- Historic Sites
Strangers In A New Land
Henry Hudson’s First American Adventure
Spring 2009 | Volume 59, Issue 1
Hudson had failed again, but at least he could report to his Dutch investors on the potential profits of these lands. As the Halve Maen descended the river, the crew paid careful attention to the landscape, especially what covered it: fertile fields and forests thick with oak, walnut, chestnut, yew, and “flees of sweet wood in great abundance, and great store of Slate for houses, and other good stones.” They traded and ate with the same peoples they had encountered on their journey upriver, a generally positive experience that convinced some of the men that the valley would be a good place to settle. “This is a very pleasant place to build a towne on,” Juet wrote, in the first recorded reference to colonization by anyone associated with Hudson. The sailors believed that the nearby mountains might bear valuable minerals, especially when the Indians gave them stones strong enough to cut through steel or iron.
But just as the Europeans let down their guard and perhaps contemplated coexistence with the Indians, another crisis flared. On October 1 the crew hosted visitors whom Juet identified only as the "people of the Mountaynes,” who seemed not to have encountered the Halve Maen or its crew earlier. The Europeans purchased some small skins from them, some of whom remained onboard. Juet wrote that one Indian, not among the trading party, paddled his canoe so close that eventually he leapt onto the rudder of the Halve Maen and climbed into the window of the cabin, where he stole Juet’s pillow, two bandoliers, and two shirts. This was the kind of treachery that the Europeans had always feared, and they reacted swiftly. A sailor shot the thief dead, his comrades plunging into the river. The English gave chase in a shallop. One Indian grabbed hold of the boat and tried to overturn it. The ship's cook chopped off his hand with a sword, leaving him to drown. The others swam away. Deciding that they had seen enough, the Europeans returned to their ship and hurried downstream.
By then word of the hostilities had quite likely passed ahead of them and roused other communities. A group that had previously traded with the sailors, including one man who had actually been a guest aboard, paddled out in two canoes, discharging arrows. An English fusillade killed two or three of them. In response over 100 men ashore volleyed arrows upon the ship. Again the sailors returned fire. Juet deployed a light cannon, called a falcon, which killed three Indians, while others of the ship's company dropped three or four more with muskets.
When the skirmish abated, the Halve Maen sailed away, soon reaching a place the locals called Mannahata. They met with no other Americans or further violence. On October 4 the ship reached the river's mouth and headed homeward.
Hudson began his return journey pondering a dilemma. Should he head to Amsterdam to admit failure or hatch a new plan, turn the ship, and try again? After six months at sea and two opposite attempts to find a passage to the East Indies, he had had no luck northeast or northwest. His crew also debated their destination, the Dutch arguing for setting a northward course to Newfoundland, passing the winter there, and launching another search for the Northwest Passage in the spring. Giving in to English opinions, Hudson judged such a course unwise. “He was afraid of the mutinous crew,” Emanuel van Meteren, the Dutch consul in London, later reported, “who had sometime savagely threatened him.” Mutiny was bad enough, but food could run out over the long, dark winter, leaving his crew dead or in such debility that they could neither carry on nor return to Europe.
Hudson offered an alternate plan. The ship could winter in Ireland and then proceed to Dartmouth in early spring to prepare for the next year’s search. If he could launch an expedition into the North Atlantic by mid-March, sail northwest, and hunt whales until mid-May, he would have a whole summer to seek the open northern waters before the winter ice closed the way again.
But for reasons no one bothered to document, the Halve Maen instead sailed eastward, reaching Dartmouth on November 7. Soon Hudson was back in London, where he spent the winter regaling others about his journey for the Dutch, his crew's inability to suffer the cold at the start of the trip toward the Northeast Passage, his tour of the North American coast, and the journey up the wide river. He probably described the bounty of that country of tall timber and fur- bearing creatures, its fish-thick rivers, and its potential for settlement. If he mentioned his adventures with the natives of that territory, we have no record of it. Juet left the only surviving full account of the Halve Maen ’s repeated encounters with the Algonquians, their curious trading habits, their strange gear, and their mysterious hostilities. A fragment from Hudson's account briefly described how the Indians lived and included his opinion that they “appear to be a friendly people, but have a great propensity to steal, and are exceedingly adroit in carrying away whatever they take a fancy to.” Despite that harsh judgment, Hudson mentioned to an associate of Sir Robert Cecil, the first Earl of Salisbury, that he planned to return soon to the American coast.