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Holland on the Hudson

Some tough times at sea for ol' Henry

Some tough times at sea for ol' Henry

To complete this week’s totally unplanned explorers’ trifecta, let’s take a look at Henry Hudson. New York, Amsterdam, and history nerds everywhere have been celebrating the 400th anniversary of the English sea captain’s jaunt up the river that now bears his name. Hudson, of course, was not looking for a good knish or a papaya smoothie when he sailed into New York Harbor. He, along with many other European explorers of the era, thought he could find a northern route across North America to Asia, the much-longed for Northwest Passage.

Hudson’s river didn’t stretch quite that far, and his ship the Half Moon could only sail to present-day Albany before it had to turn back. But Hudson’s journey convinced the Dutch to start trading with the Indians of New York, leading to the settlement of Manhattan and the river valley up to Albany. And don’t forget that the settlers from Holland also brought with them ice-skating, pancakes, and going dutch on dates.

Hudson didn’t spend any time in Manhattan, not even to christen the parkway named for him. He soon returned to England and put together another expedition to search for the Northwest Passage. Earlier, he had tried to sail due north over the Arctic Circle to reach Asia. That trip ended in failure. This time, he reached what is now Hudson Bay, where his crew mutinied, forcing him, his young son, and a few others into a small boat. The captain and his small band died a frozen death as the mutineers returned to England. (Thanks to Russell Shorto and his wonderful The Island at the Center of the World for these details.)

So peaceful - before the Dutch. And taxis.

So peaceful - before the Dutch. And taxis.

A few years later, the Dutch began their commercialization efforts in earnest, hoping to stoke a profitable fur trade with the Iroquois and other tribes of the region. Robert Juet, who had served under Hudson on the Half Moon, told Dutch officials that the Indians “were seeming very glad of our coming.” Sure, Bob – because you left, too! When the Dutch finally put down roots, and the English followed, the tribes might have had a different take on this alien invasion.

Adriaen Block came after Hudson, scouting the region and claiming a good chunk of neighboring Connecticut for the Dutch. (The upcoming 400th anniversary – mark your calendar, it’s just five years away! – of Block’s reaching modern-day Hartford will stir even more worldwide attention than this year’s doings for Hank.


Still, we have Block Island. And a typically woeful attempt at urban revitalization in Hartford named Adriaen’s Landing.) Block’s boat for his Connecticut excursion was actually built on Manhattan or neighboring lands, after his first vessel burned. Friendly Indians helped the Dutch through the winter, providing them with food.

Still not too bad after the Dutch - it was those damn English who screwed it up!

Still not too bad after the Dutch - it was those damn English who screwed it up!

The first Dutch settlers came in 1624 (or at least the Dutch sent them—most were Protestant Walloons), landing on Governor’s Island. Some split for Delaware and Connecticut, some went north along Hudson’s river, a few stayed put. From those humble beginnings sprung the city that never sleeps, and where probably the most lasting Dutch presence is in place names—Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island, the Bowery, the Catskills. A Dutch-themed tour of Manhattan, however, tries to put the lie to that notion.

This post might have stirred some Hudson-mania; you might have thought of proudly wearing a Henry Hudson 400th anniversary t-shirt, to mark the start of the Anglo-Dutch influences that shaped the growth of the Grote Appel. Bad news — the Henry Hudson 400 Foundation sold out in September. But you can still raise a jenever to the old guy, maybe while planning your next trip to the wonderful city he never could have imagined rising out of the Indian villages he saw in 1609.

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