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DUTCH AND ENGLISH ON THE HUDSON
UP THE GREAT RIVER
GEOGRAPHY IS the maker of history. The course of Dutch settlement in America was predetermined by a river which runs its length of a hundred and fifty miles from the mountains to the sea through the heart of a fertile country and which offers a natural highway for transportation of merchandise and for communication between colonies. No man, however, could foresee the development of the Empire State when, on that memorable September day in 1609, a small Dutch yacht named the Halve Maene or Half Moon, under the command of Captain Henry Hudson, slipped in past the low hook of sand in front of the Navesink Heights, and sounded her way to an now the outer harbor of New York.
Robert Juet of Limehouse, one of the adventurers sailing with Hudson, writes in his journal:
At three of the clock in the afternoone we came to three great rivers, so we stood along to the northermost, thinking to have gone into it; but we found it to have a very shoald barre before it, for we had but ten foot water; then wee cast about to the southward and found two fathoms, three fathoms, and three and a quarter, till we came to the souther side of them; then we had five and sixe fathoms and anchored. So wee sent in our boate to sound and they found no lesse water than foure, five, six, and seven fathoms and returned in an hour and a half. So wee weighed and went in and rode in five fathoms, oozie ground, and saw many salmons, mullets and rayes very great.
So quietly is chronicled one of the epoch-making events of history, an event which opened a rich territory and gave to the United Netherlands their foothold in the New World, where Spain, France, and England had already established their claims.
Let us try to call to our minds the picture of the Half Moon as she lies there in harbor, a quaint, clumsily built boat of forty lasts, or eighty tons, burden. From her bow projects a beakhead, a sort of gallery, painted and carved, and used as a place of rest or of punishment for the sailors. At the tip of the beakhead is the figurehead, a red lion with a golden mane. The ship’s bow is green, with ornaments of sailors’ heads painted red and yellow. Both forecastle and poop are high, the latter painted a blue mottled with white clouds. The stern below is rich in color and carving. Its upper panels show a blue ground picked out with stars and set in it a crescent holding a profile of the traditional Man in the Moon. The panel below bears the arms of the City of Amsterdam and the letters V. O. C. forming the monogram of the Dutch East India Company — Vereenigde OostIndische Compagnie.
Five carved heads uphold the stern, above which hangs one of those ornate lanterns which the Dutch love so well. To add to all this wealth of color, flags are flying from every masthead. At the foretop flutters the tricolor of red, white, and black, with the arms of Amsterdam in a field of white. At the maintop flames the flag of the seven provinces of the Netherlands, emblazoned with a red lion rampant, bearing in his paws a sword and seven arrows. The bowsprit bears a small flag of orange, white, and blue, while from the stern flies the Dutch East India Company’s special banner. It is no wonder that such an apparition causes the simple natives ashore to believe first that some marvelous bird has swept in from the sea, and then that a mysterious messenger from the Great Spirit has appeared in all his celestial robes.
If Hudson’s object had been stage-setting for the benefit of the natives, he could not have arranged his effects better. The next day, when the ship had moved to a good harbor, the people of the country were allowed to come aboard to barter “greene Tabacco” for knives and beads. Hudson probably thought that the savages might learn a lesson in regard to the power of the newcomers by an inspection of the interior of the ship. The cannon which protruded their black noses amidships held their threat of destruction even when they were not belching thunder and lightning. The forecastle with its neatly arranged berths must have seemed a strange contrast to the bare ground on which the savages were accustomed to sleep, and the brightness of polished and engraved brass tablets caught the untutored eyes which could not decipher the inscriptions. There were three of these tablets, the mottoes of which, being translated, read: Honor thy father and thy mother! Do not fight without cause! Good advice makes the wheels run smoothly!
