Susan Fenimore Cooper

The Hudson River and its early names

The vast streams of this Western Continent flowed over a nameless course during that mysterious past whose secrets we would so gladly unveil. There are rivers on the globe, like the Jordan, the Euphrates, the Nile, the Tiber, which are known to have borne during thousands of years the names they bear to-day. But this Western hemisphere, shrouded in mystery, has no primeval names to repeat to us for the noble streams flowing from its heart. The wild races, succeeding each other on their banks, no doubt gave temporary names to different portions of the greater streams, changing them with the succeeding conquest or flight of each tribe. The rivers of this Continent appear to have been of less importance to the people roaming along their banks than the streams of the Eastern hemisphere have been, even from remote ages, to the inhabitants of Europe and Asia. The ancient Western tribes were not a seafaring race. There were no Argonauts among them; there were no sea-kings to lead their clans afloat. Short voyages from isle to isle, from continent to Gulf Island, made up their nautical life. Apparently they seldom moved in large fleets. Their great migrations were nomadic, by land, in armed tribes, like those of Central Asia in the Middle Ages. Their largest semi-civilized towns, when first discovered by the white race, were not found on the seacoast at the mouth of great rivers. They were built rather in the mountain fastnesses, like Mexico, or Cuzco, or in the depths of the forest, like Palenque. The recently-discovered ruins in Arizona and New Mexico, “whose memorial has perished with them,” were not found at the mouth of the Colorado or the Gila, but clinging to the cliffs in gloomy cañons. Thus much we seem to see dimly through the mists which hang over the unwritten past. The greatest rivers of this wonderful hemisphere appear to have flowed over a grand, lonely course to the ocean during thousands of years. The names these streams bear to-day they have received, as a general rule, from the European race. The Mississippi may be an exception. The Father of Waters would seem to have been known to many tribes by names more or less similar to that which it bears to-day. It is no doubt true—happily true—that very many of the streams of North America bear Indian names. But these have very generally been given to them by the whites, and were borrowed from the tribes living on their banks at the date of the discovery. The waters received the names of the clans hunting on their shores. The red people had no doubt names of their own for some of the streams in which they fished, but it is probable that these were applied to certain reaches only of the rivers most familiar to them. For some of the important lakes the Iroquois certainly had names of their own, for instance, Caniaderi-Guarunté, or, The lake gate of the country, for what is now Lake Champlain, and Andiatarocté, or, Here the lake closes, for Lake George. These significant phrases, as applied to those waters, have been clearly ascertained. When explorers and colonists crossed the ocean they gave, as a rule, the names of the wild tribes to the rivers on which they met them. Very few received European names. The exceptions on the Atlantic coast number just half a dozen; the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, the Delaware, the James, the Ashley and the Cooper. Of these only one, the Hudson, recalls, the discoverer. Strictly speaking, however, Hendrick Hudson, as the reader will remember, could not claim the full honors of a discoverer. The marine flag of France, blue at that period, had passed the Narrows nearly a century earlier than that of Holland. Let us briefly recall that episode of our history—it is a pleasant one in its way. In the spring months of the year of grace, 1524, the good ship Dolphin, or more accurately, the Dauphine—la Delfina—under French colors, and commanded by John da Verrazano, the Florentine, came sailing northward along the mysterious coast of the new continent. After coasting the sandy shores, noting the wild people with their dark complexions, thin, scanty garments of dressed skins and feathers, the grand old forests, the vines, the flowers, Verrazano came at length to a hilly region: “A very pleasant situation among small, prominent hills—piccoli colli eminente—through which a very large river, deep at its mouth, forced its way to the sea; from the sea to the estuary of the river any ship, heavily laden, might pass with the help of the tide, which rises eight feet. But as we were riding at anchor in a good berth, we would not venture up in our vessel without a knowledge of the mouth; therefore we took the boat, and entering the river we found the country well peopled, the inhabitants not differing much from the others, being dressed out with the feathers of birds of different colors. They came towards us with evident delight, raising loud shouts of admiration, and showing us where we could most securely land with our boat. We passed up this river about half a league, when we found it formed a most beautiful lake, three leagues in circuit, upon which they were rowing thirty, or more, of their small boats, from one shore to the other, filled with multitudes who came to see us. All of a sudden, as is wont to happen to navigators, a violent contrary wind blew in from the sea, and forced us to return to our ship, greatly regretting to leave this region, which seemed so commodious and delightful, and which we supposed must also contain great riches, as the hills showed many indications of minerals.” Here we have, without doubt, the earliest sketch, by a European hand, of the mouth of one of the most important rivers of the country. The sketch is brief, simple, but pleasing and accurate. The stream was remembered by Verrazano as the “River of the Steep Hills,” for thus the Italian words colli eminente have been translated, and