Henry Hudson

Henry Hudson nobly sought out the Northwest Passage in exchange for money.  He didn’t do a great job but kept getting hired somehow.

In 1607 the Muscovy Company of the Kingdom of England gave Hudson the Hopewell and a mission: find the Northwest Passage around North America to China.  Hudson toured Greenland, giving all the landmarks new names that never really caught on amongst the Scandinavians.  The theorists had thought that, due the three months of the summer sun that shone in the northern latitudes, the sea would be free of ice for that time.  They were wrong, and Hudson had to go home.  He tried again the next year and all he found was more ice.

His roaring success at finding nothing made him top candidate for another mission to find the Northwest Passage, this time by the Dutch East India Company.  In 1609 they sent him northwest on the Halve Maen until he found his way blocked with ice (again) and, against instructions and logic, he went southwest instead.  He was working on second-hand rumors of a navigable passage to a great body of water that was probably the Great Lakes, which don’t have a navigable passage to them.

Travelling south, Hudson found the river that bears his name.  He wasn’t the first to find it.  He and his crew travelled upriver to present-day Albany, New York, which so impressed Hudson that, having done little trade on his voyage and having lost a man to the Natives, he decided to go home.  His bosses the Dutch got claims to New Netherland and any fur that might be found there, but no passage to China, which stuck in the craw.

The next year, the English funded the voyage of the Discovery for another stab at it.  This time he stayed northwest, mapping much of the northerly coasts of Labrador and Quebec until he found Hudson’s bay.  He liked it so much, he stayed there permanently, with the encouragement of the crew.  We don’t know when he died, but no one heard from him after that, so it might as well be then.

Henry Hudson’s quest looks foolish in hindsight.  By now we know that the Northwest Passage is impractical unless you heat up the Earth significantly, so we did.

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