Henry Hudson and the Early History of Manhattan

United States - Scott #1027 (1953)
United States – Scott #1027 (1953)

On September 11, 1609. Henry Hudson discovered Manhattan Island and the indigenous people living there. Hudson was an English sea explorer and navigator during the early 17th century, best known for his explorations of present-day Canada and parts of the northeastern United States. In 1607 and 1608, Hudson made two attempts on behalf of English merchants to find a rumored Northeast Passage to Cathay (present-day China) via a route above the Arctic Circle. In 1609 he landed in North America and explored the region around the modern New York metropolitan area, looking for a Northwest Passage to Asia on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. He sailed up the Hudson River, which was later named for him, and thereby laid the foundation for Dutch colonization of the region.

Hudson discovered the Hudson Strait and the immense Hudson Bay on his final expedition, while still searching for the Northwest Passage. In 1611, after wintering on the shore of James Bay, Hudson wanted to press on to the west, but most of his crew mutinied. The mutineers cast Hudson, his son, and seven others adrift; the Hudsons and their companions were never seen again.

Besides being the namesake of numerous geographical features, Hudson is also the namesake of the Hudson’s Bay Company that explored and traded in the vast Hudson Bay watershed in the following centuries.

Map of central New York State with Manhattan Island in the south and the Hudson River leading northward.

The area that is now Manhattan was long inhabited by the Lenape people. The groups of culturally and linguistically identical Native Americans in the region traditionally spoke an Algonquian language now referred to as Unami. Early European settlers called bands of Lenape by the Unami place name for where they lived, such as “Raritan” in Staten Island and New Jersey, “Canarsee” in Brooklyn, and “Hackensack” in New Jersey across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan. Eastern Long Island neighbors were culturally and linguistically more closely related to the Mohegan-Pequot peoples of New England who spoke the Mohegan-Montauk-Narragansett language.

These peoples all made use of the abundant waterways in the New York City region for fishing, hunting trips, trade, and occasionally war. place names such as Raritan Bay and Canarsie are derived from Lenape names. Many paths created by the indigenous peoples are now main thoroughfares, such as Broadway in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester. The Lenape developed sophisticated techniques of hunting and managing their resources. By the time of the arrival of Europeans, they were cultivating fields of vegetation through the slash and burn technique, which extended the productive life of planted fields. They also harvested vast quantities of fish and shellfish from the bay.[6] Historians estimate that at the time of European settlement, approximately 5,000 Lenape lived in 80 settlements around the region.

The first European visitor to the area was the Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, in command of the French ship La Dauphine in 1524. It is believed he sailed into Upper New York Bay, where he encountered native Lenape, returned through the Narrows, where he anchored the night of April 17, and left to continue his voyage. He named the area Nouvelle-Angoulême (New Angoulême) in honor of Francis I, King of France of the royal house of Valois-Angoulême. He sailed far enough into the harbor to sight the Hudson River, which he referred to in his report to the French king as a “very big river”; and he named the Bay of Santa Margarita — what is now Upper New York Bay — after Marguerite de Navarre, the elder sister of the king.

This speculative portrait from Cyclopedia of Universal History is one of several used to represent Henry Hudson

Details of Hudson’s birth and early life are mostly unknown. Some sources have identified Henry Hudson as having been born in about 1565, but others date his birth to around 1570. Other historians assert even less certainty; Peter C. Mancall, for instance, states that “[Hudson] was probably born in the 1560s,” while Piers Pennington gives no date at all. Hudson is thought to have spent many years at sea, beginning as a cabin boy and gradually working his way up to ship’s captain.

In 1607, the Muscovy Company of England hired Hudson to find a northerly route to the Pacific coast of Asia. At the time, the English were engaged in an economic battle with the Dutch for control of northwest routes. It was thought that, because the sun shone for three months in the northern latitudes in the summer, the ice would melt and a ship could make it across the “top of the world”.

On May 1, 1607, Hudson sailed with a crew of ten men and a boy on the 80-ton Hopewell. They reached the east coast of Greenland on June 14, coasting it northward until the 22nd. Here the party named a headland “Young’s Cape”, a “very high mount, like a round castle” near it “Mount of God’s Mercy” and land at 73° north latitude “Hold-with-Hope”. After turning east, they sighted “Newland” (i.e Spitsbergen) on the 27th, near the mouth of the great bay Hudson later simply named the “Great Indraught” (Isfjorden). On July 13, Hudson and his crew estimated that they had sailed as far north as 80° 23′ N, but more likely only reached 79° 23′ N.