Perhaps the thing which interested the Indians most was the great wooden block fastened to the deck behind the mainmast. This strange object was fashioned in the shape of a man’s head, and through it passed the ropes used to hoist the yards. It was called sometimes “the silent servant,” sometimes “the knighthead.” To the Indians it must have seemed the final touch of necromancy, and they were prepared to bow down in awe before a race of beings who could thus make blocks of wood serve them.
Trusting, no doubt, to the impression which he had made on the minds of the natives, Hudson decided to go ashore. The Indians crowded around him and “sang in their fashion” — a motley horde, as strange to the ship’s crew as the Half Moon and its company seemed marvelous to the aborigines. Men, women, and children, dressed in fur or tricked out with feathers, stood about or floated in their boats hewn from solid logs, the men carrying pipes of red copper in which they smoked that precious product, tobacco — the consolation prize offered by the New World to the Old in lieu of the hoped-for passage to Cathay.
Everything seemed to breathe assurance of peaceful relations between the red man and the white; but if the newcomers did not at the moment realize the nature of the Indians, their eyes were opened to possibilities of treachery by the happenings of the next day. John Colman and a boat’s crew were sent out to take further soundings before the Half Moon should. proceed on her journey. As the boat was returning to report a safe course ahead, the crew, only five in number, were set upon by two war-canoes filled with Indians, whose volley of arrows struck terror to their hearts. Colman was mortally wounded in the throat by an arrow, and two of his companions were seriously, though not fatally, hurt. Keeping up a running fight, the survivors escaped under cover of darkness. During the night, as they crouched with their dead comrade in the boat, the sailors must have thought the minutes hours and the hours days. To add to their discomfort rain was failing, and they drifted forlornly at the mercy of the current. When at last dawn came, they could make out the ship at a great distance; but it was ten o’clock in the morning before they reached her safe shelter. So ended the brief dream of ideal friendship and confidence between the red men and the whites.
After Colman had been buried in a grave by the side of the beautiful sheet of water which he had known for so short a time, the Half Moon worked her way cautiously from the Lower Bay through the Narrows to the inner harbor and reached the tip of the island which stands at its head. What is now a bewildering mass of towers and palaces of industry, looking down upon a far-extended fleet of steam and sailing vessels, was then a point, wooded to the water’s edge, with a scattered Indian village nestling among the trees.
A Moravian missionary, writing at the beginning of the nineteenth century, set down an account from the red man’s point of view of the arrival of the Half Moon. This account he claimed to have received from old Indians who held it as part of their tribal traditions. As such it is worth noting and quoting, although as history it is of more than doubtful authenticity. The tradition runs that the chiefs of the different tribes on sighting the Half Moon supposed it to be a supernatural visitor and assembled on “York Island” to deliberate on the manner in which they should receive this Manito on his arrival. Plenty of meat was provided for a sacrifice, a grand dance was arranged, and the medicine-men were set to work to determine the phenomenon. The runners sent out to observe and report declared it certain that it was the Great Manito, “but other runners soon after arriving, declare it a large house of various colors, full of people yet of quite a different color than they [the Indians] are of. That they were also dressed in a different manner from them and that one in particular appeared altogether red, which must be the Mannitto himself.”
The strange craft stopped and a smaller boat drew near. While some stayed behind to guard the boat, the red-clothed man with two others advanced into a large circle formed by the Indian chiefs and wise men. He saluted them and they returned the salute.
A large hock-hack [Indian for gourd or bottle] is brought forward by the supposed Mannitto’s servants and from this a substance is poured out into a small cup or glass and handed to the Mannitto. The expected Mannitto drinks, has the glass filled again and hands it to the chief next him to drink. The chief receives the glass but only smelleth at it and passes it on to the next chief who does the same. The glass then passes through the circle without the contents being tasted by anyone, and is upon the point of being returned again to the redclothed man when one of their number, a spirited man and a great warrior jumps up and harangues the assembly on the impropriety of returning the glass with the contents in it — that the same was handed them by the Mannitto in order that they should drink it as he himself had done before them — that this would please him; but that to return it might provoke him and be the cause of their being destroyed by him. He then took the glass and bidding the assembly a farewell, drank it up. Every eye was fixed on their resolute companion to see what an effect this would have upon him and he soon beginning to stagger about and at last dropping to the ground they bemoan him. He falls into a sleep and they saw him as expiring. He awakes again, jumps up and declares that he never felt himself before so happy as. after he had drank the cup. Wishes for more. His wish is granted and the whole assembly soon join him and become intoxicated.
