Friday, September 11, 2009

A very good harbour

It is 400 years ago today that the Englishman Henry Hudson, captaining a Dutch boat called the Half Moon, became the first European explorer to discover an area of land which would in time be identified as an island and be called Manhattan. Hudson’s voyage, which took him inland along a river - centuries later to be named after him - is documented in a journal kept by his crew mate Robert Juet. He recorded, for example, finding a very good harbour, and how the natives brought gifts of tobacco and Indian wheat.

Little is known of Henry Hudson’s early life but by 1607 he had established enough of a reputation for a group of English businessmen to invest in his skills as a captain and navigator. He was financed in 1607 and again in 1608 to seek a Northeast Passage across northern Russia to Asia. When those attempts failed Hudson went to the Netherlands to look for more finance. In 1609, the Dutch East India Company hired him to make a third attempt to look for a Northeast Passage.

Hudson was given the Halve Maen (Half Moon) vessel and instructed to sail from Amsterdam to the Arctic Ocean, north of Russia, into the Pacific and so to the Far East. He left in April 1609, but once north of Scandinavia he encountered such bitter weather that he decided to sail west instead across the North Atlantic to explore for a Northwest Passage. He and his crew hit an island, calling it New Holland, but afterwards discovered that it was Cape Cod. From there - according to the Wikipedia article on Halve Maen - Hudson sailed south to the Chesapeake and then north along the coast navigating first the Delaware Bay and, subsequently, the bay of the river which Hudson named the Mauritius River (for Holland’s Lord-Lieutenant Maurits) but which later became known as the Hudson River.

The Half Moon sailed up as far as present day Albany, New York, where the crew determined the river had become too narrow and shallow for further progress, and that it could not therefore be a passage to the East. Leaving the estuary, he sailed northeast, and then crossed the Atlantic to Dartmouth, England. The ship was subsequently detained in England for eight months before returning, without Hudson, to Amsterdam. Hudson, himself, however, secured further funding for yet another voyage but this time under the English flag. At the helm of a new ship, Discovery, he sailed once again in search of the Northwest Passage. But the vessel became trapped in ice toward the end of 1610, and the following summer his crew mutinied. More information can be found at Wikipedia and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

However, the most informative and comprehensive information about Hudson can be found on a website maintained by Ian Chadwick, a Canadian writer and editor. He explains, for example, how Hudson’s log and journal from the third voyage went back to Amsterdam with the Half Moon, and were ‘not seen by English eyes again’. Parts of the journal, though, were quoted and reproduced in a Dutch book - translated as The History of the New World - in 1625. The journal originals were sold at auction in the early 19th century and subsequently vanished.

A good record of the 1609 voyage up the Hudson River, however, does still exist thanks to Robert Juet, one of Hudson’s officers who accompanied him on several voyages. As with Hudson, not much is known about Juet’s origins, but his cantakerous and mutinous behaviour on Hudson’s fourth expedition is well detailed in the Canadian Biography article mentioned above. Juet’s journal of Hudson’s third voyage was acquired by Samuel Purchas, one of the leading travel publishers of the time, and included as part of a series called Purchas His Pilgrimes (also in 1625). The American Journeys website has made copies of this available on the internet.

However, Juet’s journal can also be found elsewhere. In particular the New Netherland Museum in Albany, New York, has a website dedicated to the Half Moon (and has even funded a replica vessel which now holds a touring museum), and it includes a transcription of the journal. And a Civil War website - Son of the South - also has extensive extracts.

Here is Juet’s journal for a week in September 1609. The extracts starts with an account, on the 6th, of how the natives killed one of their crew. And they includes the day - exactly four centuries ago today - on which Hudson is credited with discovering Manhattan, although he did not know how important a piece of real estate it would become; he did not even know it was an island.

