January 20, 2007
by Ian Chadwick,
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Note: Spelling in the 16th and 17th centuries was seldom consistent
and often done by the sound of the word rather than by a specified rule.
Known alternate spellings of names and places are given in parentheses.
much is known for certain about Henry Hudson's life, or any voyages he
took, before he appears in written records, in 1607. Even the paintings and images commonly used to portray him
cannot definitely be said to be of Henry Hudson - they could be of a completely
different Elizabethan gentleman. Thomas Janvier, a 19th century Hudson biographer,
wrote, "No portrait of Hudson is known to be in existence. What has passed
with the uncritical for his portrait — a dapper-looking man wearing a ruffed
collar — frequently has been, and continues to be, reproduced. Who that man was
is unknown. That he was not Hudson is certain."
Almost everything we know about Hudson and his four voyages in four
years comes from just one work: Hakluytus Posthumous or Purchas his
Pilgrimes, by the Rev. Samuel Purchas, first published in 1625 (see
the page of source materials). In
book III of this sprawling 20-volume set, Puchas reprinted all of the remaining
records of Hudson's voyages: Hudson's own journals for 1607 and 1608,
and the incomplete journal of 1610-11. Purchas added the 1609 journal by
Robert Juet (one of Hudson's crew members), and the record of the 1610-11
voyage written by another crew member, Abacuck Prickett. Finally, Puchas
reprinted the single page written about 1610 discovered in the desk of
Thomas Woodhouse, himself abandoned on the great bay. Purchas himself
provided very few comments on the journals.
Most of the ships' journals are not commentaries, however, but rather
terse records of the ship's speed, position and the conditions of the
sea or weather. Sightings of land were also recorded because they
identified a definite location. However, navigational equipment and
techniques were not always accurate, so locations may be misrepresented. Events onboard,
even troubles with the crew, were not necessarily recorded because they
might make the captain look bad in the eyes of his sponsors. Journals
were usually written by the master who was sometimes the only literate
person onboard. In rare cases (as with Juet and Woodhouse), a literate crew member
might have also kept a record.
Another journal - Hudson's log of his 1609 voyage in which he sailed
up the river that now bears his name - has never been reprinted. It went
with his ship, the Half Moon, to Amsterdam after his return. In 1625, Flemish geographer Jan de Laet published his Nieuwe
Werelt, a history of the exploration of the New World. In it, he
reprinted fragments of Hudson's own journal of 1609. The actual journal
was lost to history when it was sold to an unknown buyer, along with
other archives of the Dutch East India Company, at a public auction in
1821. de Laet also reprinted a map by Dutch cartographer, Hessel Gerritz,
showing the route of Hudson's 1610-11 voyage, apparently received from
Abacuck Prickett (one of the survivors). Gerritiz (or Gerritsz) also
printed a tract about Hudson in 1613.
There are a few brief, tantalizing references about Hudson in other documents,
seldom more than a few lines each. All in all, the printed historical records of Hudson's voyages listed
less than 100 pages, easily read in an hour. Modern readers can find the
originals of these works in various forms online, or read many of them in Donald
Johnson's 1995 book, Charting the Sea of Darkness (see
Later historians George Asher (1860), Llewelyn Powys (1907), John
Meredith read (1866) and
Thomas Janvier (1909) searched the records to uncover any reference to
Henry Hudson. They found few additional documents: some references in company
papers, some possible genealogical links with other Hudsons, and the
Admiralty records of the trials of the surviving mutineers. The author
of this site has found previously un-noted references to persons named
Hudson online in the British archives at
www.british-history.ac.uk. However, the relationship between these
Hudsons and the explorer is unclear and still to be determined.
In part, one of the reasons for the confusion is that spelling - even
of family names - was seldom consistent in those days, and there are
many examples were members of one family spelled their last names
differently, and even where one person changed the spelling of his or
her name in a lifetime. John Meredith Read lists several variant
spellings, including Herdson, Heardson, Hodson, Hodgeson, Huddesdon, and
Hudson must have learned his craft and skills by travelling with
contemporary seafarers, probably British mariners and explorers (possibly even sailing
with John Davis on one his voyages to the Arctic) or even in one of the
fishing fleets that cross the Atlantic for the rich banks off
Newfoundland. There was even a suggestion he had visited the east coast
of America once before.
