Today in 1609 it all began. Henry Hudson landed in Albany.
A little background
This was Hudson’s third voyage of exploration. He set sail in April 1609 in the “Half Moon” (Haelve Maen), commissioned by the Dutch East Indies Company in Holland to find a good route to the East Indies to the Spice Islands. Those Islands, north of Australia and southwest of Indonesia, were the source of lucrative spices like mace, nutmeg and cloves- highly prized and expensive commodities in 17th century Europe. But Hudson went rogue. He was convinced he could find a Northwest Passage, so he sailed west, rather than south and east.
He arrived in New Foundland in July and then swung south,sailing around area of the Virginia Colony in August, but found no promising passage, so he went north. In mid -September he landed in what is now New York City and New Jersey. There he found the mouth of what appeared to be a fine wide river that held promise.
By all accounts, he landed in Albany on Saturday, September 19, near Castle Island (a/k/a Westerlo Island and Cabbage Island) that no longer exists (filled in for the Port of Albany in the early 1930s). Probably about where Broadway and Church St. intersect today. Or it could be farther north – near State St. or even beyond that.. as far as Peebles Island. But most historians agree, sort of where The Plaza 23 Truck Stop is located today.
Hudson and his crew hung around for 4 days. Members of the crew traveled north up the River, as far as 25 miles or so, but discovered it was not really navigable north of Albany. They traded with the Native Americans for furs, and Hudson and a mate got some of the Native Americans drunk on wine and hard liquor (aqua vitae). Sounds like a fun weekend?
On the 22nd, the Half Moon headed back down the River. On October 4th, it started the long voyage back to Europe. Hudson and most of his crew members were delayed in England. (He was, after all, an Englishman, exploring on behalf of the Dutch – there was a price to pay.)
Hudson: In April 1610, he made one last voyage, on the “Discovery”, this time exploring for English interests. He went west again, this time via Greenland. Hudson and his crew ended up in what is now Hudson Bay in Canada. It was an arduous voyage; they spent the winter in the frozen north. There was illness; nerves frayed, and tempers flared. Apparently Hudson was not the easiest of captains. Finally in June 1611, there was a mutiny. Hudson, his son who was on the trip, and a handful of other crew members were set adrift in a small boat in the Bay. They were never heard from again.
Albany: About 1614 Hendrik Christiansen arrived near Albany in the “Fortuyn “to follow up on potential trade opportunities with the Iroquois and Algonquin tribes that Hudson and his crew had identified in 1609. On what was Castle Island, he established Fort Nassau (a/k/a Fort van Nassouwen, named after the Dutch royal house of Orange-Nassau. It was no so much a fort, but merely a small fortified trading post surrounded by earthen works. The Fort flooded every spring and was ultimately abandoned in 1618.
In the early 1624, the now incorporated Dutch West Indies Company was finally chartered and sufficiently capitalized to take advantage of trade opportunities in the West Indies (New York, Delaware and New Jersey were sort of an afterthought – not the prime target). Fort Orange was established on somewhat higher ground than the previous Fort Nassau – at the foot of State St. about where the D & H (SUNY) building is located today.
Our Takeaway: While other parts of the United States were settled for different reasons – religious freedom and social reform come to mind – our area of the country was not. Hudson’s voyage was financed for purely economic and trade reasons, not for the glory of finding new lands or for converting heathen populations to Christianity. Albany and New York City and the other early Dutch settlements were established for the same reason: to make money. The New Netherlands Colony was a private commercial enterprise. And it became a mecca for anyone who wanted to a chance to thrive in the New World. Pretty much if you could pull your own weight you were welcome.