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Hudson's early life is an unknown, but he is thought to have spent many years at sea. He is said to have begun as a cabin boy at 16 and gradually worked his way up to ship's captain.
1607 and 1608
In 1607, the Muscovy Company of England hired Hudson to find the Northeast Passage to China. Hudson traveled just 577 nautical miles (1,069 km) south of the North Pole and is claimed by Thomas Edge (who was often inaccurate) to have discovered what is now known as Jan Mayen Island- although there is no cartographical or written proof of this discovery- before turning around and returning home in September. Jan Mayen Island later became part of the Kingdom of Norway. It was thought at the time that because the sun shone for three months in the north latitudes the ice would melt and a ship could travel across the top of the world to the Spice Islands. The English were battling the Dutch and Spanish for routes. He landed in Svalbard and, later, whaling and coal economies sprang up there. In 1608, Hudson made a second attempt, trying to go across the top of Russia. He made it to Novaya Zemlya but was forced to turn back.
In 1609, Hudson was chosen by the Dutch East India Company to find an easterly passage to Asia. He was told to sail around the Arctic Ocean north of Russia, into the Pacific and to the Far East. Hudson could not continue his voyage due to the ice that had plagued his previous voyages, and many others before him. Having heard rumors by way of Jamestown and John Smith, he and his crew decided to try to seek out a Southwest Passage through North America.
After crossing the Atlantic Ocean, his ship, the Halve Maen (Half Moon), sailed around briefly in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, but Hudson concluded that these waterways did not lead to the Pacific. Hudson then moved into New York Harbour and proceeded up what is today the Hudson River. He made it as far as Albany, New York, where the river narrows, before he was forced to turn around, realizing that it was not the Southwest Passage. In fact, no Southwest Passage to the Pacific existed until one was created by the construction of the Panama Canal between 1903 and 1914. The Native Americans who relayed the information to John Smith were likely referring to what we today call the Great Lakes.
Along the way, Hudson traded with numerous native tribes and obtained different shells, beads and furs. His voyage established Dutch claims to the region and the fur trade that prospered there. New Amsterdam in Manhattan became the capital of New Netherland in 1625.
In 1610, Hudson managed to get the backing for yet another voyage, now under the English flag. The funding came from the Virginia Company and the British East India Company. At the helm of his new ship, the Discovery, he stayed to the north (some claim he deliberately went too far south with the Dutch), reaching Iceland on May 11, the south of Greenland on June 4, and then managing to turn around the southern tip of Greenland.
Excitement was high due to the expectation that the ship had finally found the Northwest Passage through the continent. On June 25, the explorers reached the Hudson Strait at the northern tip of Labrador. Following the southern coast of the strait on August 2, the ship entered Hudson Bay. Hudson spent the following months mapping and exploring the eastern shores. In November, however, the ship became trapped in the ice in James Bay, and the crew moved ashore for the winter.
When the ice cleared in the spring of 1611, Hudson planned to continue exploring. However, his crew wanted to return home. Matters came to a head and the crew mutinied in June 1611. They set Hudson, his teenage son John, and seven crewmen loyal to Hudson adrift in a small open boat. The castaways were provided with no food, water or weapons and were clearly meant to die. Hudson was never seen again, although some claim that he successfully made his way as far south as the Ottawa River. Only eight of the mutinous crewmen survived to return to Europe, and although arrested, none were ever punished for the mutiny and Hudson's death. One theory holds that they were considered valuable as sources of information, having traveled to the New World.