Like Frobisher before him, Hudson may have been
in the company of a trading ship of the Muscovy Company. As a young man,
Hudson may even sailed on one of the English ships that faced and
defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, as were many English sailors. But
no records of his early years have yet been uncovered.
"Voyages of purchase or reprisals (trading), which are now grown a
common traffic, swallow up and consume more sailors and mariners than
they breed," wrote Thomas Nashe, in Nashe's Lenten Stuffe
(1599). "And lightly not a slop of a rope-hauler they send forth to
the Queen's ships but he is first broken to the sea in the herring-man's
skiff or cockboat, where having learned to brook all waters and drink as
he can out of a tarry can, and eat poor John (dried, salted fish) out of
sooty platters, when he may get it, without butter or mustard, there is
no hold with him (no stopping), but once heartened thus, he will needs
be a man of war, a tobacco-taker, and wear a silver whistle."
By the time of
his first recorded voyage, Hudson was a captain, seasoned and capable,
skilled in navigation and reading maps. That alone is proof that he
served on ships for many years before 1607: he had to do so to learn his
Hudson made four important voyages into the unknown, treacherous
Arctic waters in four years, from 1607 to 1610, each time pushing the limits of
knowledge and discovery a little further. His contributions to the
exploration of the world as it was then known have generally been
understated by modern sources, and were soon overshadowed by greater exploits of
his contemporaries. However, the importance of his explorations should
not be understated: he was a bold and determined navigator who pushed
back the limits of the known world.
No contemporary painting or portrait of Henry Hudson
has ever been found and even the oldest we have were painted after his
death by people who probably based their artwork solely on a
description. Click here for a family tree
and click here for maps of his voyages.
Hudson was the architect of his own fateful tragedy that led to the mutiny in
1611. Obsessed by the vision of a northwest passage, he often ignored everything
around him in his quest to find it. That included his crew and their fears -
sailing into new waters was challenging, difficult and very stressful for most
it is difficult, if not impossible, not to admire his courage, his passion and
his single-minded drive. He sailed blindly into the unknown, without maps, with
only primitive means of navigation, and under appalling conditions. And he did
it not once, but at least four times.
Life for a seaman in Elizabethan times was hard, conditions were
terrible and primitive, navigation was difficult and sailors were
generally superstitious and often frightened of the unknown. Almost
every voyage indicated some form of crew uprising or mutiny for Hudson.
As captain, Hudson appeared weak at times, and vacillated between
appeasement and force when dealing with crew, seldom disciplining them
when or as required, often showing favouritism to some members at the
expense of the others (and of his own authority). When he did attempt to
exercise his authority, it came out in petty, small ways and eventually created a
greater divide between himself and his crew. His attempt to show
leniency to mutinous crew in Ungava Bay when strength might have been
the better choice only led to further abuses and ultimately his demise.
Hudson appeared unable to manage his men in times of stress.
Hudson proved a competent navigator, but his personal ambition and goals
often over-rode his judgment. Although courageous at times, he was headstrong
and given to ignore the directions of his sponsors, and perhaps his crew. His
contributions to the geographical knowledge of his day were great, but were
overshadowed by the mutiny.
Navigation in Hudson's day was inaccurate and often clumsy. Most
ships were equipped with a magnetic compass, kept on deck in a small
room called a binnacle (or bittacle before the 18th century). It could
be illuminated at night by an oil-burning lamp. Most captains did not
know why the compass needle pointed north and many preferred to keep the
compass secret from superstitious crew members might be afraid the ship
was being guided by sinister forces. A sand hourglass was the
only reliable method of keeping time. However, if a crew member heated
the hourglass with the lamp, it made the sand run faster, and could to
shorten his shift, but upset the time calculations of the captain or
The most important navigational tool was the Stella Maris, or astrolabe.
The captain would read the height of the North Star on its scale and
from that determine the approximate latitude. Another instrument to
assist in determining latitude was the quadrant. When the navigator
lined up the sights on the Pole Star, a plumb line would hang straight
down over the curved area to indicate the height of the star in degrees
(equivalent to latitude).
