Henry Hudson’s voyage to James Bay, Canada, in 1610, turned out to be his last. His crew mutinied and stranded him there. Or possibly, they murdered him!
The Henry Hudson Parkway runs along the Hudson River in Manhattan Island. Henry Hudson’s name is well known in New York City, thanks to his 1609 voyage to New York harbor and up the river to what is now Albany, NY, but we New Yorkers know very little else about the famous explorer.
Peter C. Mancall’s book, Fatal Voyage: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson, is a thrilling story of what lead to this mutiny, and then the fate of the crew members afterward.
Why Did The Crew Abandon Hudson?
The Canadian winter was much worse than Hudson and the crew expected. The crew ran short of food and became sick with scurvy. They became tense with each other. Their bodies could not endure looking for food in the cold winter, not even for a short time. They didn’t have much to offer in trade to the American indigenous people, either.
They survived but, the next summer, Hudson wanted to stay another winter. The crew decided to strand Hudson and eight other crew members, including Hudson’s 14-year-old son. They lowered them into a small boat, lifted anchor, and sailed into the distance.
How Do We Know About The Events That Lead To The Mutiny?
Mutiny was a grave crime and the crew knew they would have to appear in court once they returned to England. They would probably be executed. Still, they decided to mutiny.
Hudson had hired Abacuk Prickett as the chronicler of the voyage, but Prickett’s chronicle paints him as the most moral crew member. Prickett may have exaggerated the account to escape execution on the return to England. He may also have seen an opportunity to sell his story and be remembered throughout history.
What Happened After The Crew Mutineed?
When the crew sail off on their own, without Hudson, their luck took a turn for the worse. Navigating the ship was more difficult than they had imagined. So was the issue of dealing with the indigenous populations they encountered.
Below is my Instagram Post of New York Harbor, where Hudson first sailed to enter what is now the Hudson River.
What Happened When The Crew Returned To England?
Only 8 of the original 23 returned to England. Government investigators found an additional piece of evidence, a letter written by the ship’s mathematician, who was one of the eight abandoned in Canada. The letter talked about the tensions among the crew, but it was written before the mutiny. It didn’t offer many clues to the actual mutiny. The surviving eight crew members were able to to prove their innocence in court.
This is a thrilling story! The author found evidence from a wider range of sources than I thought was possible. I learned about the skills of a sailing crew in those days and the dangers they confronted, as well as the politics of the royalty and the challenges royalty faced with their ships, rogue pirates and their natural resources.
These stories of exploration where people confront dangerous situations to survive leave me cold with terror and fascinate me at the same time.