I write about opportunists; seekers who come from every walk of life, speculators willing to gamble all—even their own lives. Many of them you will meet in my novels, and all of them share one common denominator: the Hudson River.
One such seeker, Henry Hudson, was a 16th- 17th century Englishman, a seafarer hired by the Dutch East India Company; a really big deal back in those times. The Dutch East India Company, begun in 1602, lasted almost two hundred year, and was a collaboration of several Dutch trading companies all looking for the big score…the best and shortest sea route to beautiful silk fabrics and precious spices in exotic India. The spices were, in those times, not so much used to enhance flavor, but to cover up the foul odor of rotting foods. Captain Henry Hudson is renowned for piloting a small ship, the Halve Maen (Half Moon) up the river then called Nord (North) as far as Albany, New York. Because Henry Hudson was looking for India, the native’s encountered Henry called ‘Indians’.
We know very little of Henry’s personal life prior to exploring America, except to say he was married to Katherine, had three sons, and they lived in London in a brick house near the Tower of London. He also had several brothers, and it appears they, like Henry, were all adventurers. One went to Russia and another to Persia. But their exploits must be an interesting project for another student of history.
In the late summer of 1609 (the same year the Mayflower made her first documented voyage to Norway) Henry Hudson’s little ship sailed up the river near to present day Albany, New York, where the English captain employed by the Dutch established friendly relations with natives eager to trade their animal pelts for European-made goods. Because of Henry the golden age of fur trade was born. In a very real way, it was Henry Hudson who was the founder of American capitalism.
Henry Hudson came to a sad and mysterious end in 1611 when the crew aboard his ship Discovery mutinied. He, his son John ( a young man of about twenty years of age) and seven crewmen were put in a small boat and abandoned, set adrift in a Canadian inlet sea, the waters today known as Hudson Bay. The mutineers sailed Henry’s ship back to London, where they were arrested, but none of them were ever prosecuted. Henry Hudson and his loyal companions were never heard from again and were presumed dead. And it seems that few if any cared what had happened to them except for one determined woman.
Katherine, Henry’s wife, was left near destitute when her husband and son perished. No doubt besot by grief, she did insist, and from all accounts loud and steadily, that the Dutch East India Company send out a ship to search for them. However, it took three years before a vessel set out and they found nothing. Whatever happened to Katherine’s husband, son, and the others is a mystery probably never to be solved. Katherine must have been quite a woman. After years pestering the Dutch East India Company, went to India sponsored by the Company as a buyer of indigo and other goods. Katherine returned to London in 1622 a wealthy woman. Ultimately, one of her sons owned a house in India in which he died around 1645. Today, New York’s Hudson River bears Henry’s name in rightful tribute. Katherine would have been elated. Finally, a monument to her Henry!
Of course, long before Henry Hudson explored North America, the Dutch had talked about exploring the mighty North River, discovered back in 1524 by an Italian, Giovanni de Verrazano, who’d worked for the French King. And despite faint remains of a French fort built in 1540 south of Albany, both the Dutch, and then the English, disputed a French claim to lands below Montreal. Hence, the on-going French claim to New York and surrounds continued to cause bloodshed for centuries.
Five years after Henry disappeared the Dutch built a trading post on the banks of the Hudson River just about where Albany, today’s capital of New York State, stands, but within a few years the small, palisaded fort called Fort Nassoureen would be abandoned.
Historians seem to agree that there were few permanent settlers in what eventually would be New York prior to 1624, but things were about to change. That year, two ships, the Nieu Nedlandt and the Eendracht, arrived from Holland with French speaking families who were dropped off at several different sites including present day New York City and also Albany
where Fort Orange was constructed. That same year two other ships arrived from Holland stocked with hogs, sheep, cows and horses. And, as I see it, all of this transpired thanks to Henry Hudson who first sailed his little ship up the North River to Albany.
Staunch visionaries all were the early pioneers who willingly implanted their footprints onto the rich, virgin soil beside waters fished for a thousand years by the indigenous peoples. And it is these 17th and early 18th century Europeans who this article remembers with hope that the readers will themselves be encouraged to become seekers and this time around for the betterment of all mankind.
End henry hudson and american capitalism author gloria waldron hukle