Henry Hudson

Henry Hudson (active 1607-1611) was an English navigator who explored areas of America for England and the Netherlands.

Henry Hudson's life is undocumented prior to his famous voyages. He is first recorded in 1607 as commander of an English Muscovy Company ship that attempted to reach the Orient by sailing northward and southward across the polar sea. This hopeless quest led Hudson to explore the eastern coast of Greenland, gain more accurate information about Spitsbergen, and discover Hudson's "Tutches" (Jan Mayen Island).

The next year Hudson sailed to the Arctic again, hoping to find the passage to Asia via Novaya Zemlya. Failing, as the Dutch navigator Willem Barents had earlier failed, Hudson returned to England. There he was approached by agents of the Dutch East India Company, which had not abandoned hopes of a Northeast Passage. In 1609 the Dutch company gave the explorer command of the Half Moon and perhaps another ship called Good Hope, with crews largely recruited from Dutch seamen.

The search for a Northeast Passage took Hudson again to Novaya Zemlya, where his passage was blocked by ice and his crews grew increasingly mutinous. He then changed plans, disregarding orders, and decided to seek a passage through North America. In doing this Hudson was clearly influenced by Capt. John Smith, who had corresponded with him and lent him maps. Hudson's expeditionary fleet, now reduced to the Half Moon, crossed the Atlantic and explored a stretch of North American coast extending southward to New York Bay.

Although nearly a century earlier the Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazano, sailing in the service of France, had entered New York Bay, Hudson in the Half Moon ascended the river nearly to present-day Albany. The ascent of the river, later named in Hudson's honor, gave the Dutch claim to the area, but it failed to satisfy Hudson, for it still offered no water route to Asia. He returned to England in November 1609, and the English authorities ordered him not to return to the Netherlands but to resume exploration for his own country.

English explorers had already carried the search for a Northwest Passage to the strait (ultimately named for Hudson) between Baffin Island and Labrador. A number of English merchants now sent Hudson, in command of the Discovery, to find a way through to the "South Sea" (Pacific Ocean). Crew discontent plagued him from the start. (The ringleader, Robert Juet, had sailed on the previous voyage with Hudson and had written a first hand account of it.) Hudson and his crew entered Hudson Strait on June 24-25, 1610, then followed the narrower passage into Hudson's Bay, whose eastern coast they explored to the southern extremity of James Bay. After a vain search for a western way out of this bay, their ship became icebound on November 10, and they passed a miserable winter, nearly starving. When warmer weather came, mutineers, led by Juet, placed Hudson and a few loyal crew members in an open boat and set it adrift; the mutineers sailed for England. Many died on the way, including Juet; and the survivors, when the truth leaked out, received prison sentences. Nothing more is known of Hudson, but as the weather was still very cold, he and his friends must have died of exposure.

Further Reading on Henry Hudson

Robert Juet's and other accounts of Hudson's career may be consulted in G. M. Asher, ed., Henry Hudson the Navigator: The Original Documents (1860). Thomas A. Janvier, Henry Hudson (1909), was written to commemorate the third centennial of Hudson's voyage up the Hudson River. See also Llewelyn Powys, Henry Hudson (1928). Edward Heawood, A History of Geographical Discovery in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1912), devotes substantial space to Hudson.