25 February 2010

Henry Hudson and the Voyage of 1609

September 3, 2009 marked the 400th anniversary of the beginning of Henry Hudson’s discovery of what is now known as the Hudson River. As I began looking for material to learn about the man, every source I turned to said the same thing. Hudson appeared to have sprung nearly full formed as a ship master and very little is known about the man, his career prior to his first turn as master in 1607, and when, where, and how this mysterious seafarer perished. Nobody is even sure what he looked like. The portraits of him that exist were produced from memory after he failed to return from the voyage of 1610.

This much we know. Henry was married and had three (3) children. How? One of the conditions of Henry being made master of the 1609 voyage was that his wife, Katherine, and their three (3) children had to live in The Netherlands until his return. The British Henry had been hired by the Dutch East India Company to find a Northeast Passage and after only two (2) voyages had already established a reputation for disobeying his charter and going in search of an elusive Northwest Passage.

The voyage of 1609 would prove to be no different. Hudson and his crew, aboard the Half Moon, set off in search of a Northeast Passage to India and Asia on March 25, 1609. When ice covered seas put a halt to northeast search, Hudson did an about face and headed west.

One of Hudson’s crew, Robert Juet, kept a journal that has survived. This transcription comes originally from Book III of Purchas His Pilgrimes, by Samuel Purchas.

“September 3 Misty in the morning until 10 o’clock, then it cleared and the wind came to the south southeast, so we weighed anchor and sailed northward. The land is very pleasant, high and bold. At three o’clock in the afternoon we came to three great rivers. So we sailed along to the northernmost, thinking to enter, but a shallow bar prevented us. Then we tacked to the southward and found 2, 3 and 3 ¼ fathoms until we came to the southern side of them where we had five and six fathoms, and anchored. We sent out boar to take soundings and they returned an hour and a half later having found no less water than four, five, six and seven fathoms. So we weighed anchor, went in, and anchored in five fathoms with a mud bottom. We saw many salmon, mullets and large rays. The latitude is 40 [degrees] 30 [minutes].”

In 1610 Hudson finally received a contract to embark on a voyage for the Northwest Passage. Unfortunately, he would not return from the journey. A mutiny occurred, not his first, and Hudson was abandoned by his crew. Nobody knows for sure what happened to him, but his chances for survival were not good.

24 February 2010

Casimir Pulaski, American Patriot

On 20 June 1977 Illinois passed an act creating the state holiday of Pulaski Day to celebrate American Revolution veteran Casimir Pulaski, to be the first Monday in March.

Casimir Pulaski was born between in March sometime between 1745 and 1747 in Poland. He was the son of one of Poland’s highest-ranking jurists. In 1768, Russia invaded Poland and Pulaski, his father, both of his brothers, and at least one cousin joined the effort to repel the invaders. It was in defense of his native homeland that he first showed signs military genius. He was the only member of his family to escape death and a Russian prison. He did not escape with his reputation in tact. When he was accused of treason and sentenced to death, Pulaski fled Poland for Turkey. When Turkey negotiated an end to their hostilities with Russia he was forced to leave there. By the time of American independence he was living in France, but exactly when he arrived in France is unknown.

With a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin, Pulaski came to Philadelphia in the summer of 1777 and enlisted in the Continental Army as a volunteer. After the Battle of Brandywine and with Washington’s blessing Congress appointed him to command the cavalry as a brigadier-general on 15 Sep 1777.

When the army retired to winter quarters at Valley Forge, the cavalry retired to Trenton, NJ. There was no rest for the cavalry; Pulaski embarked on a training and exercise program for his troops to get them into fighting shape. Frustrated by the limitations of his command, he was resigned his post cavalry commander and returned to the main army at Valley Forge in March 1778 after just five months of service.

Pulaski proposed the formation of an independent corps consisting of light horse (cavalry armed with lances) and light infantry. Washington and Congress accepted his proposal and Pulaski’s Legion was formed. The Legion would not spend another full winter in New Jersey. About 3 months into winter quarters, they were tasked with moving south to support the efforts around Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. This was the first long distance march by an American fighting force. During the Siege of Savannah, Pulaski was fatally wounded. He died aboard the Wasp on 15 October 1779. He was in his early-mid 30’s. There is some dispute over where he was interred. Some historians say that he was buried at sea; others, on a plantation outside Savannah.

Over 200 years after his death, Pulaski finally became a US citizen when, on 6 November 2009, President Obama signed a joint resolution of Congress granting him citizenship.

22 February 2010

The Lost Art of Debate

Something became painfully clear to me as I was watching the Senate debate on the proposed health care reform bill the weekend before Christmas. There was no debate. The only thing I can tell you about the proposed legislation from the two hours of senate debate that I watched is that it provides for the federal government to absorb any increased costs to the state of Nebraska for Medicaid. The major parties spent the majority of their debate time slinging mud at one other, complaining, and in some cases campaigning, while the lesser parties appeared to have been excluded completely. It was a very disheartening sight. I tuned in not expecting to have anything resolved, but to hear both sides of the issues with the participants speaking intelligently and understandably. Perhaps I've simply been reading too much Allen Drury.