the name is justly descriptive, not only of the abrupt cliffs we call the Palisades, but may well be applied to the entire river, which, rising among the Adirondack Mountains, reflects the Helderberg, the Catskills or Outiora of the Iroquois, the Tachgaine, the Shenandoah, the Highlands, and many a fine, bold hill from its sources to its mouth. Verrazano, in his letters to King Francis, had a great deal to say about the shores, the wild people, the forests, the fruits, the flowers; he declared that he had explored 700 leagues of coast, moving from a southern latitude northward, but strange to say, the “River of the Steep Hills” is the only stream he mentions. He is said to have made a second voyage, with the view of colonizing the country. His fate, however, is very doubtful; beyond the fact that he disappears from the fleet of navigators, two or three years after this voyage, little is accurately known. His letter to Francis I. was dated at Dieppe, July 8th, 1524. In 1529 a map appeared, drawn by his brother Jerome, from the navigator’s charts, and on this map, at the mouth of the River of the Steep Hills, we find the name of “San Germano.” The Palace of St. Germain was a favorite residence of the king, and it map have been within its walls that the first crude charts were laid before Francis. The Verrazano Map is indeed covered with French names, strung along what is now our own coast. They are names taken, as Mr. DA Costa has observed in his interesting article on the Verrazano Letter (Magazine of American History, Feb., 1878), from towns either connected with King Francis, his mother, his wife, or those which lay along the route between Dieppe and Bordeaux, the seaports of France between which Verrazano had probably often traveled. What is now Block Island was named Luisa, after Louisa of Savoie, the king’s mother. Here then, in connection with Verrazano and his discoveries we find the first two, of a long series of names, in different languages, applied to this noble river. The year following the voyage of Verrazano, 1525, the Spaniard, Gomez, is said to have sailed along the coast from Florida to Newfoundland, and on a chart purporting to give his discoveries, we find the name “San Antonio,” at the mouth of the river just seen by the Florentine. This early voyage of Verrazano left no lasting traces beyond the letter to King Francis, and the navigator’s charts. The letter was probably seen by very few individuals. And the charts were no doubt carefully guarded. Secrets of State were at that period involved in every exploring voyage. Verrazano had sailed by stealth, as it were, and in spite of Spanish intrigues. Had he lived colonization might have followed, on the shores of the “San Germano.” But his death naturally retarded any decided movement of the kind; and the discovery of the vast St. Lawrence by Jacques Cartier, ten years later, confirming the idea that a passage might be found through the new continent to Asia, attracted French colonization to more northern latitudes. The condition of France was very much disturbed during the remaining years of the reign of Francis I., and towards the close of the century, when the persecuted Huguenots looked across the Atlantic for refuge, their colonies gathered farther to the southward. A century passed away. The River of the Steep Hills flowed onward to the ocean, with none but savage men on its banks. Civilized Europe knew nothing of the waters of the San Germano, or San Antonio. Doubtless the wild people preserved vague traditions of their wonderful visitors, men with white skins, in boats with wings, but several generations passed away, and no pale-faces appeared in their waters. There is no record of any European vessel having passed the Narrows until nearly a hundred years after the brief visit of Verrazano, and the Delfina. When another century opened, then came the first rude stage of the grand movement of civilization. The Haalve Maan, a yacht of forty tons burden, bearing the colors of the Netherlands, and under a bold English skipper, came sailing along the coast in the summer of 1609. Her object was that of every other exploring vessel sailing westward at that day-seeking a passage to Cathay. Moving northward from the Chesapeake in the last days of August, her commander, Hendrick Hudson, came in latitude 40° to “a very good land to fall in with, and a pleasant land to see.” The description is very like that of Verrazano: “The land is very pleasant, and high, and bold to fall in with.” Finding what he believed to be the mouths of “three great rivers,” he entered a fine harbor, and anchored in latitude 40° 30´—just within Sandy Hook—and saw “many salmon and mullets, and rays very great.” The next day, Friday, September 4th, they moved farther into the outer harbor, and “caught ten great mullets, and a ray as great as four men could haul into the ship.” The same day the wild people came on board the Half Moon. “They wore loose deerskins, well dressed, and feather mantles, and skins of divers sorts of good furs. . . . They had yellow copper and red copper tobacco pipes, and other things of copper they did wear about their necks.” It is singular that the coast tribes had these copper ornaments among them; all those red and yellow pipes, and neck ornaments, must have come from the copper region far towards the setting sun, possibly trophies of war, or perchance the result of a rude traffic. “They had great store of maize whence they made good bread.” They offered green tobacco and hemp to the strangers. A boat’s crew landed, went into the woods, and saw “great stores of very goodly oaks, and some currants.” These last were probably whortle-berries; currants ripen earlier. “The land was very pleasant with grass, and flowers, and goodly trees, and very sweet smells came from them.” One can fancy those rough old sea-dogs, English and Dutch, gazing up at the “many tall and goodly oaks,” which so greatly excited