Stockade Curiosity: Henry Hudson


More water is named after Henry Hudson than any other person on planet Earth. New York, New Jersey, and Canada itself can all esteem Mr. Hudson as their progenitor. And yet, as far as I can tell, the man was an utter failure.

Ol' Henry made a name for himself for being a competent Captain with eyes toward fame and glory. His lifelong mission was to find a western seafaring passage to Asia. He gave it the old college try, running into Greenland and New York, only to come back home empty handed. But, God bless him, he was a man on a mission. In pursuit of this mission he would ultimately lay down his life.

1610: the year Henry Hudson began his final journey. He took a crew of roughly twenty men (his teenage son numbered among their ranks), and set sail from Europe on a boat aptly named Discovery.

As the story goes, Hudson found what's now called the Hudson strait, and, WHAMMO! the world became his oyster. The crew became convinced that Hudson's Gospel of a passage to Asia was now theirs for the discovering'! And there was much joy on the shores of Hudson's mind! Hudson was going to make history, and connect the world entire by water.

Sadly, by August of that year, their vessel led them from the strait into the horror that was to be named Hudson Bay.

Week after week, over and over and over again, Discovery was mocked by dead ends. Despair at every shoreline. The passageway to the Pacific was collapsing in on them. Then, horror. By November their ship was overcome by ice. Trapped. The crew ditched the Discovery and held up on land until June of 1611.

And this is where the story gets foggy... and mysterious. A mutiny occurred in which Hudson, his son, and seven other crewmen were forced into a shallop. The Discovery headed home for England. Hudson's new, much more modest boat would never be found, nor would he. His fate remains a mystery. The story of the mutiny is, understandably, quite suspect in that we only know of it from the retelling of the surviving mutineers. Supposedly, as Hudson undocked the Discovery, he refused to listen tot any talk of retreating home. Henry lusted for that passageway across the dark globe, and so he walked the plank off his own vessel, into mystery, and most assuredly, into death.

A further twist of the knife is found in the testimony of one of the head mutineers. The man claimed that after abandoning Hudson and co. to the tiny skiff, they battled with all their might to follow the mutinied Discovery. Apparently the little boat that could, the UNdiscovery, trailed its big sister for days, before the mutineers decided to double down the sails and leave the specter of the past to fade into shadow. What a terror to track your murderer like that…

Hudson 2

That leaves us with a mysterious path to contemplate…

What happened to Hudson, and what reverberated through the halls of his mind as he led his crew to doom?

Surely Sir Hudson, perhaps more than any other man lost in history, could empathize in his inner soul with the words Shakespeare wrote (right around the same time, to boot!):

But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Hamlet, Act II, Scene I

Worse still, as Hudson found not Asia, but death, he did so with his near-adult son by his side. What is that like, to find the pangs of death slowly haunting you and your progeny -- to know its scent so personally?

Dante Alighieri relates a final story of Homer's Odysseus in his Divine Comedy, wherein he finds the wayward Greek protagonist at a low level in hell. Here, Odysseus tells Dante his final story… After returning home to Ithaca and living out his old age in splendor with the love of his youth Penelope, Homer slowly settles into despair. He is a man of adventure, and without it, feels lost. So then, Odysseus saddles up his boat and crew and heads towards the Western sea. Yes, the Western sea, just as Hudson did. After five months of sailing, Homer stumbles upon a great mountain rising up from the sea. At that moment a storm strikes Odysseus, and he along with his crew enter into death.

Odysseus awoke to find himself governed by the demons of hell for eternity; his obsession leading him not into the light of knowledge, but the darkness of hell itself.

Worse still, as Hudson found not Asia, but death, he did so with his near-adult son by his side. What is that like, to find the pangs of death slowly haunting you and your progeny -- to know its scent so personally? 

There are some countries, some places beyond our imagination, that we won't ever find in this life. And if we dare to travel there, we'll first find ourselves slipping off this mortal coil before the form of their answers reveal themselves to us. 


The band Vampire Weekend included a song entitled "Hudson" as the denouement on their album "Modern Vampires of the City". As a close, here's a link to that song, and pasted below are the song’s final lyrics. Enjoy. Over and Over again.

Hudson died in Hudson bay, 
But I was born on sodden place, 
The rising tide helped me decide, 
To change my name again.

Some men tend to linger on, 
And some make haste from Babylon, 
Some were on the ruined home, 
Rejoicing... To the end.

Over and over again are these never-ending visions, 
Over and over again like a prize that's changed in hands, 
The time has come, 
The clock is such a drag, 
All you who change your stripes, 
Can wrap me in the flag.

The lines are drawn, 
The map is such a drag, 
All you who change your stripes, 
Can wrap me in the flag.