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From Hudson to Stuyvesant (Part 1)


THERE are two scenes in the career of Henry Hudson which can never be forgotten by Americans. One is in the first week in September, 1609; A little vessel, of eighty tons, is lying on the smooth waters of a large harbor. She has the mounded stern and bluff bows of the ships of that day; one of her masts has evidently been lately stepped; the North American pine of which it is made shows the marks of the ship carpenter's ax, and the whiteness of the fresh wood. The square sails have been rent, and mended with seams and patches; the sides and bulwarks of the vessel have been buffeted by heavy seas off the New foundland coast; the paint and varnish which shone on them as she dropped down the reaches of the Zuyder Zee from Amsterdam, five months ago, have become whitened with salt and dulled by fog and sun and driving spray. Across her stern, above the rudder of massive oaken plank clamped with iron, is painted the name "HALF MOON," in straggling letters. On her poop stands Henry Hudson, leaning against the tiller; beside him is a young man, his son; along the bulwark lounge the crew, half Englishmen, half Dutch; broad beamed, salted tars, with pigtails and rugged visages, who are at home in Arctic fields and in equatorial suns, and who now stare out toward the low shores to the north and west, and converse among themselves in the nameless jargon-the rude compromise between guttural Dutch and husky English-which has served them as a medium of communication during the long voyage. It is a good harbor, they think, and a likely country. They are impatient for the skipper to let them go ashore and find out what grows in the woods. Meanwhile the great navigator, supporting himself, with folded arms, against the creaking tiller, absorbs the scene through his deep-set eyes in silence. Many a haven had he visited in his time; he had been within ten degrees of the North Pole; he had seen the cliffs of Spitzbergen loom through the fog, and had heard the sound of Greenland glaciers breaking into vast icebergs where they overhung the sea; he had lain in the thronged ports of the Netherlands, where the masts cluster like naked forests, and the commerce of the world seethes. and murmurs continually; he had dropped anchor in quiet English harbors, under cool gray skies, with undulating English hills in the distance, and prosperous wharfs and busy streets in front. He had sweltered, no doubt, beneath the heights of Hongkong, amid a city of swarming junks; and further south had smelled the breeze that blows through the straits of the Spice Islands. He knew the surface of the earth, as a farmer knows his farm; but never, he thought, had he beheld a softer and more inviting prospect than this which spread before him now, mellowed by the haze of the mild September morning.

On all sides the shores were wooded to the water's edge: a giant forest, unbroken, dense, and tall, flourishing from its own immemorial decay, matted with wild grapevine, choked with brush, wild as when the Creator made it; untouched since then. It was as remote -as lost to mankind-as it was beautiful. The hum and turmoil of the civilized world was like the-memory of a dream in this tranquil region, where untrammeled nature had worked her teeming will for centuries upon silent centuries. Here were such peace and stillness that the cry of the blue jay seemed audacious; the dive of a gull into the smooth water was a startling event. To the imaginative mind of Hudson this spot seemed to have been set apart by Providence, hidden away behind the sandy reaches of the outer coast, so that irreverent man, who turns all things to gain, might never discover and profane its august solitudes. Here the search for wealth was never to penetrate; the only gold was in the tender sunshine, and in the foliage of here and there a giant tree, which the distant approach of winter was lulling into golden slumber. But then, with a sigh, he reflected that all the earth was man's, and the fullness thereof; and that here too, perhaps, would one day appear clearings in the primeval forest, and other vessels would ride at anchor, and huts would peep out from beneath the overshadowing foliage on the shores. But it was hard to conjure up such a picture; it was difficult to imagine so untamed a wilderness subdued, in ever so small a degree, by the hand of industry and commerce.