The following day they entered what Hudson later in the voyage named “Whales Bay” (Krossfjorden and Kongsfjorden), naming its northwestern point “Collins Cape” (Kapp Mitra) after his boatswain, William Collins. They sailed north the following two days. On the 16th they reached as far north as Hakluyt’s Headland (which Thomas Edge claims Hudson named on this voyage) at 79° 49′ N, thinking they saw the land continue to 82° N (Svalbard’s northernmost point is 80° 49′ N) when really it trended to the east. Encountering ice packed along the north coast, they were forced to turn back south. Hudson wanted to make his return “by the north of Greenland to Davis his Streights (Davis Strait), and so for Kingdom of England,” but ice conditions would have made this impossible. The expedition returned to Tilbury Hope on the Thames on September 15, 1607.

Map of Henry Hudson’s voyages to North America

Many authors have wrongly stated that it was the discovery of large numbers of whales in Spitsbergen waters by Hudson during this voyage that led to several nations sending whaling expeditions to the islands. While he did indeed report seeing many whales, it was not Hudson’s reports but rather those by Jonas Poole in 1610 which led to the establishment of English whaling and the voyages of Nicholas Woodcock and Willem Cornelisz. van Muyden in 1612 that led to the establishment of Dutch, French and Spanish whaling.

In 1608, English merchants of the East India and Muscovy Companies again sent Hudson in the Hopewell to attempt to locate a passage to the Indies, this time to the east around northern Russia. Leaving London on April 22, the ship traveled almost 2,500 miles, making it to Novaya Zemlya well above the Arctic Circle in July, but even in the summer they found the ice impenetrable and turned back, arriving at Gravesend on August 26.

In 1609, Hudson was chosen by merchants of the Dutch East India Company in the Netherlands to find an easterly passage to Asia. While awaiting orders and supplies in Amsterdam, he heard rumors of a northwest route to the Pacific through North America. Hudson had been told to sail through the Arctic Ocean north of Russia, into the Pacific and so to the Far East. Hudson departed Amsterdam on April 4 in command of the Dutch ship Halve Maen. He could not complete the specified (eastward) route because ice blocked the passage, as with all previous such voyages, and he turned the ship around in mid-May while somewhere east of Norway’s North Cape. At that point, acting outside his instructions, Hudson pointed the ship west and decided to try to seek a westerly passage through North America.

They reached the Grand Banks of Newfoundland on July 2, and in mid-July made landfall near what is now LaHave, Nova Scotia. Here they encountered Native Americans who were accustomed to trading with the French; they were willing to trade beaver pelts, but apparently no trades occurred. The ship stayed in the area about ten days, the crew replacing a broken mast and fishing for food. On the 25th, a dozen men from the Halve Maen, using muskets and small cannon, went ashore and assaulted the village near their anchorage. They drove the people from the settlement and took their boat and other property (probably pelts and trade goods).

Replica of Henry Hudson's ship Halve Maen, donated in 1909 by the Dutch to the United States on the occasion of the 300-year anniversary of the discovery of what is now New York
Replica of Henry Hudson’s ship Halve Maen, donated in 1909 by the Dutch to the United States on the occasion of the 300-year anniversary of the discovery of what is now New York.

On August 4, the ship was at Cape Cod, from which Hudson sailed south to the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay. Rather than entering the Chesapeake he explored the coast to the north, finding Delaware Bay but continuing on north. On September 3, he reached the estuary of the river that initially was called the “North River” or “Mauritius” and now carries his name. He was not the first European to discover the estuary, though, as it had been known since the voyage of Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524. On September 6, 1609, John Colman of his crew was killed by Indians with an arrow to his neck. Hudson sailed into the upper bay on September 11, coming across Manhattan Island and the following day began a journey up what is now known as the Hudson River. Over the next ten days, his ship ascended the river reaching a point about where the present-day capital of Albany is located.