No sailor could accurately determine his longitude during this period
(that was only solved with the invention of the chronometer in the 18th
century). Most sailors relied on "dead reckoning" - the pilot estimated
the ship's speed with a logline. This was a line with knots in it and a
weighted wooden float attached to the end. The wooden float was thrown
from the stern and the number of knots pulled off the reel within a
given time told the ship's speed. Time was measured with one-minute
glasses. Combining speed with the direction from the compass helped to
determine progress along longitudinal lines. Each time the ship changed
direction or tacked, the time, distance, and direction were measured
again. Navigators also observed their surroundings, including cloud
formations, wave patterns and directions, birds and floating
debris. Dead reckoning was a complicated and unreliable process.
Before Hudson came to history's notice, other explorers went
searching for a passage over the north through the icy waters. The main reason was to find a
shorter route to the riches of the Orient, especially the source of the
lucrative spice trade. The early explorers of the western coast of North
America were looking for the "Strait of Anian," an alleged passageway
between Asia and North America, but believed to exist by most of
Marco Polo had described a navigable passage between Japan and
Taiwan in his 13th century story. Through retelling, this became shifted and moved by later
mapmakers. Cartographer Juan de Costa depicted the Strait of Anian in
1500 in the North Pacific. The strait appeared on maps by Munster in
1540, Mercator in 1569 and Ortelius in 1570. In 1562, Italian cartographer Giacomo Gastaldi wrote
the two continents (Asia and North America) were separated by
a strait called Anian. In 1566 Mapmaker Bolognino Zaltiere showed the
strait on his maps. Englishman John Frobisher unsuccessfully attempted
to find a Northwest Passage over Canada in 1567.
Sebastian Cabot was convinced there was a navigable passage north of
Russia, and believed the ancients had used in in the past. He became
governor of the Muscovy Company and directed several expeditions to seek
An English merchant named Michael Locke (Lok, also one of the Muscovy
Company directors and the man who organized and financed Frobisher's
expeditions), met a Greek mariner
named Apostolos Valerianos in Venice
in 1596. Valerianos, known as Juan de Fuca to the Spanish,
claimed to have sailed from the Pacific to the North Sea (today's Arctic Ocean)
through a broad inlet between 47˚ and 48˚ N. He claimed
he reported it to the Viceroy of Mexico but was never paid for his
explorations. de Fuca claimed to have
sailed in the passage for more than 20 days.
Although the story later proved a fabrication, his name was given to the
strait south of Vancouver Island, which lies at approximately the same
location de Fuca explored. In 1625, Samuel Purchas published the story of
de Fuca, but it was widely known in England before then.
Lorenzo Maldonado provided a detailed, but fictitious, account of an
ocean route from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean and then over the North
American continent and through the Strait of Anian, reporting that he
also saw a ship that also passed through the strait on its way to the
Russian port of Archangel. Hudson may well have believed he would find
the Strait of Anian in his quests.
Since geographical knowledge of the area was limited or often
speculative, most contemporary maps showed the northern shore of Asia
far too low, helping keep alive the notion that there could be a clear
passage north of Asia.
- Henry Hudson was probably born in the 1570s, possibly September 12, 1570.
The death in 1555 of the Henry Hudson who is sometimes identified as his
father means the explorer would have been born before then. Other sources
identify this Henry as his grandfather. Some sources put the explorer's
birth date as early as 1550, but this is probably too soon (he would have
been 60 when he set sail on his last voyage). One source
says he was 26 in 1588, others guess at a birth date of 1575.
biographers place his family in Hoddersdon, in Hertfordshire, about 17 miles
northwest of London.
- He may have sailed with John Davis in 1587 on his voyage to discover a
northwest passage. On that voyage, Davis named the raging waters now known
as Hudson Strait the 'Furious Overfall.' This connection has been suggested because
Davis planned his 1585 attempt to find a Northwest passage in the home of
Thomas Hudson, in Limehouse (now in the docks area of London's east end).
Thomas may have been Henry's brother. Limehouse was also the home to one of
Hudson's crew: Robert Juet. Based on a suggested birth date of 1570, Hudson
would have been 17, a young man.
a young man, he probably served in the offices of the Muscovy Company in
London because his family had shares in the company and served as officers
in it. A Henry Hudson - possibly the explorer's grandfather - is
listed in Queen Mary's charter (1555) as one of the founders of the Muscovy
family coat of arms is an argent semee of fleurs-de-lis gules, a cross
- His family owned a narrow, three-storey brick house near the Tower of
- Little else is known about his personal life before 1607. However, some authors
have placed him on an English ship fighting the Spanish Armada in 1588, and
on trading missions to the Mediterranean, North Sea and Africa, trading
steel axes for gold, ivory and spices. He was old enough to be an
experienced mariner in 1588 when the Armada attacked. Since he was an
experienced mariner on his first recorded voyage, these stories are not
outside the realm of possibility.