Northwestward, across the green miles of whispering leaves, the land appeared to rise in long, level bluffs, still thronged with serried trees; a great arm of the sea, a mile or two in breadth, extended east of north, and thither, the mariner dreamed, might lie the long sought pathway to the Indies. A tongue of land, broadening as it receded, and swelling in low undulations, divided this wide strait from a narrower one more to the east. All was forest; and eastward still was more forest, stretching seaward. Southward the land was low-almost as love and flat as the Netherlands themselves; an unexplored immensity, whose fertile soil had for countless ages been hidden from the sun by the impervious shelter of interlacing boughs. No-never had Hudson seen a land of such enduring charm and measureless promise as this: and here, in this citadel of loneliness, which no white man's' foot had ever trod, which, till then, only the eyes of the corsair Verrazano had seen, near a century before-here was to arise, like Aladdin's Palace, the metropolis of the western world; enormous, roaring, hurrying, trafficking, grasping, swarming with its millions upon millions of striving, sleepless, dauntless, exulting, .despairing, aspiring human souls; the home of unbridled luxury, of abysmal poverty, of gigantic industries, of insolent idleness, of genius, of learning, of happiness, and of misery; of farreaching enterprise, of political glory and shame, of science and art; here human life was to reach its in" tensest, most breathless, relentless and insatiable expression; here was to stand a city whose arms should reach westward over a continent, and eastward round the world; here were to thunder the streets and tower the buildings and reek the chimneys and arch the bridges and rumble the railways and throb the electric wires of American New York, the supreme product of Nineteenth Century civilization, radiant with the virtues and grimy with the failings that mankind has up to this time developed.

On the 23d of June, two years later, Henry Hudson was the central figure in another scene. He sat in a small, open boat, hoary with frozen spray; he was muffled in the shaggy hide of a white bear, roughly fashioned into a coat; a sailor's oilskin hat was drawn down over his brow, and beneath its rim his eyes gazed sternly out over a wide turbulence of gray waters, tossing with masses of broken ice. His dark beard was grizzled with frost; his cheeks were gaunt with the privations of a long, arctic winter spent amid endless snows, in darkness unrelieved, smitten by storms, struggling with savage beasts and harried by more inhuman men. He sat with his hand at the helm; against his other shoulder leaned his son, his inseparable companion, now sinking into unconsciousness; the six rowers-the stanch comrades who, with him, had been thrust forth to perish by the mutineers-plied their work heavily and hopelessly; their rigid jaws were set; no words nor complaints broke from them, though death was slowly settling round their valiant hearts. Overhead brooded a somber vault of clouds; the circle of the horizon, which seemed to creep in upon them, was one unbroken sweep of icy dreariness, save where, to the southeast, the dark hull of the Discover, and her pallid sails, rocked and leaned across the sullen heave of the waters. She was bound for Europe; but whither is Hudson bound?

His end befitted his life; he vanished into the unknown as he had come from it. There is no record of the time or place of his birth, or of his early career, nor can any tell where lie his bones; we only know that his limbs were made in England, and that the great inland sea, called after him, ebbs and flows above his grave. He first comes into the ken of history, sailing on the seas, resolute to discover virgin straits 'and shores; and when we see him last, he is still toiling onward over the waves, peering into the great mystery. Possibly, as has been suggested, he may have been the descendant of the Hudson who was one of the founders of the Muscovy Company, in whose service the famous navigator afterward voyaged on various errands. If matters not; he lived, and did his work, and is no more; his strong heart burned within him; he saw what none had seen; he triumphed, and he was overcome. But the doubt that shrouds his end has given him to legend, and the thunder that rolls brokenly among the dark crags and ravines of the Catskills brings his name to the hearer's lips.

The Dutch had had many opportunities offered to them to discover New York before they accepted the services of Henry Hudson, who was willing to go out of his own country to find backers, so only that he might be afloat. Almost every year, from 1581 onward, the mariners of the Netherlands strove, by east and by west, to pass the barrrier that America interposed between them and the Eastern trade they coveted. The Dutch East India Company was the first trading corporation of Europe; and after the war with Spain, during the twelve years' truce, the little country was overflowing with men eager to undertake any enterprise, and with money to fit them out. The Netherlands suddenly bloomed out the most prosperous country in the world.

