The Daily Mail, Greene County June 2, 2008
By Jim Planck
CATSKILL — In about seven months the calendar will officially turn to 2009 and, as municipal and community leaders throughout the length of the Hudson Valley are already aware, it will be the 500th anniversary — the quadricentennial — of Henry Hudson’s 1609 discovery and exploration of the river.
Accordingly, activities, observances, events and celebrations are being developed for next year and there has already been an increase in the number and availability of books and related Henry Hudson materials on the retail market.
One of them, a new map of Hudson’s route and stopping points with accompanying text, by author Michael Sullivan Smith, is now available from Hope Farm Press in Saugerties, but it makes an interesting distinction that might not be agreed with by all.
According to Smith’s findings, Hudson’s stopping point and encounter with “a very loving people” — local Native Americans — which has commonly been held to be Catskill, is actually Saugerties.
Smith bases his computations on the descriptions of the journey given in the 1610 log of Robert Juet, Hudson’s clerk, on the voyage up “the River Neer,” meaning the Lower, or Farther, River, apparently in relation to the Connecticut River, which they had already come by.
Working with a series of measurement and topographic clues, Smith concludes that Hudson’s encounter with the “loving people” was at Saugerties.
It also means, says Smith, that Hudson’s ship the Halve Maen — Half Moon — only went as far north as what is now Coxsackie, not to the mud flats below Albany.
Smith cites 19th century Hudson Valley author and historian Benson Lossing, who also felt Saugerties was the site, as his original inspiration.
“I got into locating the events of Juet’s journal when doing a serialized history of Saugerties in a local paper in 1990,” says Smith. “My information started with Lossing because he was the first to publish an analysis (of the trip).”
That analysis was presented in the May 1875 issue of a publication called “The Pearl,” and was entitled, “Henry Hudson at Saugerties,” by Benson J. Lossing.
“Juet,” writes Lossing, “gives minute records of distances, in leagues, of the voyage of the Half Moon up and down the river.”
Lossing then references a dinner party on board the Half Moon at which Hudson entertained two “old men,” apparently chiefs, and their entourage who had come upstream two leagues from the “loving people” location, and concludes the dinner anchorage to be just north of Saugerties, making the “loving people” location Saugerties itself.
“I am satisfied,” Lossing writes, “after careful examination of the subject, that the place of anchorage when Hudson gave the notable dinner party to the two old men, their wives and maidens, was in the vicinity of Saugerties.”
“In 1875 Benson J. Lossing wrote that these events happened in Saugerties,” says Smith. “This statement was likely reconciled by this noted interpreter of Hudson River lore of the period through a careful reading of the whole of Robert Juet’s journal, recognition of familiar landmarks in the journal’s descriptions, and using these to scale the complete journey of the Half Moon up and down the river.”
Smith notes that two topographical features, the northern entrance of the Hudson Highlands and the “six league” Lange Rack, or Long Reach, of open sailing water that runs past Poughkeepsie, are part of the basis for Lossing’s findings.
“Lossing’s placement of the events in Saugerties,” says Smith, “would have been based on using the Lange Rack as his measurement key and the head of the Highlands as a starting point.”
Smith says the 20-league sailing distance the ship then went up on the day of Sept. 15, 1609 would have brought it to Saugerties that evening.
“Thus, ... this measure would have placed the first meeting with ‘a very loving people’ at Saugerties,” he states.
Smith also notes that some of Lossing’s contemporaries determined otherwise.
“Other period statements,” he says, “reference other locations for the (“loving people”) events of Robert Juet’s journal. The discrepancies lie in differing interpretations of the length of the ‘league’ measurement that Henry Hudson was using.
“Lossing’s measurement, based on the Lange Rack between Danskammer (in the Highlands) and Crum Elbow (in Dutchess County) — a little less than 14 contemporary mile units — made a league a little more than 2.2 land miles,” says Smith.
This measurement for a league thus places the “loving people” at Saugerties, but it is also apparently not a recognized unit of distance outside of Lossing’s computations.
“Other interpretations,” writes Smith, “have used the recognized navigation measures of Hudson’s day — the Portuguese Maritime League that translates to 3.2 nautical miles, and the Italian League, or Geometric League, at 2.67 nautical miles.”
Smith says the problem with these units of measure is that, according to his computations, both would have taken the Half Moon well above Albany, the first almost to Whitehall, in northern Washington County near Vermont, and the second as far as Saratoga — both of which are physical impossibilities.
Most historians, however, attribute the Sept. 15/16 “loving people” northbound location as Catskill, and the Sept. 26 southbound dinner party anchorage, which Juet notes was less than two leagues above the “loving people” location, as between Athens and Hudson.
Among those who did so are author and historian Rev. Charles Rockwell in his 1867 book, “The Catskill Mountains and the Region Around;” local 19th century historian Dr. Henry Brace in his circa 1876-79 Catskill Examiner series, “An Outline of the History of the Town of Catskill to the year 1783;” historian Captain Franklin Ellis in his 1878 “History of Columbia County, New York;” historian and author Wallace Bruce in his 1907 work, “The Hudson: Three Centuries of History, Romance, and Invention;” and editor and former State Historian Dr. James Sullivan in his 1927, 12-volume work, “The History of New York State, 1523-1927.”
With perhaps minor exception, the dissenting accounts seem to be based originally on a tradition of incorporating a significant body of offsetting landmarks from Juet’s logbook into the equation, as well as using measurement distances and starting points that are apparently at variance to Lossing’s.
Brace even notes the remains of the native community at the mouth of the Catskills.
“These friendly Indians (the “loving people”) probably belonged to the hamlet which once stood at the foot of the southeastern slope of the Hopenose,” says Brace. “Forty years ago (circa the mid-to-late 1830s) the site of this little village could be easily traced, as, to this day, it probably can be.”
Brace notes the many broken implements and fire bases found in the area over the years, adding, “On the opposite side of the Catskills, at Femmen Hoek (the original peninsula, or hook of land, that was later extended to an offshore island to become Catskill Point) was the graveyard of these Indians.
“When the Long Dock (on the hook) was being built (in the first decade of the 1800s),” writes Brace, “excavations at its northwestern extremity in the bank uncovered many skeletons, with the weapons of chase and of warfare which had been buried with the bodies.”
Contradictions and interpretations abound in any area’s history, however, and with a region as rich in lore as the entire Hudson Valley, it is only part of the many separate puzzles that are so intricately intermingled amidst the early days of the valley.
Smith’s “Henry Hudson’s Voyage, 1609-2009 Quadricentennial Poster Map” is a significant work, informative and attractive.
It is available at Hope Farm Press & Bookshop, 252 Main St., Saugerties, NY 12477, at a price of $9.95. Call 845-246-3522 for more information or visit www.hopefarm.com.
Additionally, the full-scale, operating replica of the Half Moon, which plies the waters of the Hudson as a traveling museum under the ownership of New Netherland Museum, is currently scheduled to remain docked at Peckham Materials, in Athens, through June 19 to undergo standard maintenance.
Volunteers at all skill levels are invited to participate, offering a great chance to get an onboard experience of what Hudson and his crew may have felt.
For more information about maintenance volunteering visit www.halfmoon.mus.ny.us/.
The site also has the complete and full log of Robert Juet’s journal, an interesting and lengthy read that goes far beyond the short month or so in the river now named for him.