His wife, Katherine:
- Katherine Hudson (her unmarried name is unknown) was left very poor
when Henry and John failed to return from their last voyage. She tried to
get the East India Co., which sponsored the trip, to send out a rescue
mission. Three years after Henry Hudson's disappearance, she applied to
directors of EIC. They recognized their obligation to the "man who lost his
life in the service of the Commonwealth" and sent a ship to look for Hudson
It never found any trace of the abandoned crew, nor did any subsequent ship.
- Katherine also sought compensation for her husband's death, for which she
was called "that troublesome and impatient woman" in company records. But
she was persistent and eventually succeeded.
- Katherine also insisted the company take care of her son, Richard. The
company paid him 5 pds. and sent him first to Bantam (the Dutch port in
Java), then to Japan and finally Bengal as a company factor.
- Katherine managed to get the company to give her a post, too, although
only after repeated argument. Under the company's approval and with their funding, she went to
Ahmadabad, India to purchase indigo. She demanded special privileges there,
at the company's expense. According to company manifests, she got "five
churles of indigo, quilts, 37 chuckeryes, 46 pieces of simianes." She
started suit to get the East India Co. to pay the freight back to England and
after much effort got a settlement, which the company described as "the end
of Mrs Hudson's tiresome suit."
- Katherine returned from that trip in 1622, a wealthy woman, and retired to
her home in London. In her last two years, she was received at court at
- She was by all accounts a strong, willful woman. One source says she was
married at age 30 in 1592, but that would mean her son Oliver probably
probably couldn't have fathered his child Alice by 1608 (possible: he could
have been 16 at the time).
- Katherine tried unsuccessfully to have a monument erected to her husband
in the last years before she died, in 1624. She was buried Sept 11. She left
all her belongings to sons Richard and Oliver.
- Hudson had three sons: Richard, John and Oliver.
- John Hudson was onboard as ship's boy with his father since 1607.
- He served in all four of Hudson's recorded voyages.
- He was among the crew abandoned in the bay in 1611.
- At the request of his mother, the East India Company entered Richard
Hudson's name on the ship Samaritan, gave him five pounds, and sent him
to Bantam, Java, Japan, then Bengal, India, to serve as a factor for the
company. One source says he was 3 at the time of his niece's christening, in
- Richard was very successful in India and amassed a large fortune.
- As a trader for the company, Richard one of the first Europeans to be
given a permit to live in Imperial Japan.
- On a trip back to England in the late 1630s, he became involved in a
dispute with the company, the reasons for which were never made public but
probably had to do with his finances. They threatened to send him to prison,
but he defied the directors and returned to his home in Balasor, India.
- Several of his children migrated to the New World and his descendants are
still in America.
- He died at his home in India, in 1644.
- Oliver Hudson had a daughter, Alice in 1608. Henry attended her
christening that year.
- Oliver may have written the journal of his father's 1587 voyage, which was
published in 1612, and presented as Hudson's own.
Father, grandfather and other family:
There is some confusion among biographers as to whether the elder
Henry Hudson was the explorer's father or his grandfather. Some have
indicated the alderman, Henry, was his father (thus the explorer was
born in 1550). Others say he is the grandfather (and the explorer
was born later, perhaps 1570) - in which case there are three
generations of men named Henry. After considerable reading of all the
reports and records, I believe the alderman was his grandfather because
otherwise the explorer would have been somewhat old for his adventures
from 1607 (age 57) on. His contemporaries were generally younger,
although this doesn't mean the explorer had to be. Still, it makes more
sense in the telling.
- When Henry VIII met the French king, Charles V, at Gravelines, in 1520, a
William Hodgeson (Hudson) was in attendance as the "Chiefe Officer of the
Botrye." He may have been an ancestor of the explorer.
- Henry Hudson's grandfather was also called Henry Hudson (according to
Hakluyt). It was
sometimes spelled "Herdson, Hoddeson" or even "Hogeson" (Dictionary of
National Biography, 1963-64).