They would not be hurried; they took their time to think it over, as Dutchmen will; but at length they conceived an immense project for acquiring all the trade, or the best part of it, of both the West and the, East. They studied the subject with the patient particularity of their race; they outclassed Spain on the seas, and they believed they could starve out her commerce. Some there were, however, who feared that in finding new countries they would lose their own; Europe was again in a turmoil, and they were again fighting Spain before New Amsterdam was founded. But meanwhile, in 1609, quite inadvertently, Henry Hudson discovered it for them at a moment when they supposed him to be battling with freezing billows somewhere north of Siberia. When he was stopped by Nova Zembla ice, he put about and crossed the Atlantic to Nova Scotia, and so down the coast, as we have seen, to the Chesapeake; the Delaware, and finally the Hudson. He told his tale in glowing words when he got back; but the Dutch merchants perhaps fancied he was spinning sailors' yarns, and heeded not his report till long after.

Hudson, after passing the Narrows, anchored near the Jersey shore, and received a visit from some Indians with native commodities to exchange for knives and beads. They presented the usual Indian aspect as regarded dress and arms; but they wore ornaments of red copper under their feather mantles, and carried pipes of copper and clay. They were affable, but untrustworthy, stealing what they could lay their hands on, and a few days later shooting arrows at a boatload of seamen from the ship, and killing one John Colman. Hudson went ashore, and was honored with dances and chants; upon the whole, the impression mutually created seems to have been favorable. An abundance of corn and oysters was supplied to the crew; and no doubt trade was carried on to the latter's advantage; we know that years afterward the whole of Manhattan Island was purchased of its owners for four-and-twenty dollars. The present inhabitants of New York City could not be so easily overreached.

Hudson now began the first trip ever made by white men up the great river. How many millions have made it since! But he, at this gentlest time of year, won with the magic not only of what he saw, but of the unknown that lay before him-what must have been his sensations! As reach after reach of the incomparable panorama spread itself out quietly before him, with its beauty of color, its majesty of form, its broad gleam of placid current, the sheer lift of its brown cliffs, its mighty headlands setting their titanic shoulders across his path, its toppling pinnacles assuming the likeness of giant visages, its swampy meadows and inlets, lovely with flowers and waving with rushes, its royal eagles stemming the pure air aloft, its fish leaping in the ripples-and then, as he sailed on, mute with enchantment, the blue magnificence of the mountains soaring heavenward and melting into the clouds that hung about their summits-as all this multifarious beauty unfolded itself, Hudson may well have thought that the lost Eden of the earth was found at last. And ere long, he dreamed, the vast walls through which the river moved would diverge and cease, like another Pillars of Hercules, and his ship would emerge into another ocean. It was verily a voyage to be remembered; and perhaps it returned in a vision to his dimming eyes that day he steered his open boat through the arctic surges of Hudson Bay.

For ten days or more he pressed onward before a southerly breeze, until, in the neighborhood of what now is Albany, it became evident that the Pacific was not to be found in northern New York. He turned, therefore, and drifted slowly downward with the steady current, while the matchless hues of the American autumn glowed every day more sumptuously from the far-billowing woods. What sunrises and what sunsets dyed the waters with liquid splendor: what moons, let us hope, turned the glories of day into the spiritual mysteries of fairyland! Hudson was not born for repose; his fate was to sail unrestingly till he died; but as he passed down through this serene carnival of opulent nature, he may well have wished that here, after all voyages were done, his lot might finally be cast; he may well have wondered whether any race would be born so great and noble as to merit the gift of such a river and such a land.

He landed at various places on the way, and was always civilly and hospitably welcomed by the red men, who brought him their wild abundance, and took in return what he chose to give. The marvelous richness of the vegetation, and the vegetable decay of ages, had rendered the margins of the stream as deadly as they were lovely; fever lurked in every glade and bower, and serpents whose bite was death basked in the sun or crept among the rocks. All was as it had always been; the red men, living in the midst of nature, were a part of nature themselves; nothing. was changed by their presence; they altered not the flutter of a leaf or the posture of a stone, but stole in and out noiseless and lithe, and left behind them no trace of their passage. It is not so with the white man: before him nature flies and perishes; he clothes the earth in the thoughts of his own mind, cast in forms of matter, and contemplates them with pride; but when he dies another comes and refashions the materials to suit himself. So one follows another, and nothing endures that man has made; for this is his destiny. And at length, when the last man has dressed out his dolls and built his little edifice of stones and sticks, and is gone
Nature, who was not dead, but sleeping, awakes, and resumes her ancient throne, and her eternal works declare themselves once more; and she dissolves the bones in the grave, and the grave itself vanishes, with its record of what man had been. What says our poet?