their admiration, and then perchance stooping to pick a “posy,” some gay-colored autumn flower, a golden-rod, a michaelmas daisy, or a speckled jewel. The first Sunday, September 6th, was sadly marked by bloodshed; two canoes of Indians, one with fourteen men, the other with twelve, attacked the boat’s crew; an Englishman was killed by an arrow “shot into his throat.” Several days of watchfulness followed. The readiness with which this coast tribe attacked the wonderful strangers would suggest the idea of previous encounters, in which they may have been successful in repelling the pale-faces. It was not until another week had passed, Sunday, September 13th, that the Half Moon began slowly to work her way through the Narrows into the upper bay. A fleet of twenty- eight log canoes came to visit them, bringing oysters and beans. They had “great pipes of yellow copper, and earthen pots to dress their meat in,” and “great store of very good oysters.” The Half Moon was now fairly in the river—the noble, nameless stream. It was a “mile wide, full of fish, with high land on each side.” The wind was light, the sky clear, the weather warm—the kind of weather we often have at the same season. Of the thirty-one days Hudson was in the river, twenty-eight are noted as “fair weather,” or “fair and hot,” or “hot and sun shining.” Of two the weather is not recorded. Only one, the last day, was stormy. On the 15th of September they passed beneath mountains—the Highlands—and on the upper river they found “very loving people, and very old men, and were very well used.” And still they had the same brilliant autumn weather, “very fair, sun shining, and hot.” The people came flocking aboard, bringing pumpkins, tobacco, grapes, maize, otter skins, and beaver skins. Hudson was greatly pleased with the country; “as pleasant a land as one need tread upon, very abundant in all kinds of timber suitable for shipbuilding, and for making large casks, and vats.” Again the abundance of fish is mentioned, the waters were teeming with them, many of very large size. One can imagine the small craft, somewhat rusty, somewhat uncouth in mould and rig, with its mixed crew of rough old sea-dogs, as it moved with wary soundings cautiously up the broad river, under a blue sky, or lay at anchor in the brilliant star-light or moonlight nights. Doubtless Master Hendrick Hudson, and his mate, Robert Juel, must have had many private talks on the grand object of their voyage, the passage to Cathay, which seemed to be ever receding, the farther they advanced. In latitude 42° 18´, September 18th, Hudson made a visit ashore to “an old chief who lived in a house of well-constructed oak bark, circular in shape, so that it had the appearance of being built with an arched roof. It contained a great quantity of maize and beans of last year’s growth, and there lay near the house, for the purpose of drying, enough to load three ships, besides what was growing in the fields. On our coming into the house two mats were spread out to sit upon, and immediately some food was served in well made red wooden bowls; two men were also despatched at once with bows and arrows in quest of game, who soon after brought in a pair of pigeons which they had shot. They likewise killed a fat dog, and skinned it in great haste with shells, which they got out of the water.” Such was the first grand banquet on the banks of the river where Delmonico is now the cordon bleu. “The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon; it also abounds in trees of every description.” Well might the trees of the forest strike the explorer; grand massive old trunks, gray, branchless columns fifty feet in height stood on every side, while above a noble canopy of foliage rose some twenty or thirty feet higher. The great variety among the trees was remarked. The general effect of this variety was noted by the shrewd adventurers; to-day we are told by the botanist, that while in central Europe there are some forty species of trees reaching thirty feet in height, in North America we have one hundred and forty species of that height. “The natives are a very good people,” continues Hudson, “for when they saw I would not remain they supposed I was afraid of their bows, and taking the arrows they broke them in pieces, and threw them in the fire.” This circular house, where the captain of the Half Moon was feasted, must clearly have stood near the ground now occupied by the city of Hudson. The Half Moon went but two leagues above that point. The yacht was now among the islands and shoals of the upper river, and although a good pilot might have taken her higher, Hudson evidently feared to proceed farther. A boat’s crew was sent to sound and explore above. And meanwhile the skipper returned the hospitality of the Mohegans by giving them their first taste of the fatal fire water. This is the first recorded instance in which that fatal poison, the treacherous bane of the red race, was offered by civilized men, calling themselves Christians, to the savages of that region. At a later day both Dutch and English traders fattened upon the bodies and souls of the red men by selling them the fire-water. The savages of this part of America knew absolutely nothing of intoxicating liquors, until they met the Europeans. One of the warriors became intoxicated; his companions were utterly perplexed, and very uneasy; they probably believed him to be under some incantation; they went ashore “and brought him stropes of beads, some had six, seven, eight, nine and ten, and gave him.” With these belts of wampum they no doubt intended him to purchase his release from the evil spell laid upon him. The next day, however, when they found he had recovered from this temporary insanity, the red people made a solemn oration to Hudson; showing him the land around with their usual graceful dignified gestures, they apparently offered him the alliance of their people, sealing a sort of treaty, according