The Life of Henry Hudson

Henry HudsonThe Discoverer of Hudson Bay

Henry Hudson was one of the most prominent sailors and navigators of the 17th Century.

Exploring North America, Henry Hudson is credited with discovering the Hudson River, the Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay.

Hudson’s year and date of birth are not known, but he is believed to have been born in London, England. As was traditional in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Hudson most likely would have gone to sea as a cabin boy and eventually worked his way up to become a captain.

When Hudson appears in the historical record, he had already achieved an international reputation.

Henry Hudson’s First Voyage

In 1607, Hudson was hired by the Muscovy Company to find a route through the Northwest Passage to the Orient. At the time, very little was known about the Arctic and it was believed that the three months of almost continuous sunshine during the Arctic summer, was sufficient to melt the ice and allow a ship to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Additionally, England found itself in direct competition with the Dutch, along with the French who had laid claim to the St. Lawrence River Valley in the previous century following the voyages of Jacque Cartier. The English had made no claims in the New World following the discovery of Newfoundland by John Cabot until the founding of Virginia in 1607. As a result the English were eager to discover a shortcut to Asia.

Hudson set sail with a crew of 10 aboard the Hopewell on May 1, 1607. He sailed northeast until he sighted the coast of Greenland on June 13. From there Hudson followed the coast north until he encountered a headland he named Young’s Cape. Near it was a high mound named Mount of God’s Mercy by the crew. On June 27, Hudson sighted the island now known as Spitsbergen, which he called “Newland.” On July 13, Hudson reached 79 degrees 23 minutes north, which at that time was a record for the farthest north. From that point, Hudson continued to sail north, eventually reaching Hakluyt’s Headland on July 16. At that point Hudson tried to sail east, but upon encountering ice, he attempted to sail north once again, planning to sail around the top of Greenland and into the Davis Strait. However, he once again found his way blocked by ice. Hudson had no choice but to turn around and head south. He arrived in England on September 15.

Henry Hudson’s Second Voyage

In 1608, Hudson made a second attempt to find the Northwest Passage, this time by sailing across the top of Russia. As with his previous voyage, however, Hudson found himself in danger of becoming trapped in the ice and was forced to turn back.

A Map of Henry Hudson's Voyages-Jon PlatekHenry Hudson’s Third Voyage

In 1609, Hudson was hired by the Dutch East India Company to find an eastern route to Asia. Hudson’s plan was to sail around the Arctic Ocean until he found an outlet that led into the Pacific. However, as on his voyages of 1607 and 1608, Hudson once again found his way blocked by ice. As a result, Hudson turned south, sailing down Canada’s east coast, eventually reaching what is now New England in the northeastern United States. On September 6, 1609, one of Hudson’s men was killed in an encounter with the natives. On September 11, 1609 Henry Hudson explored the mouth of the Hudson River and became the first European to see the future site of New York City, which would be founded by the Dutch as New Amsterdam. While on the way home, Hudson was stopped by the English, who demanded access to his log books. Eventually, Hudson was able to send his navigation logs and official report to Amsterdam thanks to the intervention of the Dutch Ambassador.

Henry Hudson’s Final Voyage

In 1610, Hudson was able to secure backing for another voyage, this time for the English. Hudson was contracted by the Virginia Company and the British East India Company to once again search for the Northwest Passage. Hudson reached Iceland on May 11 and reached Greenland in early June. Hudson spent the rest of June charting the islands of the Canadian Arctic. On June 24, Hudson entered a wide strait. There was much excitement among the crew, who believed that they had found the entrance to the Northwest Passage. On August 2, after following the northern coast of Labrador, Hudson entered Hudson Bay. He spent the rest of that year charting the east coast of Hudson Bay until the winter freeze-up.

The Death of Henry Hudson

When the ice melted in the spring of 1611, Hudson wanted to keep exploring. However, the crew wanted to return to England. After a series of disagreements, the crew mutinied, forcing Hudson, his teenage son and a number of others into the ship’s boat, which was then cast adrift. Henry Hudson was never seen alive again.


Neatby, LH.Henry Hudson, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, Nov.2/09

Asher, Georg Michael (1860). Henry Hudson the Navigator. Works issued by the Hakluyt Society

Shorto, Russell (2004), The Island at the Center of the World, Vintage Books,

Mancall, Peter C. (2009), Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson, Basic Books

About this entry