- The explorer's grandfather was an alderman in the city of London. He was named in
Queen Mary's Charter, 6 Feb. 1555, as one of the founders of the Muscovy
Company (also known as the Worshipful Company and Fellowship of the Merchant
Adventurers Trading to Muscovia), the same company that sponsored John
Sebastian Cabot in his expedition to the New World. He was an alderman in
the City of London. This Hudson died in December 1555, of "malignant fever."
- According to Fiske (1909), "Beside his great wealth acquired in trade,
(Alderman Hudson) was lord of at least a dozen ancient manors, some of which had been conferred upon him by Henry VIII. out of the spoils of the monasteries."
- His grandfather (and probably his father) was a wealthy Londoner, a member
of the Skinners and Tanners (one of 12 privileged companies from which Lord
Mayor can be chosen), seems to have served as a city alderman, and owned property in Stourton, Lincolnshire.
The Magna Britannica (1738) says that after the suppression of the
monasteries by Henry VIII, the crown granted forfeited church lands at
Hitchin, County Hertfordshire to Edward Watson and Henry Hudson.
- The Magna Britannica also says this Henry Hudson purchased the
manor of Bertrams and the manor of Newington Belhouse, in Kent. He also
purchased the manors of Skelting, Ackhanger, Terlingham, Folkston and
Walton. He was named as the Lord of the Manor of Sweton. This shows he had
considerable wealth and must have had close relations with the crown and the
- His grandfather seems to have died in December, 1555, in London, of a
"malignant fever." Six other aldermen died of it that year. A record of his
funeral, December 20th, 1555, says the service was held at the Church of the
Grey Friars in London. An inscription in that church notes the burial of
Rudolph Hudson, husband of Elizabeth, on June 27, 1530. These may have been
great grandparents of the explorer.
- Henry's widow (the explorer's grandmother), Barbara, married the
alderman Sir Richard Champion, who became Sherriff in 1558, then Lord Mayor
in 1566. She died in 1568 (Magna Britannica says 1561, but her monument says
1568). She died "without issue" (childless from that marriage).
- The explorer's grandfather father had eight sons - including Thomas, John, Edward,
Christopher(?), (William? see below) and Henry.
- The grandfather also had three daughters, one of whom as named Abigail
and she married Charles Dixwell, of Warwick.
- The explorer's father may have died in 1585 (?). he is mentioned in a
lawsuit in 1572.
- William Hudson, born 1528 (?) has been reported as Henry's uncle. William
had a son, also named William, who married Alice Turner. They had a son,
Richard, born 1605 in Tamworth, Staffordshire. Richard sailed to Virginia in
1635 on the 'Safety.'
- The Calendar of State for James I shows several entries for persons
named Hudson in 1604, including James Hudson, who was a Groom of the Privy
Chamber. There is no direct link to show these were related to Henry Hudson,
Hudson's brothers, uncles or cousins:
- Christopher was named as factor of the Muscovy Company in Russia,
served as agent from 1553-1576. He was probably the explorer's uncle, not a brother.
He lived in Russia for a time as agent for the Muscovy Company. By
1583 he had risen to a position of importance within the company. He
took a deep interest in Sir Humphrey Gilbert's voyage of discovery to
America in 1583, and he advised the company to assist in raising the
necessary funds. Once again there is some confusion of names: there are two
Christopher Hudsons on record in the Muscovy Company, one knighted (Sir).
They appear (according to Read) to be father (Sir) and son. There is some
evidence the father was either the explorer's uncle or possibly his
great-uncle. Christopher was listed as a governor of the Company of Merchant
Adventurers in 1601, spelling his name 'Hoddesdon' in a letter from that
- Thomas, another uncle, was a sea captain in employ of Muscovy Company 1577-81 and
made at least one trip to Persia for the company. He sold his inherited
lands to his brother John. Thomas Hudson, a resident of Limehouse (as was
Henry Hudson's later nemesis, Robert Juet). On 24
January, 1583, Thomas Hudson advised Captain John Davis concerning his
search for a northwest passage to China, which resulted in the discovery of
Davis's (later Hudson's) Strait, A Thomas Hudson is also noted in historical
records as being friends with Dr. John Dee, the astrologer who served Queen
Elizabeth and also promoted exploration of the New World to the crown. Dr. Dee's diary of 1583 notes he met with several people
including John Davis and "Mr. Hudson" to discuss the "N.W. voyage."