to their custom, with belts of wampum, and a feast of venison, dressed by themselves. But where was the passage to Cathay? This grand object of more than a hundred voyages had not yet been discovered; there was a perpetual mirage hanging over the Western Hemisphere, ever luring the explorer onward and ever receding. The beautiful nameless river, which the Half Moon had ascended, offered no clue to the mystery. The boat’s crew returned, after proceeding some eight or nine leagues higher up the stream, reporting the water too shoal for the yacht. It has been supposed by some writers that the Dutch vessel went as high as Albany. But this would seem very improbable, since at that season of the year, in warm and dry weather, as was the case throughout Hudson’s progress up the stream, the same yacht which it was thought unsafe to carry over a bar at Sandy Hook, “in ten fathom water,” would scarcely have attempted the shoals of the Overslaugh, without grounding. There can be little doubt that the craft lay very near her anchorage in 42° 18´, while the boat went eight or nine leagues higher, probably to Castle Island, just below Albany. Some persons have supposed that the town of Half Moon, at the forks of the Mohawk, derives its name from the fact that Hudson, in his boat, reached that distance above Albany; but the idea is incorrect. “Haalve Maan” was the name given by the early Dutch colonists to the natural meadows on the western bank of the river, from the crescent- like form of the ground, the hills sweeping round the level land in a semi-circle. Monday, September 23d. At noon of a brilliant day the Half-Moon weighed her anchor, and began to descend the stream. Much as he liked the looks of the country, Hudson must no doubt have been disappointed that he had failed to find a channel westward. And yet, had he but known the fact, he had actually reached the point whence a commerce fraught with the most precious treasures of a vast continent, gold, silver, grain, in addition to treasures from Cathay also, should rush eastward, over an iron road, impelled by the magician steam! What a wild dream he would have deemed it, could he have seen, some moonlight night, from the deck of his yacht, lying at anchor in latitude 42° 18´, the vision of a train of a hundred cars, led by the giant gnome, the locomotive, sweeping over the silent river towards the Atlantic! Twelve days later, October 4th, the Half Moon came out of “the great mouth of the great river,” and “steered off into the main sea, on direct course towards England.” When Hudson returned to Amsterdam with the report of his voyage, he spoke of the fine river he had explored as the “Manhattes, from the name of the people who dwelt at its mouth.” Commerce soon followed the explorer. The Half Moon never returned, but was wrecked at the Island of Mauritius. But in 1610 a Dutch ship, freighted with goods to suit the savages, anchored in the bay, at the mouth of the “river of the Manhattes,” and from that date a succession of the small, uncouth, but strong and serviceable craft in favor among the early explorers and commercial adventurers of the period, showed themselves in the waters of the “Great River of the Manhattans”—the Little Fox, the Nightingale, the Little Crane, the Tiger, the Fortune, passed the Narrows. In 1613, Adrian Block, and his comrades, wintered in the country, building themselves rude huts, probably of bark, for shelter. It was in consequence of the discoveries made by Block and his companions, in 1614, that the new country first received a civilized name in the charter granted the “New Netherland Company” in r6I6, and at the same period the “Manhattans River” having been fully explored, received the legal name of “De Riviere van den Vorst Mauritius.” That great military genius, Prince Moritz, was then Stadtholder, and the idol of his countrymen, his whole life having been a series of battles, sieges and victories. He was in the full vigor of life and talent, when Hudson with the “Haalve Maan” entered the grand stream. The English, only a few years earlier, had given the name of King James I. to a fine stream in Virginia. It was very natural that the New Netherlands Company should give the name of their Stadtholder, Prince Maurice of Orange, to the river whose banks they were about to colonize. The same stream, however, was often spoken of as the “Groote Riviere,” the “Noordt Riviere,” “the River of the Manhattans,” and the “Rio de Montague.” The name of Hudson was never, at any time, connected with its waters by the Dutch. In 1624, De Laet wrote his “New World, or Description of the West Indies,” and, at that date, he distinctly says that “the Great North River of the New Netherlands, was by some called the Manhattes River, from the people who dwelt near its mouth, by others also Rio de Montague, or River of the Mountain; by some also Nassau, but by our own countrymen it was generally called the ‘Great River.’” By this time the river had been thoroughly explored as far as the mouth of the Mohawk. A regular traffic with the different tribes on its banks had begun; Mohegan and Mohawk, Tappaen and Munsee, brought their peltries to the pale faces. The rude trading boats passing to and fro, had already noted and named the different reaches, or raches, in the stream, its islands, and some of the hills on its banks, from Manhattas to Beverwyck. “Antoine’s Neus,” in the Highlands, recalled the prominent nose of a worthy citizen, Secretary Antoine de Wooga, well known at Rensselaerwyck. Pollepel Island reminded them of the waffle-ladle, which the good wife at home brandished so skillfully. Beeren Island was noted for the number of bears found there. The Martelaer’s Rack, or Martyr’s Reach, was a short but critical reach in the stream, near West Point, very trying to the skipper’s temper. Then there was the Crooked Elbow, Krom Elleboog Rack. Then the Danse Kamer, the dance room; then the Klauver Rack, or Clover