As far as having something named after you goes, Henry Hudson scored big-time.
Not only did the adventurer lend his surname to the river upon which he traversed, but he also extended his influence to the entirety of the hills and slopes surrounding it. In the Hudson Valley, “Hudson” something or other pops up everywhere, making its mark on street signs and storefronts from Albany to Westchester. In Columbia County, there’s even an entire town dedicated to the explorer (and it just so happens to be perfect for day trip adventures).
When it comes down to it, however, the Englishman’s name is much more prominent than any histories about him. Yes, he sailed the river that bears his name. Yes, he traversed the lands now recall his time in the region in perpetuity. But what did he actually do?
That’s precisely the question Henry Hudson: His Times and His Voyages aims to answer. First published in 1907, the book by Edgar Mayhew Bacon was rereleased by Warwick’s HVA Press, which works to bring light to titles in danger of being forgotten to the past. In a special preview of the book, the publishing house helps us flash back to Hudson’s lifetime saga in the Valley.
Henry Hudson’s first voyages were not to the Hudson Valley. In fact, they weren’t even to the Americas. Hudson got his start as an explorer during a time when adventures to Asia were all the rage. European countries wanted the fastest routes to the trade capitals of the Far East, and they wanted them yesterday. As an English citizen, Hudson joined forces with a British expedition, then made his way to Asia by way of the Arctic Ocean.
At least, he tried.
After being stopped not once, but twice, by icy barricades in the waters, Hudson returned to England empty-handed and in need of funding for a third voyage. Unfortunately for him, his lack of success didn’t win him any pity points with the English government, which denied him approval for a follow-up trip. So he turned to the Dutch East India Company and received the go-ahead to set sail for Asia, this time by way of a supposed passage that crossed through North America to the Pacific.
Hudson in the Valley
In 1609, Henry Hudson arrived in the Hudson Valley.
The occasion was auspicious for Hudson, who desperately sought a successful expedition to ease the failure of his two prior ones. On the day he locked eyes with the North American landscape before him, he knew the sun was finally shining down upon him.
“On the morning of the thirteenth of September, 1609, Henry Hudson stood on the deck of the Half Moon and knew that though the fates had warred against him — he had not failed. The fact that he succeeded shows that his wisdom, perseverance, and tact were unexcelled even by his courage and devotion,” Bacon declares.
The adventurer began his American tour in Manhattan, where he first set his sights on the pristine river that would later recall his journey in name.
“Hudson saw an unbroken forest of gigantic trees coming down to the very margin of the river and reflected in its unpolluted waters,” Bacon writes.
Upon setting his course up the river, Hudson docked his ship Half Moon at now recognizable points like Stony Point, Peekskill, Catskill, Hudson, Albany, and Troy. At the destinations, he explored the grounds, making observations about the terrain and the natural vegetation that thrived there. He noted the landscape was rich in natural resources, a fact which was conducive to future settlements.
“Everywhere the abundant forests promised a plentiful supply of useful timber, the beetling crags on either side suggested mineral wealth, while the teeming fish in the river called forth frequent expressions of surprise and delight,” Bacon notes.
Henry Hudson may have spotted flora and fauna as he journeyed up the waterway, but that’s not all he saw. As he worked his way north, he made quite the impression on local Native American tribes, who mistook the Half Moon for a giant wigwam.
“It was suggested an enormous bird, and such they were at first inclined to think it,” Bacon writes. “After a while…what had at first seemed to be a bird soon suggested that it might be a wigwam in a canoe, but a canoe of such size and a house of such capacity as no man had ever seen before. Clearly this vast structure, that came towards the fascinated occupants of the canoe like a thing of life, riding the waves without the use of a paddle, and looming more and more as it approached could be none other than the vehicle of the Manitou (an Iroquois word for supernatural being).”
Hudson did stop to interact with the Native Americans and share a drink with them. According to Bacon, his offering of alcohol as a peace offering bewildered the tribes, who had never before experienced such a potent concoction.
“[Hudson] drank a little of the contents and handed it to the nearest chief, who carefully smelled of it and passed it, untasted, to his nearest neighbor,” Bacon notes.
For Henry Hudson, his voyage to the Hudson Valley was his crowning achievement, one to which none of his previous or successive journeys could compare. In fact, his fourth expedition, which was once again to North America, proved to be his last one.
He didn’t know that when he set sail, however. On a high from his traversal for the Dutch East India Company, he returned to America in June 1610 to enter Hudson Bay in Canada, which he thought was the entryway to a northwest passage that would lead all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
He thought wrong.
Eight hundred miles of sailing later, Hudson and his crew hit a dead end in November. Because it was so late in the season, they were forced to spend the winter in the frigid terrain of coastal Canada. By the time they attempted a return trip the following June, tensions were so high that the crew decided Hudson would not be heading back to England with them. They mutinied the man who led them on a wild goose chase, pushing him off to sea in a thin boat laden with the sick and lame.
According to Bacon, Hudson took the situation as gracefully as he could, forbearing from lamentation and instead accepting what fate had presented him.
“During all of this scene we have no indication that the master condescended to ask for his life or that he exhibited any sign of rage or despair,” Bacon writes. “On the contrary, we have a glimpse of a figure whose calmness and poise were in strong contrast to the confusion about him. It was a heroic figure, even in adversity.”
Abandoned, destitute, and utterly stranded, Hudson was never seen or heard from again.
Want to read up on the high tides and rocky waters Henry Hudson faced during his adventures to and through the Hudson Valley? Visit HVA press to discover more about Henry Hudson: His Times and His Voyages or find a bookstore that carries it.