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From The Netherlands to Nieuw Nederland

Willem Blaeu. Nova totius terrarum orbis geographica ac hydrographica tabula [New Geographical and Hydrographical Map of All the Lands of the World]. Amsterdam, ca. 1630. NYPL, The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, Lawrence H. Slaughter Collection. Digital ID 465003.
Little is known of Henry Hudson (d. 1611) before he suddenly appears on the world stage as a sea captain and explorer. He likely gained experience as a third- or fourth-generation Hudson family member working in the London-based Muscovy Company, which sought to open up trade between England and Russia. Although he was English, Hudson sailed for the Dutch. This was not unusual—the Italians Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) and Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed for England and France, respectively.

Hudson was originally hired by the Dutch East India Company to sail north over Russia to find a “northeast passage” to Asia. But on his third recorded voyage, aboard the Half Moon, cold and ice forced him to detour to the western Atlantic. He hoped that this route would prove to be the elusive “northwest passage” to China that all Western European nations desperately sought, as they competed for trade with Asia. Instead, he found the harbor of New York and the North (now Hudson) River. Hudson’s explorations laid the foundation for a robust fur trade that further enriched the Dutch nation, already wealthy from its trade in East Indies goods and in control of much of the world economy.

World maps from the 17th and 18th centuries portray the known and named world as Hudson and Dutch explorers and traders would have known it. Note the density of place names along the shorelines (the first and most well-known areas explored, and thus mapped) of the various continents, and the few place names in mid-continent. The latter areas are often covered by a cartouche (a title label on a map) or some decorative motif, to mask the ignorance of what exactly is located in these interiors.

As the Dutch and English explored and settled the Middle Atlantic coast, more detailed maps appeared, including the Hendricks and Southack portrayals. These lead us to the more comprehensive maps of settled life in Nieuw Amsterdam.


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