Reach, and so on to Beverwyck. Beyond the mouth of the Mohawk, the Spruyten or Sprouts, they called the different channels, very little was known of the Groote Rivier, which, forty years after the discovery, was supposed to flow from Lake Ontario. The red men told the first generation of colonists that they could “travel in boats to the Great River of Canada.” Of course they meant in their own canoes, carrying them over the portages. But the Dutch seem to have understood them to refer to some direct connection with the Lake “great as the Mediterranean Sea.” As the trading boats passed up and down the stream, they halted here and there at some small village of bark lodges, scattered as they were at long intervals on the wooded banks. Where the red people had been stationary for some years, as in the Tappaen country, at Esopus, and among the Mohegan clans on the west bank, these openings in the forest were to be found of some extent, forming the maize fields tilled by the patient squaws, with rude stone implements, or sharper sticks. In the Tappaen country these maize fields were quite extensive. The Hollanders went there to purchase maize and beans. The trading boats brought coarse blankets, kettles, iron tools, beads, powder and guns, and always the poisonous fire-water. These they exchanged for peltries, chiefly beaver skins. In 1632 there were 13,513 beaver skins exported; three years later the number was 14,891. How numerous must have been the dams built by these sagacious creatures on the streams tributary to the Mauritius! In those early years the aspect of the river was still very lonely—broad, silent waters flowing between silent wooded banks. The passage of a solitary’ trading boat was an event; its dark, heavy hull and small sails were still watched with the keen interest of novelty by the roving band or solitary hunter, threading the forest trails on the Steep Hills, far and near. Here and there canoes might perchance be seen. These were chiefly of logs, of a breadth that could not be found to-day among the trees of all the woods reflected in the same river; the labor of making them, before iron tools had reached the wild people, was great; the trunk, “large as three or four men standing together,” was first slowly burnt away at the base, then felled with stone axes, then hollowed by painstaking labor with fire and stone chisels. The women worked with the men at this rude boat-making. The red people on the Groote Riviere preferred the light wood of the beautiful tulip-tree for their canoes, where it could be found, and it was abundant on the banks of the stream. The Dutch colonists called the tree “canoe-wood” from this fact. Other boats were skillfully made of the bark of the elm, often some fifteen feet long in one piece. Occasionally a dainty birch-bark skiff might be seen glancing lightly to and fro; this had probably come from farther north, from the Horican region, perchance. Now and then a rude thin sail was hoisted over the canoe. The red men, in speaking of this broad but lonely stream, used various words or phrases, according to the dialect of the different tribes. The Mohawks spoke of it as the Shenahtahde, or the water beyond the Pineries. Sanatatea and Shawnatawty were also heard among the western Iroquois tribes, variations of the same word, no doubt. Cahohatatea was another of their names. The two first of those syllables would seem to have some connection with a stream, as the falls of the Cohoes were named by them, and Cohongorontas was the sonorous word applied by the same people to the Potomac. Oiejué was another name recorded by early French explorers; but we are inclined to think this was a synthetic word applicable to any river, and not peculiar to the Cahohatatea. Bruyas, the missionary, gives the meaning as “at the water.” The Mohegans spoke of the river as the Shatemuc, a word said to be derived from Shaita, a pelican, though it has not been proved that such was the Mohegan name for this bird. To the Lenni Lennape it was the Mohicanhitheck, or river of the Mohegans. Wild creatures, now utterly unknown in the same region, were seen moving on the banks or floating on the stream. There were many bears of a “shining pitch-black color;” “when they wish to come down a tree, they place their heads between their legs and let themselves fall to the earth, then spring up and go their way.” They often climbed trees to feed on the wild fruit. The ungainly moose haunted the northern banks of the Shenahtahde; the stately elk, with its grand antlers, might perchance be seen swimming across the river; the cougar, or panther, would wander down from the cliffs among the Steep Hills—so numerous, indeed, were the cougars, on the stream flowing from the Outiara Mountains (the “Mountains of the Sky,” as the Iroquois called them) that the Hollanders gave it the name of the Cats-Kill; as for the deer, their numbers were incredible, frequenting the shores singly or in herds, among them were “white bucks and does, and others black.” At an early day, when wheat was scarce, a deer was sold for a loaf of bread! foxes and raccoons were to be tracked in every wood; the wolves were many but not large. The tribal name of the Mohegans may be traced to their own word for the wolf, which was also their totem. The French always called them Les Loups. Strictly interpreted, the River Mohegan meant the River of the Wolves. Some of these different wild creatures were in movement only at night. It was chiefly the birds which gave life and movement to waters otherwise so lonely. At certain seasons, spring and autumn, the flocks of water-fowl were so numerous that the hunter on the banks was aroused from his sleep at night by their noise; the “swans in their season are so plenty that bays and shores where they resort appear as if dressed in white drapery.” The wild geese, some gray, some white-headed, some black, floated on the stream, spring and autumn, in countless flocks. A noted