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.

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