The Delawares, as the missionary points out further, call New York Island “Mannahattanik,” “the place where we were all drunk.” With this picturesque account let us contrast the curt statement of Robert Juet: “This morning at our first rode in the River there came eight and twenty canoes full of men, women and children to betray us; but we saw their intent and suffered none of them to come aboord of us. At, twelve of the clocke they departed. They brought with them oysters and beanes whereof we bought some.” If there had been any such striking scene as the missionary chronicle reports, Juet would probably have recorded it; but in addition to his silence in the matter we must recall the fact that this love-feast is supposed to have occurred only a few days after the killing of Colman and the return of the terror-stricken crew. This makes it seem extremely improbable that Hudson would have taken the risk of going ashore among hostile natives and proffering the hospitalities which had been so ill requited on his previous landing. Let us therefore pass by the Reverend John Heckwelder’s account as “well found, but not well founded,” and continue to follow the cruise of the Half Moon up the great river.
The days now were fair and warm, and Hudson, looking around him when the autumn sun had swept away the haze from the face of the water, declared it as fair a land as could be trodden by the foot of man. He left Manhattan Island behind, passed the site of Yonkers, and was carried by a southeasterly wind beyond the Highlands till he reached what is now West Point. In this region of the Catskills the Dutch found the natives friendly, and, having apparently recovered from their first suspicious attitude, the explorers began to open barter and exchange with such as wished to come aboard. On at least one occasion Hudson himself went ashore. The early Dutch writer, De Laet, who used Hudson’s last journal, quotes at length Hudson’s description of this landing, and the quotation, if genuine, is probably the longest description of his travels that we have from the pen of the great navigator. He says that he sailed to the shore in one of their canoes, with an old man who was chief of a tribe. There he found a house of oak bark, circular in shape, apparently well built, and with an arched roof.
On our coming near the house, two mats were spread to sit upon and immediately some food was served in well-made red wooden bowls; two men were also dispatched at once with bows and arrows in quest of game, who soon after brought a pair of pigeons which they had shot. They likewise killed at once a fat dog and skinned it in great haste, with shells which they get out of the water…. The natives are a very good people, for when they saw that I would not remain, they supposed that I was afraid of their bows, and taking the arrows they broke them in pieces and threw them into the fire.
So the Half Moon drifted along “the River of the Steep Hills,” through the golden autumnal weather, now under frowning cliffs, now skirting low sloping shores and fertile valleys, till at length the shoaling water warned Hudson that he could not penetrate much farther. He knew now that he had failed to find the northwest passage to Cathay which had been the object of his expedition; but he had explored one of the world’s noblest rivers from its mouth to the head of its navigable waters.
It is a matter of regret to all students that so little is known of this great adventurer. Sober history tells us that no authentic portrait of him is extant; but I like to figure him to myself as drawn by that mythical chronicler, Diedrich Knickerbocker, who was always ready to help out fact with fiction and both with humor. He pictures Henry Hudson as “a short, brawny old gentleman with a double chin, a mastiff mouth and a broad copper nose which was supposed in those days to have acquired its fiery hue from the constant neighborhood of his tobacco pipe. He wore a true Andrea Ferrara, tucked in a leathern belt, and a commodore’s cocked hat on one side of his head. He was remarkable for always jerking up his breeches when he gave his orders and his voice sounded not unlike the brattling of a tin trumpet, owing to the number of hard northwesters which he had swallowed in the course of his sea-faring.”
