Builders of Our Country: Book I  by Gertrude van Duyn Southworth

Henry Hudson

THE hero of this story was an Englishman. He came of a good old English family. His home was in London, and somewhere he learned to sail the seas. This much and little more is known of the early life of Henry Hudson.

When the events happened which make him stand out in history, he was already a man. And from all he dared to do, he must surely have been a brave, persevering man at that.

For a hundred years and more explorers of the new continent had been crossing and recrossing the Atlantic. And now colonists from England, Spain, Portugal, and France were following in their path to find new homes in America.

Important as the new land was, however, it could not claim all the attention of the commercial world. There was still the wealth of India, China, and Japan to be considered. If only these countries could be quickly reached by sea! Surely there must be some route shorter than sailing around the Cape of Good Hope or through the Straits of Magellan. There must be some other possible way of sending to the East ships filled with European products—ships that would come back loaded with savory teas, coffees, and spices. Such a route must be found.

But where to find it? That was the great question. Did it lie through the new continent or did it lie around the north of Europe? This last chance offered hopes of the shorter journey and therefore must be tried.

So reasoned the Dutch, so reasoned the English, and so reasoned England's navigator, Henry Hudson. And because of this reasoning, the first years of the seventeenth century twice saw him set sail for the north.

Many were the thrilling adventures which Hudson and his men had on these two trips. No one had been so near the North Pole as they, and no one knew the dangers of arctic travel better than they. On each voyage Hudson tried a different course, but both failed to lead him where he wanted to go. Still he was not discouraged. He firmly believed there must be some passage lying up there to the north.

In Holland at this time there was a famous company known as the Dutch East India Company. In spite of all the difficulties in their way, this company had continually sent their ships to the East by way of the Cape of Good Hope. And now they were fast securing for Holland a monopoly of the Eastern trade in the desired teas, coffees, and spices. Even with the risks and expense of the long trip the company's profits were great. Think what they would be if only a short passage were found!

It is easy to see that, with their trade already established, the Dutch had a special reason for wanting to discover such a route. The Dutch East India Company believed with Hudson that the shortest way to reach China was to sail north. So, although Hudson had twice failed, the Dutch East India Company urged him to make another effort, and this time to sail under their colors. This he agreed to do. And in 1609, the year following his second voyage, he went to Holland.

On April 4th, he set sail on the Zuyder Zee in a little Dutch ship named the Half Moon.

A month later Hudson rounded the North Cape. But now trouble began. The sea was full of great blocks of ice. The cold was intense. It was hard to make any headway. Soon the sailors grew frightened and refused to go on. What was to be done under such conditions?

Now, it happened that Captain John Smith and Henry Hudson were great friends; and not long before, John Smith had written to Hudson from Virginia of an effort he himself had made to find a passage across the new continent. He had sailed up Chesapeake Bay and proved that there was no passage that way. Still he thought there might be one farther to the north. Thus he had written Hudson.

If there were a route to India to the north of Chesapeake Bay, why should not Hudson go in search of it, as long as his sailors would not sail any farther in the direction they had started?

Fired with this new plan, Hudson turned his ship about and headed for America. On July 18th, the little Half Moon reached Penobscot Bay, much the worse for wear. Here a short time was spent in repairing the damages done by the rough seas, and then with all sails spread Hudson set out to follow the American coast toward the south.

Slowly he sailed along, always on the lookout for some sign of the passage he sought, and little dreaming that the continent he skirted stretched fully three thousand miles to the west. On went the Dutch vessel until Hudson judged, and correctly too, that he must be off the shores of Virginia. There was no chance of finding what he sought here, according to John Smith; so once more the Half Moon was turned about and headed north.

The 3d of September was a clear, bright day. The blue sky, the gleaming waves, the swaying green forests along the coast, made a picture not to be forgotten. The little Dutch ship scudded along in the sunshine, while, from her bow, Henry Hudson watched the wide-spreading shores of a bay which opened just ahead. Might not this opening be the passage to the Pacific? Surely everything pointed that way. With his heart full of hope, the brave navigator ran his ship into the bay and dropped anchor.

Then out from the shore glided light canoes. Their red-faced owners paddled nearer and nearer the strange-looking "great white bird," as they called the white-sailed ship. Slowly the canoes circled round and round the Half Moon. At last, seeing no signs of danger, the Indians came close to the ship. Leaning over its side, Hudson politely asked the red men to come aboard.

After this first visit, the Indians came again and brought grapes, furs, pumpkins, and tobacco, which they gave the sailors for some knives and beads.

A few days later the Half Moon  was again under sail, and Henry Hudson was cautiously making his way up the great river which now bears his name. All along the shores the red faces of curious Indians peered out through the trees. Some were friendly and glad to see the strange ship. Others shot arrows at the sailors.

Near the present site of Catskill a cordial old chief asked Hudson to go ashore. In the old chief's bark home Hudson was served with a great feast of wild pigeons and a fine dog, which was killed, skinned, and roasted while the guest waited. After the feast Hudson rose to return to his ship. The Indians were disappointed. They wanted the white man to stay until morning. How could they show him that he had nothing to fear? Suddenly one of their number jumped up, gathered all the arrows, and, breaking them in pieces, threw them on the fire. Hudson was touched by the act, but nevertheless did not accept the cordial invitation to remain.

By the time Hudson had sailed as far as Albany, the hope that he had found a water way to the Pacific had gradually faded away. Bitterly disappointed at finding the water growing so shallow that he feared to run his ship aground, he turned back and put to sea again. This was Henry Hudson's only visit to the Hudson River.

Many of Hudson's sailors, as well as the commander himself, being Englishmen, the temptation to land at an English port was too great to resist. On November 7th, the Half Moon arrived at Dartmouth, England. And from England, Hudson sent his report on to the Dutch East India Company in Holland. He told all the details of his voyage; still asserted that there must be a northwest way to reach India, and asked for more money and fresh sailors with which to make a new start in the spring.

The Dutch East India Company read the report most carefully, and then they sent for Hudson to meet them and talk the matter over.

But no! The English King would not listen to Hudson's sailing again for the Dutch. If he could find a northwest route to the East, he should find it for England—not for Holland. So the little Half Moon was sent off home. And in April, 1610, Henry Hudson left England in an English ship for one more trial at reaching India.

Sailing farther north than on his last voyage, Hudson this time entered the landlocked water which has ever since been called Hudson Bay.

By the middle of November, his ship was frozen hard and fast in the ice. It was dreadfully cold, food was growing scarce, and the sailors were wishing they had stayed at home.

All winter and until the 18th of the next June the ice held. When it finally broke, the crew were determined to return to England at once. Hudson was just as determined to push on toward the west. All held firmly to their own opinion. The crew would not sail west, and Hudson would not turn back.

There was only one commander, and there were many sailors. So, being the stronger, the crew solved the question in their own way. Three days after the ice gave way they put Hudson, his son, and several sick men into the ship's open boat and set them adrift. Then the ship was faced about for home.

What became of Henry Hudson, what hardships he suffered, and how long his little open boat lived among the great blocks of floating ice, are things that will never be known. But it is doubtless true that the brave English mariner went down sooner or later in the icy waters of Hudson Bay.