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Eight men and one child sat in a boat, staring at a ship that was slowly disappearing over the horizon. They had spent the winter on that ship, stuck in the ice. The crew grew angry as they waited to be released from the icy grip of the water, but for the captain, there was only one thing he had on his mind; finding the Northwest Passage.
It was all he thought about, and as soon as the ice freed the ship, he was ready to embark on that quest once again.
Unfortunately for him, his crew were not about to spend another winter in the ice.
As he planned a continued journey west for the passage, a journey that would have absolutely ended in failure, his crew conspired against him.
It all led to this moment, as he sat in a boat with his son and seven sick men, watching his own ship sail away.
That man was Henry Hudson, cast adrift in the bay that bears his name to this day.
The crew of that ship, looking back, were the last ones to see Hudson, his son and those men alive. Or were they?
I’m Craig Baird, and this is Canadian History Ehx!
Henry Hudson is one of the most famous explorers in history. I could create an entire episode about Hudson, and I probably will in 2024, but for now, here is the Coles Notes version of his life.
Born in England around 1565, very little about his early life is known. He does not enter the historical record until 1607 when he was already an experienced sailor, having been commissioned to lead an expedition to find a trade route across the North Pole.
On May 1, 1607, Hudson sailed with a crew of ten men on the Hopewell and they reached Greenland on May 13, following the coast until May 22. During his voyage, he saw many whales in the northern waters and this spurred other nations to send whaling expeditions to the area.
In 1608, Hudson once again journeyed to North America, exploring parts of the east coast of Greenland.
After those two voyages, he went south for his 1609 voyage, exploring what is now the northeastern United States and parts of the coast of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. On Aug. 4, he reached Cape Cod, and on Sept. 3, he found a river he called the North River, but which now carries his name as The Hudson River. Travelling up the river, he reached as far as present-day Albany.
On Sept. 23, he returned to Europe but already began to plan out his next voyage, to find the Northwest Passage, in 1610.
With the backing he needed, he took the Discovery on his voyage, reaching is now called the Hudson Strait on June 25, 1610 on the northern tip of Labrador. He followed the coast and reached Hudson Bay on Aug. 2. Due to the size of the bay, many of the crew believed he had found the Northwest Passage.
Exploring the bay, the crew became trapped in the ice in James Bay, and spent the winter ashore.
In the spring of 1611, the ice cleared and Hudson made plans to continue exploring Hudson Bay with the goal of finding the passage.
His crew, were very against this. At the time, they had only two weeks of supplies left. For the crew, they wanted to get to Digges Island where millions of birds were seen and they could restock their food stores. They began to conspire to mutiny against Hudson, leaving him in the bay and returning to England without him.
In June of 1611, they made their move.
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. Pricket had attempted to convince the other mutineers to not go through with the mutiny, but they did not listen. The mutineers also provided Hudson and the men with clothing, powder and shot, pikes, an iron pot, food and other items.
“Now were the sick men driven out of their cabins into the shallop. They stood out of the ice, the shallop being fast to the stern of the ship and so they cut her headfast from the stern, and towards the east they stood in a clear sea and fly as from an enemy.”
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 1670, but nothing was found of the lost men.
The mutineers did not have good luck after casting Hudson and the others adrift. At one point, attempting to shoot reindeer, they met a group of Inuit who killed four of the ringleaders in the mutiny. 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.
Cree oral histories speak of a group of white men with bloated faces and limbs who arrived on the shore. They called the leader Firebeard because of his red hair. He apparently married a Cree woman and had children with her.
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.
While in that area, Champlain found out that the Algonquins had enslaved an English child, who they said was the survivor of a wreck in the northern sea. They wanted to make a gift out of him, and this inspired Champlain to journey up the Ottawa River in 1613.
Could Hudson, or his son, have made that journey so far south? He was marooned in 1611 and would have arrived in the area by 1612. Going from Hudson 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.
Of course, there are the rumours that Hudson never made it into the boat in the first place. Evidence such as blood stains on the ship, and letters from one sailor, point to Hudson being murdered.
So, what happened to Henry Hudson?
We will never know for sure.
Information for this piece comes from LiveScience, Beaver Magazine, Wikipedia, Ottawa Rewind, Henry Hudson: Aftermath and Notes, the Adventures of England on Hudson’s Bay, Macleans, Ottawa Journal, Vancouver Province,