Henry Hudson

Henry Hudson’s Map
Photo by: Jeangagnon Creative Commons

There is no recorded detail about the early life of Henry Hudson. Historians cannot even agree on his date of birth: Mancall would say that he was born in 1560s while others are convinced he was born in the 1570s. Hudson was a seafarer. He began working as a cabin boy until he became a captain. His grandfather, also named Henry Hudson, was an alderman in London who helped him to be hired by the Muscovy Trading Company of England.

Henry Hudson was a bold English Sea Explorer and navigator of the 17th century. Hudson had three ships, namely: the Hopewell, the Half Moon and the Discovery. He started his voyage as early as in 1607 under the Muscovy Company. He was ordered to look for waterway in the northeast.


Sailing on his Hopewell, he and his crew reached Greenland in June. They continued to sail until they reached the Whales Bay and farther north at Hakluyt’s Headland. Hudson thought they saw an island; however, he was heading towards a different direction. He did not find any waterway.

Again in 1608, he attempted to find a passage to the East. Hudson was able to progress to Novaya Zemlya, but the ice was so dense that it was impossible to penetrate. The crew had no choice but to return to England. These consecutive failures frustrated the Muscovy Company.

Hudson did not lose courage though. He was determined to accomplish his goal and was hired by the Dutch East India Company. He intended to discover an eastern passageway to Asia. He traversed the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific and the Far East as instructed. But just like his previous expeditions, his crew met blockades of ice that caused them to divert to North Cape.

Daring Voyage

John Smith and Samuel de Champlain were informed by the Native Americans that there was a passage to the Pacific. Hudson violated his instructions by sailing to the west to look for the suspected passageway. The rumour probably referred to what are known to be the Great Lakes which are non-navigable bodies of water.

On board the Dutch ship Halve Maen, they navigated the south of Newfoundland and arrived at Nova Scotia in the middle of July. Here they met American aboriginals who were accustomed to trading. The crew traded some of their things for food.

Hudson continued sailing until he reached the Chesapeake Bay. He did not stop but instead penetrated the north, discovering the Delaware Bay. He reached what is known today as Mauritius estuary on September 3. Note however that it was Giovanni da Verrazzano who discovered the estuary in 1524.

When they passed through the Narrows, which lie between Staten Island and Bergen Neck, they found land abundant with trees and pasture. Unfortunately, they were assailed by two canoes. One of his crewmen, John Colman, was shot with an arrow on September 6, 1609. Hudson buried Colman on the shore and named the place Colman’s Point.

As Hudson ascended the Hudson River, he engaged in several trade exchanges. Natives embarked the ship to bring corn, tobacco and pumpkins. After voyaging five miles, he went onshore the Castleton where he was humbly received by the governor. Old savages gave them pumpkins, grapes and beaver in exchange for knives and beads. These incidents prevented him from checking out the narrow channel he found.


Hudson sensed that the natives were conspiring against them. To uncover their plot, he plied the men with wine that left them intoxicated. The savages feasted on the brandy and slept very soundly that night. In the following morning, they gave Hudson ample presents like tobacco and beads, and toured him around the country.

Hudson’s crew returned to the boat and continued to explore the river. What he found was rather disappointing because of highly irregular depths of the water. It was futile to continue traversing the river, so he decided to come back to his homeland.

In spite of his failure to discover the waterways to the Indies, it can be gleaned from his journal that he was well satisfied with his accomplishments. He was able to explore unknown navigable rivers totalling approximately one hundred forty miles; he discovered inhabited areas along the river banks; and he reached what is now the capital of Albany and as far as the Waterford.

New Jersey

As they descended the river, their ship could only advance slowly due to the strong winds. Oftentimes, Hudson would journey on the shore discovering fertile grounds for corn, herbs, chestnut trees and ewe trees. When the weather got better, Hudson continued to sail until he reached the Stony Point. The contents of their ship attracted the attention of the old savages. A battle ensued and they were fired at by muskets. The fight ended only after the canoes of the enemies were pitted against the more powerful canons. Hudson descended five more miles and anchored near Hoboken. He continued to explore the bay and stream of New York.

Satisfied with the result of his expedition, he returned to Dartmouth, England in November 1611. Dutch authors claimed that after his arrival at England, he was not allowed to travel to Amsterdam. Whether this was true or not, the fact remains that the Dutch Company was able to receive his reports and charts.

Captains Journals

Hudson’s journals were published and part of them remained in Holland. It was recorded that in the following year, the Dutch were able to trade in Hudson River. This significant event would have been highly improbable had they not have Hudson’s journal and charts in their possession. Consequently, all doubts pertaining to his voyage to Amsterdam were removed.

As to his alleged discovery of Jan Mayen in 1608 as put forth by Thomas Edge, this finds no support in his journal. Jonas Poole and Robert Fotherby who had Hudson’s journal could not decipher any detail pertaining to Jan Mayen.

Although his goal to discover the waterways was not fulfilled, Hudson reached higher latitudes than all other navigators. In all, Hudson’s efforts are well recognized. Several North American geographic rivers and lands were named after him. This includes the Hudson Strait, the Hudson River, the Hudson Bay, the Henry Hudson Bridge, the Hudson County, and even the city of Hudson in New York.