The name Manhattan derives from the word Manna-hata, as written in the 1609 logbook of Robert Juet, an officer on Halve Maen. A 1610 map depicts the name as Manna-hata, twice, on both the west and east sides of the Mauritius River (later named the Hudson River). The word “Manhattan” has been translated as “the place where we get bows” or “place for gathering the (wood to make) bows”, from the Munsee dialect of the Lenape language ‘manaháhtaan‘ (where ‘manah-‘ means “gather”, ‘-aht-‘ means “bow” and ‘-aan‘ is an abstract element used to form verb stems). According to a Munsee tradition recorded in the 19th century, the island was named so for a grove of hickory trees at the lower end that was considered ideal for the making of bows. Alternative folk etymologies include “island of many hills”, “the island where we all became intoxicated” and simply “island”, as well as a phrase descriptive of the whirlpool at Hell Gate.

On September 23, Hudson decided to return to Europe. He put in at Dartmouth, England on November 7 and was detained by authorities who wanted access to his log. He managed to pass the log to the Dutch ambassador to England, who sent it, along with his report, to Amsterdam.

While exploring the river, Hudson had traded with several native groups, mainly obtaining furs. He had taken note of the abundant beaver population. Beaver pelts were in fashion in Europe, fueling a lucrative business. Hudson’s report on the regional beaver population served as the impetus for the founding of Dutch trading colonies in the New World. The beaver’s importance in New York City’s history is reflected by its use on the city’s official seal.

The original en:Castello Plan. Full size photograph of manuscript map in the Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana of Florence, Italy. The Castello plan is the earliest known plan of New Amsterdam, and the only one dating from the Dutch period. The text at the top of the image states:
The original en:Castello Plan. Full size photograph of manuscript map in the Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana of Florence, Italy. The Castello plan is the earliest known plan of New Amsterdam, and the only one dating from the Dutch period. The text at the top of the image states: “Image of the city Amsterdam in New Netherland”. The settlement in 1660 was confined to the southern tip of Manhattan Island.

European settlement began with the founding of a Dutch fur trading post in Lower Manhattan at the southern tip of Manhattan in 1624-1625. Soon thereafter, most likely in 1626, construction of Fort Amsterdam began. The establishment of Fort Amsterdam at the southern tip of Manhattan Island is recognized as the birth of New York City.

According to a letter by Pieter Janszoon Schagen, Peter Minuit and Dutch colonists acquired Manhattan on May 24, 1626, from unnamed Native American people, who are believed to have been Canarsee Indians of the Lenape, in exchange for traded goods worth 60 guilders, often said to be worth U.S. $24. The figure of 60 guilders comes from a letter by a representative of the Dutch Estates General and member of the board of the Dutch West India Company, Pieter Janszoon Schagen, to the Estates General in November 1626. In 1846, New York historian John Romeyn Brodhead converted the figure of Fl 60 (or 60 guilders) to U.S. $23.

“[A] variable-rate myth being a contradiction in terms, the purchase price remains forever frozen at twenty-four dollars,” as Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace remarked in their history of New York. Sixty guilders in 1626 was valued at approximately $1,000 in 2006, according to the Institute for Social History of Amsterdam. Based on the price of silver, Straight Dope author Cecil Adams calculated an equivalent of $72 in 1992. Historians James and Michelle Nevius revisited the issue in 2014, suggesting that using the prices of beer and brandy as monetary equivalencies, the price Minuit paid would have the purchasing power of somewhere between $2,600 and $15,600 in current dollars. According to the writer Nathaniel Benchley, Minuit conducted the transaction with Seyseys, chief of the Canarsees, who were willing to accept valuable merchandise in exchange for the island that was mostly controlled by the Weckquaesgeeks.

New-Amsterdam by Johannes-Vingboon, 1639

Later, the Dutch West Indies Company imported African slaves to serve as laborers; they helped to build the wall that defended the town against English and Indian attacks. Early directors included Willem Verhulst and Peter Minuit. Willem Kieft became director in 1638 but five years later was embroiled in Kieft’s War against the Native Americans. The Pavonia Massacre, across the Hudson River in present-day Jersey City, resulted in the death of 80 natives in February 1643. Following the massacre, Algonquian tribes joined forces and nearly defeated the Dutch. Holland sent additional forces to the aid of Kieft, leading to the overwhelming defeat of the Native Americans and a peace treaty on August 29, 1645.