Thomas apparently has a passionate ambition to find a northeast or northwest
passage to the Orient, and he may have influenced his nephew to the same.
- John Hudson (uncle?) consulted with John Davis about finding the Northwest
Passage and assisted in deliberations which resulted in Davis' famous
- Stephen Hudson was a member of the East India company, originally
promoted by some of the foremost members of the Muscovy company. He is
mentioned in the "Court Minutes" of the former corporation on 13 December,
1602, as having paid to Mr. Chamberlain, the treasurer, "for his supply
toward the discovery of the Northwest passadge, and desired the Company to
have him excused for non-payment thereof till now, for that he haith bene in
the country all this summer and never heard thereof." Brother?
- There were numerous Hudsons who worked for the Muscovy Company (founded
1555) , serving as captains, factors and agents. Some were clearly Henry's
relatives, but little is known about most of them or their ties to the
David Hudson, a modern American descendant of Henry Hudson, put together a
family tree, helped in part by records kept by the Church of Latter Day Saints,
the Hudson Family Association (HFA) and The Hudson Family History by
Van Alan Hudson. Click here for a table of five
generations of Henry Hudson's family tree. There are more than 90,000
descendants of the Hudson family listed in the HFA database.
Sir George Barnes (d. 1558), Lord Mayor of London and also of
the Muscovy Company, married a woman named Alice who may have been a
Hudson. She died in 1569 and was mentioned in a letter to Christopher
Hudson in 1560. His son was also named George. The elder Barnes's
Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster for Queen Elizabeth I, and
promoter of explorations in the New World.
The Hudson name itself dates back to 1066 in Yorkshire, northern
England. The oldest known Hudson Coat of Arms consists of Three Lions in
the Rampant position with three boars heads as supporting badges, but
the Hudson Coat of Arms changed several times. The arms of Henry Hudson
(1st generation recorded here) are described as "argent, semee of fleurs
de lis gules, a cross engrailed sable. The early Hudson colonists in
Virginia used a variation of this design to mark their livestock, which
may lend credence to their claimed relationship to Henry.
Henry Hudson today is mostly known for a few place names in the atlas which
indicate where he travelled, and a handful of schools or institutions named
after him - and a white rose. But his voyage of 1607 cast him in the role of the
father of the whaling industry in the 17th century. His reports about their
numbers soon led to the wholesale slaughter of these gentle mammals over the
next four centuries, but created an economic boom for England. The same fate was
in store for the walrus he reported on journeys north. A more enlightened
present may look on whaling and hunting walrus as ignoble and savage, but in
Hudson's day they were important industries.
Biographers have found fragmentary information in surviving
records about his family and his background, although some is still supposition
and conjecture. You may want to refer to the sources listed in the
on the links page for other reading material.
Hudson's friends, influences and sources:
Hondius (Josse de Hondt), Holland's leading cartographer and map
publisher. Originally from Flanders, he fled his home city of Ghent during
the religious upheaval of the period, and lived in exile in London from 1584
to 1593, where he was an portrait engraver and cartographer. He may have
engraved Hudson's portrait at this time, but it is not currently known or
found. In London he was active engraving maps and providing gores for the
first English globe issued by Emery Molyneaux in 1592. He also befriended
Edward Wright (c. 1558-1615), a leading mathematician. Wright loaned Hondius
his work in progress, Certaine Errors in Navigation... (London, 1599), with
the understanding that Hondius would not use Wright's findings, but Hondius
copied the relevant chapter. When he returned to Amsterdam, Hondius used
Wright's information when he published a large map of the world and several
maps of the four continents using Mercator's projection, 1595-98. Hudson
visited Hondius again in Amsterdam and gave him details of his voyages of
1607 and 1608. Hondius also acted as advisor and interpreter during the
negotiations with the Dutch when Hudson was hired by the Dutch east India
Company (see Hudson's third voyage, 1609). Hondius was also a friend with
Capt. John Smith and received correspondence from him. His son, Henrick, was
also a cartographer. (7)
Captain John Smith, founder of the English colony in
Virginia. He informed Hudson that there was a passage to the Pacific Ocean
(the 'Western Sea') north of Virginia (below 40°), possibly through a river
or inlet. Smith sent him charts. Hudson probably intended to visit Smith in
Virginia, and although he came close in 1609, Hudson turned north instead. He may have been
afraid the English would fire on his Dutch ship before they found out who
was its captain.
