“September 4, 1609 This day the people of the country came aboard, seeming very glad of our coming, and brought green tobacco and gave us of it for knives and beads. They go in deer skins loose, well dressed. . . . They have great store of maize or Indian wheat.”
So reads the log of the Half Moon, Henry Hudson’s ship, as it probed waters near the mouth of the broad river that now bears the explorer’s name. Hudson himself called the stream the Great River of the Mountains. The Dutch East India Company had hired him to find a new route to the Indies, and for several days the 80-ton Half Moon sailed upstream hoping to locate the fabled Northwest Passage.
Along the way the crew both traded and fought with Indians, and marveled at the scenery. “The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon,” Hudson wrote. The explorers saw “very goodly oaks” and “a great many salmon in the river.” They noted mountains that looked “as if some metal or mineral were in them,” and cliffs that seemed to promise copper or silver mines.
The Half Moon pushed up the Hudson River to the vicinity of present-day Albany, New York. By then it was clear that was not the way to China, so the ship made its way back downstream and sailed past Manhattan Island into the Atlantic. Its captain perished less than two years later on another voyage in search of the Northwest Passage. Far to the north, in the vast inland sea of Canada now known as Hudson Bay, a mutinous crew set Henry Hudson, his son John, and seven others adrift in a small boat. Its occupants disappeared forever into the ice and fog.