He was one of the greatest explorers in the history of North America. He would make two attempts to find the Northwest Passage and in 1609 he would explore the area around what would one day be New York City. He sailed the Hudson River, later named for him, and discovered the Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay. The last one, and arguably the most famous, would also be where his journey would end.
We could focus an entire podcast episode on Henry Hudson and his life but this episode isn’t about his life. This episode is about his death.
In 1611, Hudson and his crew had spent the winter on the shore of James Bay. Hudson, who was eager to find a path to the west, wanted to press on but his crew was having none of it. In June of that year, they chose to mutiny and decided to send Hudson, his son and seven others adrift in the bay.
The leaders of that mutiny, according to a journal kept by the ship’s navigator Abacuk Pricket, were Henry Greene and Robert Juet. According to the journal, the men who went with Hudson were either sick or loyal to him. The mutineers also provided Hudson and the men with clothing, powder and shot, pikes, an iron pot, food and other items.
Following being cast adrift, Hudson attempted to keep pace with the Discovery by paddling the oars but eventually the men on the Discovery chose to unfurl the sails and leave Hudson’s boat far behind them.
Hudson, his son and the seven men were never seen again.
The seven men who were sent off with Hudson were John King, the mate and previously the quartermaster, Thomas Woodhouse who was the scholar and mathematician that was recommended by Sir Dudley for the trip. When he was sent out of the ship, he begged for the mutineers to take his keys and belongings to save his life. He was sick at the time when he was cast away. Two other men were Andrew Ludlow and Michael Butt, both seamen, and Adam Moore, another seamen. Butt and Moore were sick at the time they were cast adrift. Another sick seamen was Syracke Fanner. Lastly, there was Philip Staffe, a carpenter who chose to go with Hudson. He took several things with him to help him build if need be.
The first expedition to find Hudson was conducted one year later in 1612 by Thomas Button. Another expedition was conducted by Zachariah Gillam between 1668 and 1870, but nothing was found of the lost men.
The mutineers did not have good luck after casting Hudson and the others adrift. Only eight of the 13 mutineers made it back to Europe and all were arrested in England and put on trial but were given no punishment.
So what happened?
One theory suggests that Hudson was not cast adrift but was instead murdered. The accounts of Pricket may be biased since he knew they would be tried for mutiny when they returned to Europe and he would want to put the mutiny in the best light. The fact is that the men were tried for murder, but acquitted of it. There is some evidence to point towards murder.
One such bit is that when the ship docked, blood stains were found on the ship, and letters that showed the growing rift between the captain and the crew. All of Hudson’s possessions were gone as well.
If he was marooned by his crew, there is no reason to think that Hudson would not survive initially. He was a tough and determined man, who was an experienced sailor and explorer who had travelled throughout the New World. At the time of being abandoned, Hudson and his small crew were no further than 75 kilometres from shore, something that could have been easily navigated by Hudson. In addition, they were set adrift on June 23, well into summer, increasing chances of their survival.
Let’s look at the possibility that he did suffer mutiny and had to find a way to survive. In 1631, Captain Thomas James found the remains of a shelter on Danby Island and since the ship’s carpenter was one of the men marooned with Hudson, it is possible that he helped build a shelter to protect the stranded men through the cold winter. According to his report, there were several sticks standing in the ground, with chip marks from a steel blade.
One Inuit legend talks about a small boat that was found in the water, filled with dead white men but one living boy who may have been John Hudson. They didn’t know what to do about the boy, so according to legend he was tied outside with the dogs.
Another legend, one that is much more famous, is the Hudson Stone. According to the legend, the
abandoned men were captured by natives and enslaved for a time. They eventually found themselves in the Ottawa River Valley where they eventually died, or were possibly killed. A stone was found in the region in 1959 that had the markings of HH Captive 1612. If that is the case, it means that the men were captured and kept by the First Nations people for two years at least. It should be pointed out that the archeological studies to authenticate the stone are lacking somewhat so it could be a hoax.
There are other bits of information that lend more weight to this theory. Samuel De Champlain was in the area of the Ottawa River Valley in 1613. In fact, it was where he lost his astrolabe. That astrolabe was found in 1867 by a farmer’s son and is now in the Canadian Museum of History.
While in that area, Champlain found out that the Algonquins had enslaved an English child, which could have been Hudson’s son.
Could Hudson have made that journey so far south? He was marooned in 1611 and would have arrived in the area by 1612. Going from Hudson’s Bay down the Harricana River to the Ottawa River to Deep River is possible in that amount of time.
Yet, there are still other tales.
According to a resident of Fort Frances in the 19thCentury, who had spent winters at James Bay, the First Nations people of the area told of white men who had come to the Bay long ago before the Big Company, the Hudson’s Bay Company, ever existed. They apparently lived with the First Nations and adapted to their culture and even took Indigenous wives and left descendants with red-hair.
Information for this piece comes from Wikipedia, LiveScience, Beaver Magazine, Ottawa Rewind, Henry Hudson: Aftermath and Notes, the Adventures of England on Hudson’s Bay,