Smith wrote glowingly of Hudson after he learned Hudson had been cast adrift
in the great bay, leaving one of the few physical descriptions we have of
Hudson. Smith had been in London in 1604, left for Virginian in 1609, and
was back in 1609. His settlement was of great interest to members of the
Muscovy Company, including Sir Dudley Digges and John Hudson.
- Peter Plancius: This Dutch clergyman and scholar met Hudson while
the latter was negotiating with the Dutch East India Company, 1608-1609.
Petrus Plancius was a founder of that company. Plancius had started a school
of navigation, which gave the Dutch the skills to rival their former
overlords, the Spanish. Among his pupils was Willem Barents, Arctic
explorer. Hudson told Plancius he did not believe a route to the east lay
through the northeast passage, but rather through the northwest. By this
time, several expeditions had failed to make it past Nova Zembla into the
ice-choked Kara Sea, including Hudson's second voyage.
- Hessel Gerritsz: Another Dutch cartographer working for the United
Dutch East India Company whom Hudson met in his negotiations for his third
voyage. Gerritsz and his associate Jan de Laet would later publish parts of Hudson's lost
1609 journal, as well as the first map of Hudson's 1610 voyage. Gerritsz
believed Hudson was acting for the English merchants in 1609, not his Dutch
- Rev. Richard Hakluyt (born circa 1552) knew Hudson and recommended
him to the Muscovy Company as the commander of his first voyage, in 1607.
Hakluyt's two books, Divers Voyages (1582) and Principal
(1589, revised and expanded in 1599-1600) were important records of mostly
English voyages and explorations to 1600, and were an influence on both
Hudson and his employers. In 1584, Hakluyt also published a manuscript on
behalf of Sir Walter Raleigh that helped secure support from the Queen for
his colonial venture.
- The Rev. Samuel Purchas was Hakluyt's successor, picking up the
narratives of exploration after Hakluyt died, but expanding them
considerably in scope and regions covered. Purchas wrote he had met with Hudson after he
returned in 1608 and found Hudson very melancholy at his failure. In 1625, Purchas also published an important book recording the voyages and
adventures of English mariners, including Hudson, called Purchas his Pilgrims (a sequel
to Hakluyt's Navigations - see the sources).
Dr. John Dee: Court astrologer, geographer, and a significant
influence on Queen Elizabeth for several years. He studied mathematics with Gerhard Mercator.
Dee also practiced the occult arts. One of the most enthusiastic supporters of the
fabled "Strait of Anian" story. Flemish cartographer, Abraham
Ortelius, visited Dee at his home at Mortlake, in March, 1577, to share his
knowledge of the fabled strait.
Dee also believed that America was Atlantis
and that a northern passage to Cathay existed as a natural balance to the
Strait of Magellan in the extreme south. He believed finding a passage through
(or over) the continent would not only give Britain greater access to the wealth of the Indies, but it would also
offer him greater opportunities to learn the occult practices of the East.
For Dee, the search for the Strait of Anian was closely tied to his search for the Philosopher's Stone,
which alchemists believed could turn base metals into gold.
believed the ice at the north would vanish because the North Pole would
prove warmer as a result of the constant summer sunshine. Dee was tutor to
Sir Dudley Digges and lectured Martin Frobisher and his crew on mathematics
In 1576, Dee wrote a four-volume treatise on the potential for creating a "Brytish
Impire" (empire), and even recommended teaching Englishmen foreign languages
like Chinese for when they went sailing to the Orient. His passionate belief that England had historical claims on
the New World was transmitted to his circle at court and influenced English
exploration for several decades. Dee was an active supporter and investor in
Martin Frobisher's voyages to mine what Frobisher believed was gold ore,
found near Baffin Island. After that failure, Dee turned his attention to
promoting a Northeast Passage. His influence at court began to wane when he
started to record "conversations" with angels, transmitted through his new
'assistant,' the mysterious charlatan, Edward Kelly. Kelly and Dee went to
Europe, but Dee returned in 1588 after Elizabeth requested it. He was
insolvent by this time, and struggled for money and a lucrative post until
his death, in 1609. Shakespeare
gives us a caricature of Dr. Dee in his character Prospero, in The