stands in distinct contrast to that of the closed theocratic communities of New England who occupy center stage in the folklore of America's founding.
Click on the name of Henry Hudson's ship 'Half Moon' to download a free unique 3 D image of the ship, with compliments of Dutch magazine Elsevier.