1609: The forgotten history of Hudson

With just a slight twist of fate, New York might have been called Nouveau Paris. The English sailor Henry Hudson, who sailed to America on the ship Half Moon four hundred years ago on behalf of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), was also at the time negotiating with the French King for the same journey.

Through a rich but embittered Amsterdam merchant named Isaac le Maire, who had been thrown out of the VOC, Hudson had provided the French with all the information which he had also given to the VOC about his previous expeditions to the North. A silent battle had been taking place to hire the explorer Henry Hudson. Dutch journalist and historian Geert Mak describes this fascinating intrigue in part one of his book ‘1609: The forgotten history of Hudson, Amsterdam and New York’, which is published by the Henry Hudson 400 Foundation and can also be downloaded for free.

The second part of the book deals with the events after Henry Hudson finally sets sail out of Amsterdam. Russell Shorto, a writer for The New York Times, presents a lively picture of what it must have been like on the Half Moon. He sees the threat of mutiny as the primary reason that Hudson neglected the VOC’s instructions to sail a north-easterly route around Russia and, instead, headed westward toward the newly discovered America. Hudson was convinced that this was the shortest route to the Sea of Japan. In those days, the best calculation of the size of the earth estimated it to be about one-third smaller than it actually is. Hudson first sailed to a friendly English settlement in what is now Virginia, before sailing up what we now know as Hudson River, which has tides and is therefore salty, under the mistaken belief that it was a passage that would lead to the Pacific Ocean. Once he and his crew discovered that the river was not, in fact, the much sought-after route to Asia, he sailed back to Europe.

On a subsequent voyage, Hudson’s crew finally mutinied and forced him and his son into a small open boat and set them adrift in what would later become known as Hudson Bay, where they are assumed to have died an icy death. Based on the discovery from Hudson’s first trip, the Dutch Republic had laid claim to a broad strip of land along the east coast of North America. The newly established West India Company established the colony of New Netherlands there, which encompassed five future US states, and it established the settlement of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. Under the leadership of Governor Peter Stuyvesant, this tolerant melting pot of many nationalities flourished; it was granted a charter in 1653 – the official year that the subsequent City of New York was established. In 1664, English battleships appeared in the harbour of New Amsterdam and Stuyvesant reluctantly surrendered his command and the colony.

‘1609: The forgotten history of Hudson, Amsterdam and New York’ (2009), by Geert Mak and Russell Short, published by Henry Hudson 400 Foundation, 77 pgs. Free download at: www.hudson400.com (About Us, Projects & Events).