gunner among the early colonists, one “Henry de Backer, shot eleven gray geese at one shot from his gun;” another “killed sixteen geese at a shot.” There was a famous bag! Great pelicans, too, largest of web-footed water-fowl, haunted the River of Prince Maurice in flocks of a dozen or more together, flying low and heavily, but conspicuous by their great size and white plumage, faintly touched with pale red and on the breast with yellow. On the banks were land birds of many varieties, some solitary, others coming periodically in vast flocks, all varying in size and plumage, from the great turkey weighing thirty pounds more to a curious, brilliant little creature called the “West India Bee,” sucking the honey from the flowers before which it fluttered with a humming sound. In the spring and autumn vast flocks of pigeons darkened the waters by their shadow, like a passing thunder cloud. Ay, and there were swallows haunting old hollow trees, from which they poured out by the hundred to hunt the insects hovering over the river. Ere long, amid all this wild luxuriance, the first rude touches of civilization began to appear at distant points between Fort Orange and the Manhattas. An exploring colonist, shrewd and observant, had sailed leisurely up the river with an eye to farming, and reported that as far north as the Catskill the banks were “very rocky and mountainous, not well fit to erect dwellings!” A true Dutch view of the country, this. The Netherlander was not partial to mountains or “Steep Hills.” He preferred the level banks of Lang Eylandt or Staten Eylandt, where, as he declared with complacency, expensive dykes and ditches were not needed as in the mother-country—no danger of the sea encroaching on his farm. Adventurous spirits, however, soon began to think it possible to build dwellings, and in time till farms on the wild banks of the Mauritius. “Bouweries,” and “plantations,” and “colonies,” were planned. Ere long the smoke from some white man’s cabin of bark appeared rising from a wooden chimney, above a roof thatched perchance with reeds; the sound of a white man’s axe—at that day a very coarse tool—was heard in the forest, or a clumsy plow might be seen turning the fresh soil of some clearing. The West India Company, as early as 1630, ordered that one-fourth of every trading vessel should be reserved for domestic animals and agricultural implements. Before that date, in 1626, one hundred and one head of horses and cattle were landed at Nooten Eylandt, now Governor’s Island, and most lovingly were the cows greeted with homely caresses by the few women and children of the colony. Only two animals out of a hundred and three had died on the voyage. The oxen rendered good service on the “bouweries.” Soon wonders began to be told of the fertility of the soil. A certain farmer, Brandt Pylen, cropped one field with wheat eleven years in succession. No manure was needed. A colonist declared that “in nine years he had never seen land manured.” One “honorable gentleman, John Everts Borel,” laid a wager that he could raise a crop of barley which should grow so tall that the ears could be tied together over his head. He won the wager; the barley was six and seven feet high. Fruit trees were planted and tenderly watched. Great was the joy when the first apples, and pears, and peaches ripened. Yes, the fruits of the Old World were found to thrive well, very well, and your Netherlander was a lover of fruit. The yield of a young peach-tree was something wonderful. And, rude men as many of the Hollanders were, they had a delicate eye for the flowers, too. Very soon, indeed, patches of flowers began to appear about the doors of some of those log cabins and bark huts; the tulip was already a mania in Holland, and tulip-roots were sent to the New-Netherlands, perchance, as the Hope, the Spotted Cow, or the Broken Heart. It was observed that while the wild rose was abundant on the banks of the Groote Riviere, no one had been so lucky as to find the eglantine, the fragrant sweet-briar, that delightful bramble, and speedily the sweet-briar was brought over the ocean, and planted by the Hollander’s door-sill. Those early colonists depended greatly upon fire for clearing the land. “Bush- burning” was an art they had learned from the wild people. This was done yearly, in the autumn months, and also in the spring—in April—which seems strange to us. “Those fires appear grand at night from the passing boats in the river, when the woods are burning on both sides of the same. Then we can see a great distance by the light of the blazing trees, the dames being driven by the wind and fed by the tops of the trees. The dead and dying trees remain in their standing positions, which appears sublime and beautiful when seen at a distance.” So wrote the old Dutch chronicler. And this weird light, fierce and fitful, shone every rear in early colonial times over the waters of the Mauritius, as they had doubtless shone for ages before the white man’s yacht first sailed up the river. Despite these annual burnings, the forest remained fresh and green arid vigorous—more luxuriant, indeed, the wild people declared, from the flames sweeping away only the dead and dying vegetation. As the few trading boats passed slowly up and down the stream, the Hollanders might be heard calling the river now the “Groote Rivier”; now the “Mauritius”; now the “Noordt Rivier,” to distinguish it from the “Zuydt Rivier,” the limit of the colony to the southward; “the North River commonly called the Manhattoes, or Rio de Montaigue”—says a memorial of the West India Company in 1632. It is indeed remarkable how very uncertain the Dutch name of the stream continued to be during a period of half a century from the voyage of the Half Moon, not only on the fatherland, but also among the people living on its banks. On Vanderdonck’s map, dating from 1652, it is recorded as “Groote Rivier; Manhattans Rivier; Noordt Rivier; Montaigue