How am I theirs,
When they hold not me,
But I hold them?"

In 1613, or thereabout, Christianson and Block visited the harbor and got furs, and also a couple of Indian boys to show the burghers of Amsterdam, since they could not fetch the great river to Holland. In 1614 they went again with five ships-the Fortune of Amsterdam, the Fortune of Hoorn, and the Tiger of Amsterdam (which was burned), and two others. Block built himself a boat of sixteen tons, and explored the Sound, and the New England coast as far as Massachusetts Bay; touched at the island known by his name, and forgathered with the Indian tribes all along his route. The explorers were granted a charter in the same year, giving them a three years' monopoly of the trade, and in this charter the title New Netherland is bestowed upon the region. The Dutch were at last bestirring themselves. Two years after, Schouten of Hoorn saw the southernmost point of Tierra del Fuego, and gave it the name of his home port as hat swept by; and three other Netherlanders penetrated to the wilds of Philadelphia that was to be. A fortified trading post was built at Albany, where now legislation instead of peltries is the subject of barter. At this juncture internal quarrels in the Dutch Government led to tragic events, which stimulated plans of western colonization, and the desire to start a commonwealth on Hudson River to forestall the English -for the latter as well as the Dutch and Spanish claimed everything in sight. The Dutch East India Company began business in 1621 with a twenty-four year charter, renewable. It was given power to create an independent nation; the world was invited to buy its stock, and the StatesGeneral invested a million guilders in it. Its field was the entire west coast of Africa, and the east coast of North and South America. Such schemes are of planetary magnificence; but of all this realm the Dutch now hold the little garden patch of Dutch Guiana only, and the pleasant records of their sojourn on Manhattan Island between the years 1623 and 1664.

Indeed, the Dutch episode in our history is in all respects refreshing and agreeable; the burghers set us an example of thrift and steadiness too good for us to follow it; and they deeded to us some of our best citizens and most engaging architectural traditions. But it is not after all for these and other material benefits that we are indebted to them; we thank them still more for being what they were (and could not help being) : for their character, their temperament, their costume, their habits, their breadth of beam, their length of pipes, the deliberation of their courtships, the hardness of their bargains, the portentousness of their tea parties, the industrious decorum of their women, the dignity of their Patroons, the strictness of their social conduct, the soundness of their education, the stoutness of their independence, the excellence of their good sense, the simplicity of their prudence, and above all, for the wooden leg of Peter Stuyvesant. In a word, the humorous perception of the American people has made a pet of the Dutch tradition in New York and Pennsylvania; as, likewise, of the childlike comicalities of the plantation negro; the archwaggishness of the Irish emigrants, and the cherubic shrewdness of the newly acquired German. The Dutch gained much, on the sentimental score, by transplantation; their old-world flavor and rich coloring are admirably relieved against the background of unbaked wilderness. We could not like them so much or laugh at them at all, did we not so thoroughly respect them; the men of New Amsterdam were worthy of their national history, which recounts as stirring a struggle as was ever made by the love of liberty against the foul lust of oppression. The Dutch are not funny anywhere but in Seventeenth Century Manhattan; nor can this singularity be explained by saying that Washington Irving made them so. It inheres in the situation; and the delightful chronicles of Diedrich Knickerbocker owe half their enduring fascination to their sterling veracitythe veracity which is faithful to the spirit and gambols only with the letter. The humor of that work lies in its sympathetic and creative insight quite as much as in the broad good humor and imaginative whimsicality with which the author handles his theme. The caricature of a true artist gives a better likeness than any photograph.

