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Shipcraft: Half Moon History

Captain Reynolds reads passages from Juet's journal.

So, how much about the Half Moon and its history do you know? Click on a button to check your answer!

Do you know who was captain, whom he was sailing for, and when he sailed?

Why was he sailing on the Half Moon and was he successful?

What was life like for the sailors on board the original Half Moon?

How many voyages did he lead and for which one was he on the Half Moon?

Was the Half Moon expedition considered a success?

What distinguished the culture of the New Netherland colony from its neighbors?

What was the legacy of New Netherland?

"Noort Rivier in Niew Neerlandt," as charted in the 1630s.

Henry Hudson was the captain on the maiden voyage of the Half Moon.

He was an Englishman sailing for the Dutch East India Company in search of a northern passage to the Spice Islands for trade. Captain Hudson and his crew left Amsterdam, in the Dutch Republic, in April of 1609. He first sailed northeast in an attempt to find a passage around Russia. After failing in this search, he chose to disobey his contractual orders, which were to return to Amsterdam immediately if he could not break through the ice. Instead, he turned west and sailed across the Atlantic to the New World to seek a northwest passage. Once there, he sailed south from Newfoundland to Chesapeake Bay, and then north again along the coast and finally up what is now called the Hudson River. The Half Moon entered the Hudson River on September 11th, 1609 and arrived near the current site of Albany on September 19th. Having surrendered the hope that the river was the northwest passage he sought, Hudson turned around and arrived back in England on November 7th. Upon his arrival, Hudson's papers were confiscated and he was placed under house arrest for sailing for another country!

There are a few differences between the Replica Ship Half Moon, built in 1989, and Hudson's 1609 vessel. One major difference is that the hold was meant for trade goods while today, it's filled with our engine room, head, tool alley, and galley. In 1609, the sailors cooked their meals in the forecastle instead. Despite a few major changes, most of what we do on the modern replica is accomplished the same they did it in 1609, including steering the ship using the whipstaff, walking the capstan to manually raise the anchor, and most of the crew sleeping on the orlop deck. However, life was different for the common sailor in Hudson's day. It was dark, crowded, and wet below decks, and the sailors had very few belongings, sometimes only an extra shirt. Without refrigeration, they ate stews, hardtack, fish, cheese, beans, and salted or dried meat.

A 17th century Dutch chart of New York Harbor compared to a modern river chart.

Hudson's 1609 voyage was his third expedition of four. With the exception of his voyage on the Half Moon, he sailed for the English. In 1607 he set out on a ship called the Hopewell in search of a passage to the East Indies by sailing north and east of Greenland through the North Pole, but the passage did not exist. He again failed to break through the pack ice in 1608 when he sailed north and east from London, heading north of Russia.

His final voyage was in 1610, again sailing for the English on a ship called the Discovery. He sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, north over Canada, and into what is now known as Hudson Strait. There, he and his crew were met with unfavorable and changing winds, as well as heaving ice, hindering their progress. After spending the winter blocked in by the ice, Hudson wanted to continue forward but his crew sick, hungry, and cold mutinied. They left Hudson, his son, some supporters, the sick, and the lame adrift in a small boat and returned to England. Henry Hudson was never found.

Despite Hudson's supposed failure in finding the northwest passage in 1609, his voyage is considered a success, as it resulted in the establishment of trade relations with Native Americans. This began during his stay in the New World, and continued as trading posts were soon established by Europeans who settled in the region. Hudson and his crew encountered several Native American cultures, including the Lenape and the Mohicans. Many were based on hunting for survival, and later became more so, but for trading purposes with Europeans, Native Americans traded corn, pumpkins (called pompions in Juet's journal), tobacco, and furs for European metal knives, hatchets, cooking kettles, and cloth. Because of the extensive and favorable trade which developed with Native Americans, particularly for beaver furs, and the raw natural resources in the area -- such as good harbors and rivers, vast forests, and fertile soil Hudson's exploration of the river that would later bear his name was a success.

Hudson's 1609 voyage was one of many that originated from the exploration and trade craze of the era. European powers, including the English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch, were competing for controll of passages to worldwide trade destinations, mainly in the Orient and East Indies. This race later expanded to include control of the New World. Colonies could financially benefit their mother countries by providing raw materials and new markets for European goods. The competition between the Spanish and the Dutch became especially heated because the Dutch were still fighting Spain for their independence (the Eighty Years War) when Hudson sailed in 1609.

In the wake of the Half Moon's Hudson River expedition, European traders soon settled in the region to take advantage of its many favorable conditions. The Dutch established the New Netherland colony in 1624. This colony stretched from the Delaware River to the Connecticut River, with the Hudson at its heart. Settlers came from all over, resulting in a strikingly diverse population; New Netherland boasted colonists hailing from the Netherlands, Norway, England, Africa, and more. By the early 1640s, over eighteen languages were spoken in the colony.

Just as in the Netherlands, the colony was known for its tolerance and freedom. Settlers had various religious affiliations, including Protestants, Jews, Quakers, and Catholics. Freedom of conscience was recognized by law, so many who felt persecuted for their religious practices left Europe for the colony. Furthermore, the extensive rights women enjoyed in the Netherlands were also carried over to the colony. For example, under 17th century Dutch law, women could own land, run businesses, and represent themselves in court, whereas women held almost no rights in other countries. With such practices, it's no wonder why the Mohicans caught the Dutch explorers' attention, since Mohican women also enjoyed many rights and freedoms. For example, as Mohican women were the heads of matrilineal clans, they helped select tribal leaders and controlled villages as well as family longhouses.

The Dutch maintained control of New Netherland until the English took power in the mid 17th century. Despite the takeover, the Dutch cultural legacy continues through the names of cities such as Staten Island and Yonkers, as well as the many Dutch words which have been incorporated into the English language, including golf, skating, drum, Yankee stove, and dollar. The Dutch also established one of the most important cities in the world, New Amsterdam, which would become New York City. Most importantly, of course, in the treaties handing over control of the colony, the Dutch ensured that the extensive rights and freedoms their citizens enjoyed would continue under English rule and indeed, they have survived to this day.

The story of the Dutch in the New World, starting with Henry Hudson's voyage for the Dutch East India Company in 1609, demonstrates the continuing effect of history on modern society. Had Captain Hudson not disobeyed his orders, and had simply returned to Amsterdam instead of crossing the Atlantic, our world would now be very different. This is our history, and we are reliving it.

Rachel Laufer

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