On May 27, 1647, Peter Stuyvesant was inaugurated as the last Dutch director general of the colony upon his arrival and ruled as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. The colony was granted self-government in 1652 and New Amsterdam was formally incorporated as a city on February 2, 1653. The first mayors (burgemeesters) of New Amsterdam, Arent van Hattem and Martin Cregier, were appointed in that year.

In 1664, the English conquered New Netherland and renamed it “New York” after the English Duke of York and Albany, the future King James II, ending the brief 40-year period of Dutch rule for 120 years of English and British administration as a colony of the Kingdom of England and later of Great Britain. At that time, people of African descent made up 20% of the population of the city, with European settlers a large proportion of remaining Dutch citizens among the English, Scots, Welsh, and Irish numbering in total approximately 1,500 and people of African descent numbering 375 (with 300 enslaved and 75 free). During the mid 17th century, farms of free blacks covered 130 acres (53 ha) where Washington Square Park later developed.

The Dutch, under Director General Stuyvesant, successfully negotiated with the English to produce 24 articles of provisional transfer, which sought to retain for the extant citizens of New Netherland their previously attained liberties (including freedom of religion) under new colonial English rulers.

The Dutch briefly regained the city in August 1673, renaming the city “New Orange”, before permanently ceding the colony of New Netherland to the English for what is now Suriname in November 1674 through the Treaty of Westminster. Some place names originated in the Dutch period and were named after places in the Netherlands, most notably Flushing (Dutch town of Vlissingen), Harlem (Dutch town of Haarlem), and Brooklyn (Dutch town of Breukelen). Few buildings, however, remain from the 17th century. The oldest recorded house still in existence in New York City, the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House in Brooklyn, dates from 1652.

View of New York City harbor, circa 1770.

The colony of New York benefited enormously within the burgeoning global British Empire and its population grew exponentially and prospered. The Bolting Act of 1678, whereby no mill outside the city was permitted to grind wheat or corn, boosted growth until its repeal in 1694, increasing the number of houses over the period from 384 to 983. In the context of the Glorious Revolution in England, Jacob Leisler led Leisler’s Rebellion and effectively controlled the city and surrounding areas from 1689–1691, before being arrested and executed.

By 1700, the Lenape population of New York had diminished to 200. The Dutch West Indies Company transported African slaves to the post as trading laborers used to build the fort and stockade, and some gained freedom under the Dutch. After the British took over the colony and city in 1664, they continued to import slaves from Africa and the Caribbean. In 1703, 42% of the New York households had slaves; they served as domestic servants and laborers but also became involved in skilled trades, shipping and other fields. Yet following reform in ethics according to British Enlightenment thought this had diminished to less than 25% by the 1770s slaves made up less than 25% of the population

After a series of fires in 1741, the city became panicked that blacks planned to burn the city in conspiracy with some poor whites. Historians believe their alarm was mostly fabrication and fear, but officials rounded up 31 blacks and 4 whites, who over a period of months were convicted of arson. Of these, the city executed 13 blacks by burning them alive and hanged 4 whites and 18 blacks.

In 1754, Columbia University was founded under charter by George II of Great Britain as King’s College in Lower Manhattan.

The Stamp Act and other British measures fomented dissent, particularly among Sons of Liberty who maintained a long-running skirmish with locally stationed British troops over Liberty Poles from 1766 to 1776. The Stamp Act Congress met in New York City in 1765 in the first organized resistance to British authority across the colonies. The first major battle of the American Revolutionary War — as well as the largest in terms of troop deployment and fighting — was fought on Long Island in late August 1776. This was the topic of a previous ASAD article. After the major defeat of the Continental Army in the battle, General George Washington withdrew to Manhattan Island, but with the subsequent defeat at the Battle of Fort Washington the island was effectively left to the British.

Map of Henry Hudson’s fourth voyage, 1610-1611

In 1610, Hudson obtained backing for another voyage, this time under the English flag. The funding came from the Virginia Company and the British East India Company. At the helm of his new ship, the Discovery, he stayed to the north (some claim he deliberately stayed too far south on his Dutch-funded voyage), reaching Iceland on May 11, the south of Greenland on June 4, and then rounding the southern tip of Greenland.