The first ship containing families of colonists went out early in 1623, under the command of Cornelis May; he broke ground on Manhattan, while Joris built Fort Orange at Albany, and a little group of settlers squatted round it. May acted as director for the first year or two; the trade in furs was prosecuted, and the first Dutch American baby was born at Fort Orange.

Fortune was kind. King Charles, instead of discussing prior rights, offered an alliance; at home the bickerings of sects were healed; Peter Minuit came out as director general and paid his twenty-four dollars for the island-a little less than a thousand acres for a dollar. At all events, the Indians seemed satisfied from Albany to the Narrows. The battery was designed, and there was quite a cluster of houses on the clearing back of it. An atmosphere of Dutch homeliness began to temper the thin American air. The honest citizens were pious, and had texts read to them on Sundays; but they did not torture their consciences with spiritual self-questionings like the English Puritans, nor dream of disciplining or banishing any of their number for the better heavenly security of the rest. The souls of these Netherlanders fitted their bodies far, better than was the case with. the colonists of Boston and Salem. Instead of starving and rending them, their religion made them happy and comfortable. Instead of settling the ultimate principles of theology and government, they enjoyed the consciousness of mutual good will, and took things as they came. The new world needed men of both kinds. It must, however, be admitted that the people of New Amsterdam were not wholly harmonious with those of Plymouth. Minuit and Bradford had some correspondence, in which, while professions of mutual esteem and love were exchanged, uneasy things were let fall about clear titles and prior rights. Minuit was resolute for his side, and the attitude of Bradford prompted him to send for a company of soldiers from home. But there was probably no serious anticipation of coming to blows on either part. There was space enough in the continent for the two hundred and seventy inhabitants of New Amsterdam and for the Pilgrim Fathers for the present.

Spain was an unwilling contributor to the prosperity of the Dutch colonists by the -large profits which the latter gained from the capture of Spanish galleons; but in 1629 the charter creating the Order of Patroons laid the foundation for abuses and discontent which afflicted the settlers for full thirty years. Upon the face of it, the charter was liberal, and promised good results; but it made the mistake of not securing popular liberties. The Netherlands were no doubt a free country, as freedom was at that day understood in Europe; but this freedom did not involve independence for the individual. The only recognized Individuality was that of the municipalities, the rulers of which were not chosen by popular franchise. This system answered well enough in the old home, but proved unsuited to the conditions of settlers in the wilderness. The American spirit seemed to lurk like some subtle contagion in the remotest recesses of the forest, and those who went to live there became affected with it. It was longer in successfully vindicating itself than in New England, because it was not stimulated on the banks of the Hudson by the New England religious fervor; it was supported on grounds of practical expediency merely. Hen could not prosper unless they received the rewards of industry, and were permitted to order their private affairs in a manner to make their labor pay. . They were not content .to have the Patroon devour their profits, leaving them enough only for a bare subsistence. The Dutch families scattered throughout the domain could not get ahead, while yet they could not help feeling that the bounty of nature ought to benefit those whose toil made it available, at least as much as it did those who toiled not, but simply owned the land in virtue of some documentary transaction, with the powers above, and .therefore claimed ownership also over the poor emigrant who settled on it-having nowhere else to go. The emigrants were probably helped to comprehend arid formulate their own misfortunes by communications with stragglers from New England, who regaled them with tales of ,such liberties as they had never before imagined. But the seed .thus sown by,the Englishmen fell on fruitful soil, and the crop was reaped in due season.

The charter intended, primarily, the encouragement of emigration, and did not realize that it needed very little encouragement. The advantages offered were more alluring than they need have been. Any person who, within four years, could establish a colony of fifty persons was given privileges only comparable to those of independent princes. They were allowed to take up tracts of land many square miles in area, to govern them absolutely (according to the laws of the realm), to found and administer cities, and in a word to drink from Baucis's pitcher to their hearts' content. In return, the home administration expected the benefit of their trade. Two stipulations only restrained them: they were to buy titles to their land from the Indians, and they were to permit, on penalty of removal, no cotton or woolen manufactures in the country. That was a monopoly which was reserved to the weavers in the old country.

Continue to Chapter 4 Part 2