Rivier; Mauritz Rivier.” Where shall we find another stream bearing so many different titles on the same map? Champlain had penetrated into the Thonoshioni country from the St. Lawrence at an early day, and discovered the fine sheet of water called by the United Tribes the Lake-Gate-of-the-country, or Caniaderi-Garunté, and which now bears the discoverer’s name. This expedition, moving southward, from Canada, took place in the month of July, I609, only five or six weeks earlier than Hudson’s voyage up the Cohotatea. The French had names of their own for this noble river. On a map of Champlain’s “Carte de la Nouvelle France,” dating from 1632, we find at the mouth of the stream discovered by Verrazano, “Riviere des Trettes.” We have not seen this name repeated elsewhere, on any map or in any document. And its signification has not, as yet, been clearly traced. The word Trettes is apparently obsolete, and its true meaning is not easily ascertained. It may refer to some species of fish, or to some nautical word no longer in use. The same stream was occasionally spoken of in Canada, and in France, as the “Rivière des Montagnes,” a version possibly of Verrazano’s Steep Hills, It was also alluded to as the “Rivière de Manhattes,” and “Rivière de Prince Maurice.” But no sooner was Fort Orange built—Aurangie in Dutch—than the stream became to the Canadians the “Rivière d’Orange.” It was very generally spoken of in that way, in familiar intercourse, and also in public documents. Orange was a title with which the French were already very thoroughly familiar. There lay in the south of France, in Provence, and in the romantic region of Vaucluse and Avignon, a small but ancient town, which in Roman times was called Aransio. This gradually became Orange. In the eleventh century, while Saxon kings were reigning in England, and Robert le Diable was riding out from his Norman keep, to harry his neighbors, Orange had princes of its own, governing a small territory. The last of these Princes, Philibert de Châlons, died childless in 1531, in the reign of Francis I., the patron of Verrazano. His sister, who had married the Count of Nassau, inherited the Principality, which thus passed into the house of Nassau, and the title of Prince of Orange became of more importance than it had ever been before, under such chiefs as the Williams, and Maurice, of Holland. William III. of England was the last Prince of Orange of the Nassau family, in the direct line. At his death he bequeathed the Principality to his kinsman, the Prince of Nassau Dietz, Stadtholder of Friesland. But Frederick William, of Prussia, claimed the territory through his mother, a Princess of Nassau, and in 1713 he ceded the Principality to France. From that hour the independent dignity of Orange ceased, and today it is only one of a hundred small, but ancient, and historical towns of France, whose glory exists only in the past. Oddly enough, a reflection, as it were, of these past associations hovered dimly over the little Dutch colony on the River of Manhattan. The French had so often crossed swords with successive Princes of Orange, now victorious, now defeated. that the name was thoroughly familiar to them. In 1673, while France and the Low Countries were at war, the valiant city of Orange in Provence, by way of episode, struck a blow of its own; it made war upon the French Governor of Provence, the Counte de Grignan, representing his Royal Master, Louis XIV. The little city of some good souls, went through the honors of a siege. Madame de Sévigné has several allusions to the affair in her letters; she was keenly alive to the ridiculous side of the question; “I detest this little war,” she writes to her daughter, Mme. de Grignan, November 26, 1673; “I assure you I am very anxious about your siege of Orange; I can have no peace until M. de Grignan is well out of this ridiculous affair. At first people said that baked apples were the only ammunition needed for this siege. We have told the truth, here and there, to silence these bad jokes. Not a few know the state of things now; they fly from one extreme to the other, and they say now that M. de Grignan will not escape so easily, and with no other force than the regiment of the galleys, which is not thought fit for a siege; that he cannot subdue two hundred men who have cannon.” Orange had a citadel, a formidable donjon-keep, twenty pieces of cannon, but one entrance; and supplies of grain and ammunition. “M. le duc and M. de la Rochefoucauld are convinced that he will not succeed. You know the world—always in extremes. The result will settle the question. I wish it may be successful, having no hope of pleasure or tranquility until I know the conclusion of this affair.” In December Madame de Sévigné goes to court at St. Germain, and on her return again writes about Orange, which had surrendered after a siege of three days. “I found your siege of Orange much talked about at Court. The King had spoken of it very agreeably, and it was considered something very fine that, without orders from the King, and solely to follow M. de Grignan, seven hundred noblemen were found ready for the occasion. For the King had said seven hundred—of course everybody repeated seven hundred. It was added that there were two hundred litters—and one laughed. But it is believed seriously, that few Governors could collect such a suite.” The King at supper had said, “Je suis très content de Grignan.” What higher degree of glory could be conceived of than this approbation of le Grand Monarque. Great must have been the contrast between the venerable city of Provence and its namesake, the rude Dutch hamlet on the banks of the “Noordt Rivier.” But all these past associations rendered the name very familiar to the French. And from its position the small hamlet on the “Noordt River” was really of more importance to Canada, than the ancient city of Provence can ever have been to France. The eyes of those in authority