Chapter 11: The Dutch
The Netherlands is a small country on the Atlantic coast of Europe. When Champlain was exploring North America, the Netherlands were a Spanish possession. The Spanish oppressively taxed their Dutch provinces. Many of the Dutch found the Protestant faiths more rational than their previous Catholic faith, but the Spanish king wanted to impose the Catholic faith on them. King Philip introduced the Inquisition in 1565. The Inquisition was a church institution based on torture and intimidation. Philip decreed that Protestants should be burned or buried alive. He wanted the victims murdered in secret rather than publicly.
The Netherlands eventually became independent, and though weaker than Spain, France and England, they sent out explorers and settlers too. Dutch explorers sailed to Asia and took possession of Java, Sumatra, Borneo and the Spice Island. They returned with pepper, cloves and coffee. Dutch explorers found Australia and New Zealand. [Zealand is a region in the Netherlands.] Because the journey was long and harsh, they established a station at Cape of Good Hope were fresh food and water could be found and sailors sickened with scurvy could recover. Little Netherlands had an empire far larger than itself.
In North America
The Dutch wanted to trade with the Spanish colonies in America. Spain forbade that, but that was often ignored with the help of Spanish governors. The Dutch took possession of some small islands in the Caribbean Sea. One of these was Curaçao [kur-uh-sow]. In 1662 the Dutch West India Company made Curaçao a centre for the Atlantic slave trade. Selling slaves became the primary source of income from Dutch trade.
They were as eager to find a short passage to Asia as anyone else. They hired Henry Hudson, an English sea captain, to find it. Hudson was an experienced explorer. In 1607 and again in 1608 the Muscovy Company, a group of English merchants, sent Hudson with a small ship, the Hopewell, and a crew of ten to explore to the north east. They hoped that the ice would melt in the long period of arctic daylight and they could sail across the top of Russia. The voyage was unsuccessful, but Hudson came away from it with the reputation of an intrepid sea captain.
The Muscovy Company were disappointed and unwilling to send Hudson on another voyage. Hudson traveled to the Netherlands, offering his services to the Dutch East India Company. His fame had gone before him. They knew of him as “the bold Englishman; the expert pilot; and the famous navigator.” A prominent member of their company, Balthazor Moucheron, who had attempted “large and unsuccessful adventures in Arctic voyages,” opposed sending Hudson to explore a route he knew was impossible, but the company provided Hudson with a small ship called the Halve Maen, or in English the Half Moon. With a crew of sixteen or twenty Dutch and English sailors, Hudson “was now ready to brave again the ice and storms of the Arctic seas.”
[illustration] The Half Moon in the Hudson River
Hudson left Amsterdam in 1609 but the ice north of Norway blocked his passage. John Smith, an English explorer about whom we will learn more, is believed to have sent Hudson a letter and maps saying that somewhere near Virginia was a sea route to Asia. Hudson convinced his crew to sail to America to look for the passage to India and China. They reached Newfoundland, but the journey there was perilous and full of adventure.
During three stormy weeks his foremast was carried away. His crew rigged up a jurymast, a temporary repair. But the winds continued, splitting his foresail. He sailed southward to escape the storms, but ran into another just as fierce. Three days after this they saw a sail off to the east and turned to meet the other ship. They couldn’t catch up to it, so they turned westward again. Early in July, they found a fleet of French ships fishing on the Grand Banks. The winds died and they were becalmed. Hudson sent his crew out in their small boat, and they returned with one hundred and thirty codfish. On the 9th, they spoke to the captain of a French ship near Sable Island. Finally, on July 12, they saw the coasts of North America, but the fog was thick. For several days they were afraid to approach the land; but on the morning of the 18th, the weather cleared up, and they ran into a “good harbor” at the mouth of a large river, in the latitude of forty-four degrees. This was Penobscot Bay, on the coast of Maine.
Hudson had already met some of the inhabitants of this new country; for on the morning of the 19th, while they were “standing off,” unable to enter the harbor, six of the natives paddled out to the Half Moon. They “seemed very glad” to see the Half Moon and its crew. Hudson gave them presents, and fed them. One of the natives could speak a little French. They told Hudson that there were gold, silver, and copper mines nearby, and that they regularly traded with the French.
Hudson sailed south to the James River in Virginia where an English colony had just been ‘planted.’ Hudson and his crew then turned northward, looking for “a gateway through this wild and unknown coast.” They explored Delaware Bay. They reached the mouth of the river later named for Hudson. He wasn’t the first European to find it, but he sailed farther up it than others had.
One of his crew described the area as “very good land to fall in with, and a pleasant land to see.” Natives wrapped in fur robes and feather capes, and wearing copper bangles surrounded the Half Moon, convincing Hudson that he was close to the passage to India and China. He sent men out to explore the harbor and streams. They reported that the land was “as pleasant with grass and flowers as ever they had seen, and very sweet smells.” But before they returned to the Half Moon, two canoes containing twenty-six natives attacked them, killing John Coleman who had been with Hudson on his first voyage, with an arrow through the neck. Two others were slightly wounded. They were unable to fight back because heavy rain had extinguished the smoldering cord used to fire their gun. Coleman was buried ashore at a place Hudson called Coleman Point. Today it is called Sandy Hook.
When Native American canoes surrounded the ship again, Hudson ordered his men to capture two of them as hostages. A third native jumped overboard and swam for shore. The Half Moon’s crew drove the rest away. As they sailed up what is now the Hudson River, twenty-eight canoes filled with whole families followed them. Hudson’s crew traded with them, “giving them trinkets for oysters and beans.” But they didn’t allow any of the natives aboard the ship. As they sailed up the river, the two captives wiggled out a porthole and swam to shore where they made rude gestures and insulted the crew of the Half Moon. Hudson anchored at the Catskill Mountains. Native people brought corn (maize) and pumpkins and tobacco to trade. Further up river they found a tribe with amazingly vast heaps of corn and beans. They fed Hudson, inviting him to sit on a mat and eat from a red wooden bowl. The natives broke and burned their arrows as a gesture of friendship.
The river grew shallow. When they arrived near where Albany, New York, now is, Champlain was not many miles away exploring the area around the lake that bears his name today. Hudson sent men in a rowboat further up river. This was not the route to Asia. He sailed down river and returned to Europe, landing first in England. The Half Moon returned to Amsterdam, and the Dutch sent out more explorers and traders. Eventually they established a settlement on Manhattan Island, were New York City is now.
Before we learn about the colony of New Amsterdam, there is more to tell about Henry Hudson.