(c. 1565–c. 1611)
English explorer Henry Hudson embarked on multiple sailing voyages that provided new information on North American water routes.
Believed to have been born in the late 16th century, English explorer Henry Hudson made two unsuccessful sailing voyages in search of an ice-free passage to Asia. In 1609, he embarked on a third voyage funded by the Dutch East India Company that took him to the New World and the river that would be given his name. On his fourth voyage, Hudson came upon the body of water that would later be called the Hudson Bay.
Considered one of the world’s most famous explorers, Henry Hudson, born in England circa 1565, never actually found what he was looking for. He spent his career searching for different routes to Asia, but he ended up opening the door to further exploration and settlement of North America.
While many places bear his name, Henry Hudson remains an elusive figure. There is little information available about the famous explorer’s life prior to his first journey as a ship’s commander in 1607. It is believed that he learned about the seafaring life firsthand, perhaps from fishermen or sailors. He must have had a talent for navigation early on, enough to merit becoming a commander in his late 20s. Prior to 1607, Hudson probably worked aboard other ships before being appointed to lead one on his own. Reports also indicate that he was married to a woman named Katherine and they had three sons together.
First Three Voyages
Hudson made four journeys during his career, at a time when countries and companies competed with each other to find the best ways to reach important trade destinations, especially Asia and India. In 1607, the Muscovy Company, an English firm, entrusted Hudson to find a northern route to Asia. Hudson brought his son John with him on this trip, as well as Robert Juet. Juet went on several of Hudson’s voyages and recorded these trips in his journals.
Despite a spring departure, Hudson found himself and his crew battling icy conditions. They had a chance to explore some of the islands near Greenland before turning back. But the trip was not a total loss, as Hudson reported numerous whales in the region, which opened up a new hunting territory.
The following year, Hudson once again set sail in search of the fabled Northeast Passage. The route he sought proved elusive, however. Hudson made it to Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean to the north of Russia. But he could not travel further, blocked by thick ice. Hudson returned to England without achieving his goal.
In 1609, Hudson joined the Dutch East India Company as a commander. He took charge of the Half Moon with the objective of discovering a northern route to Asia by heading north of Russia. Again ice put an end to his travels, but this time he did not head for home. Hudson decided to sail west to seek western passage to the Orient. According to some historians, he had heard of a way to the Pacific Ocean from North America from English explorer John Smith.
Crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Hudson and his crew reached land that July, coming ashore at what is now Nova Scotia. They encountered some of the local Native Americans there and were able to make some trades with them. Traveling down the North American coast, Hudson went as far south as the Chesapeake Bay. He then turned around and decided to explore New York Harbor, an area first thought to have been discovered by Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524. Around this time, Hudson and his crew clashed with some local Native Americans. A crew member named John Colman died after being shot in the neck with an arrow, and two others on board were injured.
After burying Colman, Hudson and his crew traveled up the river that would later carry his name. He explored the Hudson River up as far as what later became Albany. Along the way, Hudson noticed that the lush lands that lined the river contained abundant wildlife. He and his crew also met with some of the Native Americans living on the river’s banks.
On the way back to the Netherlands, Hudson was stopped in the English port of Dartmouth. The English authorities seized the ship and the Englishmen among the crew. Upset that he had been exploring for another country, the English authorities forbade Hudson from working with the Dutch again. He was, however, undeterred from trying to find the Northwest Passage. This time, Hudson found English investors to fund his next journey, which would prove to be fatal.
Aboard the ship Discovery, Hudson left England in April 1610. He and his crew, which again included his son John and Robert Juet, made their way across the Atlantic Ocean. After skirting the southern tip of Greenland, they entered what became known as the Hudson Strait. The exploration then reached another of his namesakes, the Hudson Bay. Traveling south, Hudson ventured into James Bay and discovered that he’d come to a dead end.
By this time, Hudson was at odds with many in his crew. They found themselves trapped in the ice and low on supplies. When they were forced to spend the winter there, tensions only grew worse. By June 1611, conditions had improved enough for the ship to set sail once again. Hudson, however, didn’t make the trip back home. Shortly after their departure, several members of the crew, including Juet, took over the ship and decided to cast out Hudson, his son and a few other crew members. Mutineers put Hudson and the others in a small boat and set them adrift. It is believed that Hudson and the others died of exposure sometime later, in or near the Hudson Bay. Some of the mutineers were later put on trial, but they were acquitted.
More European explorers and settlers followed Hudson’s lead, making their way to North America. The Dutch started a new colony, called New Amsterdam, at the mouth of the Hudson River in 1625. They also developed trade posts along the nearby coasts.
While he never found his way to Asia, Hudson is still widely remembered as a determined early explorer. His efforts helped drive European interest in North America. Today his name can be found all around us on waterways, schools, bridges and even towns.