When growing up in New York City, Central Park lay at the center of my life. It was my universe. Our apartment, and the elementary school I attended, were near the park. There I played rough games like capture the flag on the park’s rocks and gathered mahogany-colored chestnuts from the ground in the fall which I would place in a row on the window sill in my bedroom.
One day my sister, who attended the Brearley School at 610 East 83rd St., told me that we lived on an island. She said that from her classroom window she saw tugboats on a river. Knowing only the world of Central Park, I expressed disbelief.
Later I learned she was right when the Hudson River became a part of my life. On Sundays, we took family trips on day excursion boats to Bear Mountain. As I grew older, I would read the shipping news in The New York Times where vessel arrivals and departures were announced. When my favorite, the Queen Mary, with her three smokestacks, was departing, I would bicycle to the west side piers to bid her farewell, and then race down to the Battery to see her emerge from the mouth of the river into the bay, on her way to the sea, homeward-bound.
Over the years, I have sailed on the Hudson, traveled by train along the river to Albany, and spent glorious weekends with a good friend in Columbia County whose beautiful house overlooks the river. On summer nights there, I gaze at stars, at fireflies and at river buoy lights blinking in the darkness.
Next year marks the 400th anniversary of the 1609 arrival of Henry Hudson. In anticipation of the event, I go to the New York Society Library to request a book from the closed stack: “Henry Hudson the Navigator, The Original Documents,” printed in 1860 in London for the Hakluyt Society. (Richard Hakluyt, British geographer, c. 1553-1616.) I read Hudson’s few surviving notes on this, his third voyage of discovery, undertaken on behalf of the Dutch East India Company in search of a north-east passage to the Indies, and the journal of Robert Juet “of Lime-house” (London), an English member of the mixed English-Dutch crew serving under Hudson on the Half Moon. In his introduction to the volume, G.M. Asher writes that “Juet’s journal is the most satisfactory of all the remaining records of Hudson’s career.”
Entries from Robert Juet’s journal, September 1609: “The twelfth, very faire and hot. In the after-noone, at two of the clocke . . . we turned into the river two leagues and anchored. This morning . . . there came eight and twentie canoes full of men, women and children . . . . They brought with them oysters and beanes, whereof wee bought some. They have great tabacco pipes of yellow copper, and pots of earth to dresse their meate in . . . .”
From Hudson’s notes: “[T]heir clothing consisted of the skins of foxes and other animals, which they dress and make the skins into garments of various sorts.
The thirteenth . . . . At seven of the clocke in the morning, as the floud came we weighed, and turned foure miles into the river. The tide being done wee anchored. Then there came foure canoes aboard . . . . They brought great store of very good oysters aboord, which we bought for trifles . . .
The fourteenth, in the morning, being very faire weather, the wind south-east, we sayled up the river twelve leagues . . . . The river is a mile broad: there is very high land on both sides . . . .
The fifteenth, Wee had a very good depth . . . and great store of salmons in the river . . . . Our boat went to fish, and caught great store of very good fish.
The sixteenth . . . . This morning the people came aboord, and brought us eares of Indian corne, and pompions, and tabacco . . . .
The seventeenth . . . . Toward night we borrowed so neere the shoare, that we grounded: so we layed out our small anchor, and heaved off againe. Then we . . . came aground againe; while the floud ran we heaved off againe, and anchored all night.”
(The incoming tidal waters assist Hudson.)
From Hudson’s notes: “I sailed to the shore in one of their canoes, with an old man, who was the chief of a tribe, consisting of forty men and seventeen women; these I saw there in a house well constructed of oak bark . . . . On our coming into the house, two mats were spread out to sit upon, and immediately some food was served in well made red wooden bowls . . . . The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon, and it also abounds in trees of every description. 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 . . . .”
(The Indians encountered by Hudson had lived here for generations. Not all encounters were as friendly, with some ending in bloodshed.)
“The nineteenth . . . The people of the countrie came flocking aboord, and brought us grapes and pompions . . . . And many brought us bevers skinnes and otters skinnes, which wee bought for beades, knives, and hatchets . . . .
“The two and twentieth . . . . This night . . . our boat returned in a showre of raine from sounding of the river; and found it to bee at an end for shipping to goe in . . . .”
(Having gone as far as the Half Moon could proceed, the Albany area, Hudson returns down river. This waterway is not the route to the Indies he is searching for.)
“The five and twentieth . . . . We rode still, and went on land to walke on the west side of the river, and found good ground for corne and other garden herbs, with great store of goodly oakes, and walnut-trees, and chest-nut trees, ewe trees, and trees of sweet wood in great abundance, and great store of slate for houses, and other good stones . . . .
The second [of October] . . . . [W]e saw a very good piece of ground: and hard by it there was a cliffe . . . it is on that side of the river that is called Manna-hata. There we saw no people to trouble us; and rode quietly all night; but had much wind and raine.
The fourth . . . . [W]ee weighed and came out of the river, into which we had runne so farre. Within a while after, wee came out also of the great mouth of the great river . . . . Then we took in our boat, and set out mayne-sayle, and sprit-sayle, and our top-sayles, and steered away . . . into the mayne sea . . . “.
Postscript. On Hudson’s fourth voyage of discovery (1610-11), Robert Juet participated in a mutiny which led to Hudson, his youngest son, and several crew members being set adrift in a small boat in the bitterly cold northern waters of James Bay, never to be seen again. The English, after expelling the Dutch, named the river, Hudson’s River.
William J. Dean is executive director of Volunteers of Legal Service.