6 September 1609
‘The sixth, in the morning, was faire weather, and our Master sent John Colman, with foure other men in our Boate, over to the North-side to sound the other River, being foure leagues from us. They found by the way shoald [shallow] water, two fathoms; but at the North of the River eighteen, and twentie fathoms, and very good riding for Ships; and a narrow River to the Westward, betweene two Ilands. The Lands, they told us, were as pleasant with Grasse and Flowers and goodly Trees as ever they had seene, and very sweet smells came from them. So they went in two leagues and saw an open Sea, and returned; and as they came backe, they were set upon by two Canoes, the one having twelve, the other fourteene men. The night came on, and it began to rayne, so that their Match went out; and they had one man slaine in the fight, which was an English-man, named John Colman, with an Arrow shot into his throat, and two more hurt. It grew so darke that they could not find the ship that night, but labored to and fro on their Oares. They had so great a streame, that their grapnell would not hold them.’

7 September 1609
‘The seventh, was faire, and by ten of the clocke they returned aboord the ship, and brought our dead man with them, whom we carried on Land and buryed, and named the point after his name, Colman’s Point. Then we hoysed in our Boate, and raised her side with waste boords for defence of our men. So we rode still all night, having good regard to our Watch.’

8 September 1609
‘The eighth, was very faire weather, wee rode still very quietly. The people came aboord us, and brought tabacco and Indian wheat to exchange for knives and beades, and offered us no violence. So we fitting up our Boate did marke them, to see if they would make any shew of the Death of our man; which they did not.’

9 September 1609
‘The ninth, faire weather. In the morning, two great Canoes came aboord full of men; the one with their Bowes and Arrowes, and the other in shew of buying of knives to betray us; but we perceived their intent. Wee tooke two of them to have kept them, and put red Coates on them, and would not suffer the other to come neere us. So they went on Land, and two other came aboord in a Canoe; we tooke the one and let the other goe; but hee which wee had taken, got up and leapt over-boord. Then wee weighed and went off into the channell of the River, and Anchored there all night.’

10 September 1609
‘The tenth, faire weather, we rode still till twelve of the clocke. Then we weighed and went over, and found it shoald all the middle of the River, for wee could finde but two fathoms and a halfe and three fathomes for the space of a league; then wee came to three fathomes and foure fathomes, and so to seven fathomes, and Anchored, and rode all night in soft Ozie ground. The banke is Sand.’

11 September 1609
‘The eleventh was faire and very hot weather. At one of the clocke in the after-noone wee weighed and went into the River, the wind at South South-west, little winde. Our soundings were seven, sixe, five, sixe, seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve, thirteene, and fourteene fathomes. Then it shoalded againe, and came to five fathomes. Then wee Anchored, and saw that it was a very good Harbour for all windes, and rode all night. The people of the Countrey came aboord of us, making shew of love, and gave us Tabacco and Indian wheat, and departed for that night; but we durst not trust them.’

12 September 1609
‘The twelfth, very faire and hot. In the after-noone, at two of the clocke, wee weighed, the winde being variable betweene the North and the North-west. So we turned into the River two leagues and Anchored. This morning, at our first rode in the River, there came eight and twentie Canoes full of men, men, and children to betray us; but we saw their intent, and suffered noone of them to come aboord of us. At twelve of the clocke they departed. They brought with them Oysters and Beanes, whereof wee bought some. They have great Tabacco pipes of yellow Copper, and Pots of Earth to dresse their meate in. It floweth South-east by South within.’

Although Hudson was English, his voyage along the Hudson in Half Moon, a Dutch ship, and for the Dutch, led to the area being under Dutch influence for half a century. In 1613, they established a trading post on the western shore of what would be become Manhattan; in 1614 the New Netherland company was established; and, by the mid-1920s, a newly formed Dutch West India Company had built Fort Amsterdam and a small settlement called New Amsterdam had grown up around it. The Dutch origins can still be seen in many names in New York City, such as Coney Island (from Konijnen Eiland - Dutch for Rabbit Island), Bowery from Bouwerij, Harlem from Haarlem, Greenwich (Village) from Greenwijck. The English didn’t arrive and conquer New Amsterdam (turning it into New York) until the 1660s.

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