This account accords with our idea of this doughty navigator far better than the popular picture of the forlorn white-bearded old gentleman amid the arctic ice-floes. The cause of the fiery nose seems more likely to have been spirits than tobacco, for Hudson was well acquainted with the effects of strong waters. At one stage of his journey he was responsible for an incident which may perhaps have given rise to the Indian legend of the mysterious potations attending the first landing of the white men. Hudson invited certain native chiefs to the ship and so successfully plied them with brandy that they were completely intoxicated. One fell asleep and was deserted by his comrades, who, however, returned next day and were rejoiced to find the victim professing great satisfaction over his experience.
The ship had now reached the northernmost bounds of her exploration and anchored at a point not exactly determined but not far below Albany. Hudson sent an exploring boat a little farther, and on its return he put the helm of the Half Moon about and headed the red lion with the golden mane southward. On this homeward course, the adventurers met with even more exciting experiences than had marked their progress up the river. At a place near the mouth of Haverstraw Bay at Stony Point the Half Moon was becalmed and a party of Mountain Indians came off in canoes to visit the ship. Here they showed the cunning and the thieving propensities of which Hudson accused them, for while some engaged the attention of the crew on deck, one of their number ran his canoe under the stern and contrived to climb by the aid of the rudder-post into the cabin.
To understand how this theft was carried out it is necessary to remember the build of the seventeenth century Dutch sailing-vessels in which the forecastle and poop rose high above the waist of the ship. In the poop were situated the cabins of the captain and the mate. Of Hudson’s cabin we have a detailed description. Its height was five feet three inches. It was provided with lockers, a berth, a table, and a bench with four divisions, a most desirable addition when the vessel lurched suddenly. Under the berth were a box of books and a medicine-chest, besides such other equipment as a globe, a compass, a silver sun-dial, a cross staff, a brass tinder-box, pewter plates, spoons, a mortar and pestle, and the half-hour glass which marked the different watches on deck.
Doubtless the savage intruder would have been glad to capture some of this rich booty; but it must have been the mate’s cabin into which he stumbled, for be obtained only a pillow and a couple of shirts, for which he sold his life. The window in the stern projecting over the water was evidently standing open in order to admit the soft September air, and the Indian saw his chance. Into this window he crept and from it started to make off with the stolen goods; but the mate saw the thief, shot, and killed him. Then all was a scene of wild confusion. The savages scattered from the ship, some taking to their canoes, some plunging into the river. The small boat was sent in pursuit of the stolen goods, which were soon recovered; but, as the boat returned, a red hand reached up from the water to upset it, whereupon the ship’s cook, seizing a sword, cut off the hand as it gripped the gunwale, and the wretched owner sank never to reappear.
On the following day Hudson and his men came into conflict with more than a hundred savages, who let loose a flight of arrows. But one of the ship’s cannon was trained upon them, and one shot followed by a discharge of musketry quickly ended the battle. The mariners thereupon made their way without molestation to the mouth of the river, whence they put to sea on a day in early October, only a month after their entrance into the bay.
Hudson was destined never again to see the country from which he set out on this quest, never again to enter the river which he had explored. But he had achieved immortal fame for himself and had secured a new empire for the Netherlands. The Cabots possibly, and Verrazano almost certainly, had visited the locality of “the Great River” before him; but Hudson was in the truest sense its discoverer, and history has accorded him his rights. Today the replica of the Half Moon lies in a quiet backwater of the Hudson River at the foot of Bear Mountain — stripped of her gilding, her sails, and her gay pennants. She still makes a unique appeal to our imagination as we fancy the tiny original buffeting the ocean waves and feeling her way along uncharted waters to the head of navigation. To see even the copy is to feel the thrill of adventure and to realize the boldness of those early mariners whom savages could not affright nor any form of danger daunt.1____________________________
1 For further details of the appearance of the Half Moon, see E. H. Hall’s paper on Henry Hudson and the Discovery of the Hudson River, published by the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society (1910).