On June 25, the explorers reached what is now the Hudson Strait at the northern tip of Labrador. Following the southern coast of the strait on August 2, the ship entered Hudson Bay. Excitement was very high due to the expectation that the ship had finally found the Northwest Passage through the continent. Hudson spent the following months mapping and exploring its eastern shores, but he and his crew did not find a passage to Asia. In November, however, the ship became trapped in the ice in the James Bay, and the crew moved ashore for the winter.

When the ice cleared in the spring of 1611, Hudson planned to use his Discovery to further explore Hudson Bay with the continuing goal of discovering the Passage; however, most of the members of his crew ardently desired to return home. Matters came to a head and much of the crew mutinied in June.

Descriptions of the successful mutiny are one-sided, because the only survivors who could tell their story were the mutineers and those who went along with the mutiny. Allegedly in the latter class was ship’s navigator Abacuk Pricket, a survivor who kept a journal that was to become a key source for the narrative of the mutiny. According to Pricket, the leaders of the mutiny were Henry Greene and Robert Juet. Pricket’s narrative tells how the mutineers set Hudson, his teenage son John, and seven crewmen — men who were either sick and infirm or loyal to Hudson — adrift from the Discovery in a small shallop, an open boat, effectively marooning them in Hudson Bay. The Pricket journal reports that the mutineers provided the castaways with clothing, powder and shot, some pikes, an iron pot, some food, and other miscellaneous items.

ohn Collier’s painting of Henry Hudson with his son and some crew members after a mutiny on his icebound ship. The boat was set adrift and never heard from again.

After the mutiny, Captain Hudson’s shallop broke out oars and tried to keep pace with the Discovery for some time. Pricket recalled that the mutineers finally tired of the David-Goliath pursuit and unfurled additional sails aboard the Discovery, enabling the larger vessel to leave the tiny open boat behind. Hudson and the other seven aboard the shallop were never seen again. Despite subsequent searches/expeditions, including those conducted in 1612 by Thomas Button and in 1668-70 by Zachariah Gillam, their fate is unknown.

Pricket’s journal and testimony have been severely criticized for bias, on two grounds. Firstly, prior to the mutiny the alleged leaders of the uprising, Greene and Juet, had been friends and loyal seamen of Captain Hudson. Secondly, Greene and Juet did not survive the return voyage to England. Pricket knew he and the other survivors of the mutiny would be tried in England for piracy, and it would have been in his interest, and the interest of the other survivors, to put together a narrative that would place the blame for the mutiny upon men who were no longer alive to defend themselves.

In any case, the Pricket narrative became the controlling story of the expedition’s disastrous end. Only 8 of the 13 mutinous crewmen survived the return voyage to Europe. They were arrested in England, and some were put on trial, but no punishment was imposed for the mutiny. One theory holds that the survivors were considered too valuable as sources of information to execute, as they had traveled to the New World and could describe sailing routes and conditions. Perhaps for this reason, they were charged with murder — of which they were acquitted — rather than mutiny, of which they likely would have been convicted and executed.

United States – Scott #1027 (1953) first day cover

A 3-cent stamp commemorating the 300th anniversary of the founding of New York City was issued through the New York, New York, post office on November 20, 1953 (Scott #1027). This special stamp was issued in conjunction with the three-day National Postage Stamp Show, held at the 71st Infantry Regiment Armory and sponsored by the American Stamp Dealers Association.

The overall design of the stamp is the artist’s conception of New Amsterdam during the early settlement period, with a Dutch ship anchored in the harbor. Forming the background is a light silhouette of the present-day New York City skyline. In the upper left corner appears the lettering POSTAGE in dark Gothic, and directly beneath it appears the denomination 3c in whiteface modified Roman, and in the upper corner is USA in dark Gothic. The wording 300TH ANNIVERSARY OF NEW YORK CITY in whiteface Gothic is arranged across the bottom of the stamp.

The stamp measures 0.84 by 1.44 inches in dimensions, arranged horizontally in a shaded frame, printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing using the rotary process, electric-eye perforated in a gauge of 11 x 10½, and issued in sheets of fifty. The color of the stamp is bright red violet. An initial printing order of 110,000,000 stamps was authorized with a total of 115,759,600 issued.

Flag of New Holland
Seal of New Netherlands
Flag of Manhattan

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