Hudson: 1609, 1610-1611
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Gerritsz., Hessel, 1581?-1632, editor.
Descriptio ac delineatio geographica detectionis freti, sive, Transitus ad occasum, suprà terras Americanas in Chinam at´q[ue] Iaponem ducturi, recens investigati ab M. Henrico Hudsono Anglo . . . . Amsterodami [Amsterdam], 1612. [Rare Books Division: Kane Collection]

This work contains the first printed accounts of Hudson's discoveries in the northern part of America and the first map of Hudson Bay.

By the time of his first recorded voyage (1607), during which he explored the possibility of a Northeast Passage to the Orient, Henry Hudson (d. 1611) was already a captain. How and where he obtained his nautical training is not known, and no contemporary painting or portrait of him exists. He was born in the 1570s, probably in Hertfordshire, England. Later, his family owned a small home near the Tower of London. Because his family had shares in the Muscovy Company, many believe he also spent some time working in the company's London office. When the Spanish Armada attacked in 1588, Hudson was an experienced seaman. Richard Hakluyt, who shared his charts and accounts of early voyages with Hudson, was instrumental in getting him his first command. This was followed by another voyage seeking a Northeast Passage, after which came his famous expedition sponsored by the Dutch which led to his exploration of what is now Delaware Bay and the Hudson River in New York State. He was arrested for sailing under another nation's flag, but he was soon able to get the support of Sir Thomas Smythe, governor and treasurer of the Virginia Company, and of the English East India Company, for a new Northwest Passage expedition.

Provisioned for eight months, Hudson and his crew (a total of twenty men, including his son John), departed on 17 April 1610 from St. Katherine's Pool, below the Tower of London. Their 70-ton ship, Discovery, had been George Weymouth's in his unsuccessful 1602 exploration into the “Furious Overfall” [Hudson Strait]; the ship would later be used by William Baffin in 1615. A fragment of Hudson's journal, logging their voyage through August 3, when they were actually about to enter the top of Hudson Bay, survived the journey. The missing parts were probably due to the continuing troubles Hudson had with his men, which ultimately led to their mutiny in the spring of the following year. During the fall of 1610, Discovery sailed down the east coast of Hudson Bay and meandered in what is now James Bay at its southern end. Within fifteen miles of shore, the Bay is seldom more than ten feet deep; since the ship's draft was ten feet, the men had great difficulty avoiding rocks that were randomly scattered on the bottom. They wintered near the mouth of the Nottaway River, and were soon frozen in, totally unprepared for the bitter cold, snow, and the barren terrain. (This was the first expedition ever to spend a winter in Arctic conditions.) From December to May, they suffered from scurvy and lack of food, and numerous quarrels and altercations developed between Hudson and his men.

Though freed from the ice on June 14, the ship was soon trapped again. With only a fourteen-day supply of food left, a conspiracy was hatched and acted upon somewhere in James Bay. On 22 June 1611, Hudson, his son, and the sick and loyal (a total of nine) were cast adrift in a shallop (small open boat) by the mutineers. After a month of confused sailing, the mutineers eventually reached Digge's Island, near present day Cape Wolstenholme, where a confrontation with natives resulted in the death of most of the major conspirators. The survivors shot some fowl and sailed for home on July 30, piloted by Robert Bylot. (Bylot would later be captain of Discovery on later Northwest Passage expeditions with William Baffin.) Starving, living on candle grease, they found food in Ireland before arriving in London on October 20. There were only eight men left. Recommended for hanging by the directors of the Company that had sponsored them, the men did not face trial till 1618—by then several had died—and the Admiralty court found them not guilty. Later search expeditions to Hudson Bay, and continued explorations in the area down to the present day, have uncovered no evidence of Hudson's fate.

Hudson River, Hudson Strait, Hudson Bay—these are the indirect, yet immensely significant, contributions Hudson made in search of a Northwest Passage. [See also the section “A Northwest Passage Through Hudson Bay?”.]

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