Henry Hudson
English Explorer and Sea Captain

? - 1611

Henry Hudson was an English explorer and sea captain. He made four voyages in an attempt to discover a northern route between Europe and Asia. Hudson never found such a sea passage, but he sailed farther north than any previous explorer. He explored three North American waterways later named for him -- the Hudson River, Hudson Bay, and Hudson Strait.

Historians know nothing about Hudson's life except for the period of 1607 to 1611, when he made his four voyages. In 1607, the Muscovy Company, an English trading firm, hired Hudson to find a northern sea route to Asia. European merchants and geographers believed that a ship could reach the Orient by sailing north, northeast, or northwest. They thought such a route would be shorter than any other. The Arctic had not been explored, and people did not know that ice blocked the area around the North Pole.

Hudson set out from England in a ship called the Hopewell with his young son, John, and a crew of 10 men. He sailed northeast along the coast of Greenland and reached Spitsbergen. These islands lie only about 700 miles from the North Pole, and no explorer had sailed so far north before. Huge ice floes forced Hudson to return to England. He told of seeing many whales in the northern waters, and his report led to English and Dutch whaling near Spitsbergen. In 1608, Hudson again tried to find a northern route, but ice again blocked the Hopewell.

The Muscovy Company lost interest in further northern exploration, but in 1609, the Dutch East India Company hired Hudson to lead an expedition. The company gave him a ship, the Half Moon, and a crew of about 20 men. Hudson again headed northeast, but his crew became unruly because of the cold weather. Hudson changed the ship's course for North America, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and sailed down the east coast.

Hudson sailed as far south as what is now North Carolina. He then turned north and briefly explored Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay. Hudson traveled up what became known as the Hudson River to the site of present-day Albany, N.Y. Holland based its claims to land in North America on Hudson's third voyage.

In 1610, a group of English merchants formed a company that provided Hudson with a ship called the Discovery. He crossed the Atlantic and arrived just off the northern coast of Labrador. The Discovery then reached a body of rough water, later named Hudson Strait, that led into Hudson Bay.

Hudson thought he had at last come to the Pacific Ocean, and he sailed south into what is now James Bay. But he failed to find an outlet at the south end of this bay. Ice forced the men to spend the winter there, and Hudson and his crew suffered severely from cold, hunger, and disease.

In the spring of 1611, Hudson intended to search for a western outlet from James Bay. But the crew mutinied and set Hudson adrift in a small boat with his son, John, and seven loyal crewmen. Hudson and his party were never seen again. The mutineers sailed back to England, and their report gave continued hope that a passage existed between Hudson Bay and the Pacific. England based its claim to the vast Hudson Bay region on Hudson's last voyage. Exploration of the region led to the establishment in 1670 of the Hudson's Bay Company, a fur-trading firm.

Contributor: John Parker, Ph.D., Curator Emeritus, James Ford Bell Library, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus.

Additional resources

Asher, Georg M., ed. Henry Hudson the Navigator. 1860. Reprint. Burt Franklin, 1963. Includes original documents.

Asimov, Isaac, and Kaplan, Elizabeth. Henry Hudson. Gareth Stevens, 1991. Younger readers.

Johnson, Donald S. Charting the Sea of Darkness: The Four Voyages of Henry Hudson. International Marine, 1992.


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