Writing about Henry Hudson and his exploration of what was soon to be New Amsterdam, and then later, New York, is really more an exploration of truths and half-truths, myths and histories. Firstly, Hudson didn’t discover New York any more than Columbus discovered America. Like Columbus, Hudson was a fortune seeker, a ship’s captain who happened to have the requisite skills to take a ship long distances once the technology appeared that allowed the Europeans to do so. Also like Columbus, Hudson was looking for a way to get to the Eastern Asia, where lots of money were to be had by the diligent and the disciplined. What sets Hudson apart from other explorers of the era is little more than the fact that he went north, instead of west, thinking that the summer months would melt enough of the Arctic ice caps to allow a ship to go through.
His coming across one of the largest natural harbors in the Western Atlantic was completely an accident of ignorance. As the area had been minimally explored by the Europeans, there were few maps that detailed where one could go. So when Hudson, an Englishman who had recently sold his services to the rivals of England – the Dutch, came across the great mouth of the river found around the 40 degree latitude mark, he hoped that the river would lead him to the great Northwest Passage, to be hopefully followed by arriving in Japan, China, Indonesia, and India. That he got no further than Albany was likely a bit of a disappointment.
In fact, his arrival into the harbor in 1609 was certainly not the festive occasion pictured above. For one, he ran his ship, the Halve Maen (Dutch for “Half Moon”), aground at Sandy Hook, just south of what is today Staten Island.
Second, the Lenape tribe had been decimated by various illnesses and plagues that the Europeans had brought to the New World in the previous three generations. To think that the Native Americans stood on the shores to welcome these newcomers with open arms is a perspective that is, at best, ignorant, and at worst, propaganda.
But my point here is to not point out the negative, but rather point out that Hudson’s reports on the area that he explored ended up in the hands of the Dutch West India Company, and it was those reports that convinced the Dutch to colonize the area. Hudson may not have discovered the area, but whatever he wrote about this island called Mana-hata started a series of events that leads us to the greatest city in the United States.