September 19, 1609 – Discovery Day!

14369987_1086141744767420_397901500446019129_nToday 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.

14358997_1086141001434161_2858732146870186033_nHe 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.




14372057_1086141238100804_9197135007825254383_oBy 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?


By David Lithgow, circa 1933


14352195_1086141924767402_8619863255196879935_o.jpgOn 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.)

The aftermath
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.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany Tulip Fest History 101: How did it start and when?


It sounds pretty straight forward. In summer 1948 the Albany Common Council enacted an ordinance establishing a tulip celebration in the City and the first Tulip Festival was held in May 1949. But the back story is way more than that and its origin lies in the horrors of World War II.

It started after D-Day in 1944 in Normandy. In September, 1944 the Allies launched Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands to try to capture several bridges in the center of Holland near Nijmegen. General James Gavin (82nd Airborne) was in charge of the parachute jump near Nijmegen. The Operation was not as successful as expected. (Cornelius Ryan’s book, “A Bridge Too Far” describes the mission in detail). Albany men were in the thick of it, but fighting alongside their liberators were the people of Nijmegen. There were many Allied and civilian casualties. Nijmegen (the oldest city in Holland) had already endured years of Allied bombings; the fighting that September finished the job. Military action continued in the area for another 2 months.
On the first anniversary of the battle in September 1945 General Gavin returned to Nijmegen. Conditions were dire.

3The city had been pretty much destroyed in battle of the previous year and the people who had been systematically starved during the Nazi occupation were still starving although the War was over. But they were lovingly tending the graves of their saviors, the Allied soldiers killed the year before.

2It was shortly thereafter, in October 1945, Mayor Erastus Corning received the following cablegram, sent by Sgt. Robert Higgins, (Tremont St.) on behalf of General Gavin.

“The 82nd Airborne Division was cited for gallantry by the people of Nijmegen, who expressed desire to be adopted by the people of Albany. Maj. Gen. Gavin, C.O. is in sympathy with this request and has expressed desire to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion. I am a native son of Albany.”

From what we can tell, General Gavin decided the courageous people of Nijmegen needed help and Albany was going to provide it. Why Albany? Was it just random? Nijmegen’s most famous native son was Brant Van Slichtenhorst who had lived in Beverwyck (Albany) in the 1640s when he was director of the holdings of the colony of Rensselaerwyck. (Today Nijmegen’s most famous native son is Eddie Van Halen.) Other explanations have been offered: it was Albany G.I.’s who asked Gavin, it was the legend of Mayor Corning’s brief, but apparently distinguished wartime career. Whatever. Gavin picked Albany and Albany it would be.

There was then a letter from General Gavin to the Mayor, in which he described the bravery of the people of Nijmegen and said there was no people more deserving of assistance from Albany.

We couldn’t say no.4


6So Albany adopted Nijmegen and she became our sister city. We sent the people who had nothing what we had, despite the fact we were still under rationing. We sent clothes and food and everyday items we took for granted, like chess sets, books and hammers and shovels. The first donations were collected and shipped in late 1945 and continued throughout 1946, with HUGE campaign in April, 1947.



5 (2)Delegations from Nijmegen (and General Gavin) visited Albany and the citizens of Albany visited Nijmegen. Every attempt was made to link the people of Nijmegen and Albany. We re-immersed ourselves in our Dutch culture along the way.




7And the people of Nijmegen who had nothing, learning of a tulip famine in the US, sent us what they had: 21,000 tulip bulbs. As the Dutch envoy said, “Although you receive only a tulip bulb for your generous gifts, because my people have no more to give, this flower comes right out of their hearts and its beauty expresses their deep gratitude.”

But the horrendous conditions in Njimegen continued and its people were still going hungry. By early 1947 most food rationing in the U.S. had ended and Albany launched one last major campaign in April. The honorary chair was General Gavin. The people of Albany gave; we literally sent a boatload.




8In the process of helping the people of Nijmegen we re-connected with our Dutch roots and fell under the spell of the tulip. The City established a Tulip Committee. Spring displays citywide rivaled their pre-War glory. In spring 1948 we asked the Queen Wilhelmina of Holland to designate variety of tulip to be Albany’s official flower. She choose the “Orange Wonder”, a Mendel strain of tulip first cultivated in 1934. (It’s now also known as the “The Tulip of Albany”.)



20400339595_5f7a225086_bThe upshot of this “Tulip Mania” was a suggestion by the City Editor of the Knickerbocker News, Charlie Mooney, that Albany establish a Tulip Festival. We were off and running. The first tulip festival was envisioned as merely displays of tulips. By the time the first Tulip Festival was held in 1949 we established the traditions we know have now, more or less. There was the election of a Tulip Queen (and a Tulip King and Tulip Princess and Prince- the latter members of tulip royalty fell by the wayside in the early 1950s), festivities in Washington Park and a re-connection with our Dutch roots.



Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor