Author of the Month

Henry Hudson in a Time of Prophecy (cont.)
By Evan Pritchard

Needless to say, the people of the bay were overjoyed. This large bay, which Verrazzano had glimpsed and called Vandome, is now called Delaware Bay, and Hudson is given credit for its true discovery. But the intrepid Hudson could not enjoy his success for long—his ship got stuck in the mud and he had to turn around after only a few hours.

He then sailed the Half Moon along the barrier reefs of New Jersey headed north, looking for a fabled “interior passage” to China at the fortieth parallel, a latitude that ancient sailors knew to be, for a variety of reasons, favorable to great civilizations and magnificent cities. A few hours past midnight, they saw a fire on a hill in the distance, the first reported sign of human habitation in the region. They came closer. At dawn of September 2, they found the fire on a hill and at the foot of the hill was an entrance through the barrier reef, and it was at 40 degrees north latitude exactly. This is now called Barnegat Inlet. There were natives tending the fire on the hill. Were they lighting a lamp to welcome strangers from the east, Hudson and his crew? Were they lighting a beacon to guide their own boats through the narrow inlet as Barnegat Light does today? Or were they lighting a council fire to discuss the arrival of messengers from another civilization? We don’t know. The Half Moon sailed right by. There was strange tidal activity before the fire, as the lake or channel behind the islands would fill at high tide and empty at low tide.

The Half Moon turned north and explored Barnegat Bay up to Tom’s River. They soon determined Tom’s River was not a passageway to China and headed out of the bay via Cranberry Inlet and back into the Atlantic. It was lucky for them that the inlet was open. Cranberry Inlet seems to have been appearing and disappearing on an eighty-year cycle at that time, and has reappeared twice since then. If it had been closed, they would have had to backtrack over twenty miles and then come back up along the seaward side, losing a day in the process. (This unpredictable channel is now blocked by a patch of sand, and the town of Seaside Park, New Jersey, sits on top of that patch.)

They then sailed around Sandy Hook to Great Kills Harbor, Staten Island, and on Thursday, September 3, they saw “three great rivers,” which were the “Great Kills” of Great Kills Harbor, which exist now in name only. They tried to navigate inside the point, and approached the largest of the kills, which was right inside the peninsula, but found it too shallow for the Half Moon and exited the harbor. The next day, on Friday, September 4, Hudson sent a rowboat to measure the depths of the harbor, and then went in again, using a different approach. Hudson sent a fishing crew into the shallows of the harbor to fish and found a large manta ray “as great as four men could haul into the ship.” Officer Juet writes, “. . . many great rays.” These were the giant manta rays, a sacred fish to the Canarsie and other Long Island natives. They call it the “eagle ray,” because of its ability to leap and then glide in the air, and the “Guardian of the Sea,” while the Europeans call it the “devil ray.” They are no longer found in the area, which may be due to a change in temperature and water quality as well as over-hunting.

Not satisfied with the many other fish they found in great size and abundance, the fishermen were obsessed with capturing the colossal manta as a kind of trophy and beat it to death. The muscular sailors then strained to carry the strangelooking being onto the deck of the main ship.

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