at Montreal and Quebec were often fixed intently on the Dutch Orange; it was the aim of many a hostile war party from Canada, and suspected of many counter-plots and expeditions, in which the Mohawk allies of the Hollanders were the principal actors. We follow closely, even the present hour, with our highways and railroads, many of the rude paths and trails first trodden in the wilderness by past generations of the red men. That was a great war-path which stretched from the “River of Canada,” through the Lake-gate-of-the-country, Champlain, and Andiatarocté, the St. Sacrement, to the Rivière d’Orange. Many were the bands of painted braves, Huron or Iroquois, deadly foes, armed with bow, lance, and tomahawk, which had marched in noiseless single file along that trail, or more stealthily in their light canoes through those waters. And when the pale-faces took possession of Canada, many were the hostile parties from the St. Lawrence, or from Orange, which followed the same war-path to and fro. How many were the great military expeditions planned during the eighteenth century at St. James and St. Germain, for the command of North America, in which Orange was the base of operations, or the goal in view. It is indeed remarkable that of all those expeditions so few were even partially successful. The Lake-Gate-of-the-country has always been sternly defended against invasion, whether under the flag of France, or at a later day that of England. Battles have been lost and won, by civilized armies, on that ancient war-path. Orange, however, struck its colors but once, and that only when the New Netherlands were ceded to England. And even when that event occurred, in spite of the change of flag and name, the Dutch town continued to be Orange in Canada and in France, and the river was to the French the “Rivière d’ Orange.” Only twenty years before the Revolution, in 1754, a French writer speaking of New York says, it is “situate on the left bank of the River Orange, near its mouth, at the sea.” Occasionally, however, the French spoke of the stream as the “Rivière de Manhattes.” It is singular, by the by, how long the name of Manhattan was applied to the little town at the mouth of the Hudson. New Amsterdam was incorporated in 1653, but the town continued to be Manhattan, or Manhattas, in common parlance, and also in many documents. Even as late as the surrender to the English in 1664 we find the name in common use. Governor Winthrop writes, August, 1664: “If the Mandadoes are given up to his Majesty.” At the same period Dominie Megapolensis, in a remonstrance worded by him, used the phrase: “This Fort and City of Manhattans,” whose population was 1,500 souls, of whom 250 were capable of bearing arms, etc. Even in the articles of capitulation the name occurs frequently; “The townsmen of the Manhattans,” “The Town of Manhattans,” etc. Only once, towards the close of the document, is the little town mentioned as “New Amsterdam.” We have thus seen that during a brief period of less than a century and a half, from the voyage of Verrazano in 1524 to the surrender of “Manhattans” to the English in 1664 the principal river of the region had actually borne twenty different names—River of the Steep Hills, San Germano, San Antonio, Rivière des Trettes, Manhattas, Mohegan, Oiogue, Shatemuc, Cahohatatea, Sanatatea, Shenahtahde, Shawnataty, Mohicanhittuchi, Rio de Montaigue, Groote Rivièr, Noordt Rivièr, R. von den Vorst Mauritius, Nassau, Orange, Hudson. The question became finally settled only after the English had taken possession of the New Netherlands. They began very early, soon after the voyage of the Half Moon indeed, to call it Hudson’s River, and adhered pertinaciously to the name, as they conceived it strengthened their claim to the discovery. Dereau, who visited the coast in 1619, reported having met “certain Hollanders who had a trade in Hudson’s River.” The name of the Mohegan River was also occasionally used by them. “The River Mohegan, called by the English Hudson’s River,” says the writer of New Canaan in 1632. There was, however, a familiar name spoken far more frequently than any other in New York and Albany, a household word among the residents of those towns, and in the villages and country houses on the banks. The families of the old colonists, of all classes, generally spoke of the stream as the North River—not, as in the times of their Dutch forefathers, to distinguish it from the South River, the Delaware, but in opposition to the East River, or Long Island Sound. The first steamboat, that marvel of the day which in 1807 followed in the wake of the Halve Maan, was not called the Hudson, but the North River, as the name most familiar to those living on the banks. Aye, and at a day as recent as the building of the Hudson River Railroad there were many families throughout the State of New York who spoke of the Hudson simply as “the River,” as though there were but one stream in the whole region. At the present hour the initials, now familiar to half the world—H. R. R. R.—have done more perhaps towards deciding finally the popular name of the stream than either maps, books or public documents. Railroads never sleep. But thirty years ago, the great annual event of the ice having given way at Albany, and navigation being resumed, after a cessation of eight or ten dull winter weeks, was most joyously heralded from the wharves of New York to those of Buffalo. That was an awakening of vast importance to millions of a busy, energetic race. Throughout the length and breadth of the country, from the Atlantic to Lake Erie, early in March days was heard the joyous cry; “The River is open.”

(1880)

MLA Citation

Cooper, Susan Fenimore. “The Hudson River and its early names.” 1880. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 3 Jun 2008. 26 Apr 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/cooper_s/hudson_river/>.

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