Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Things I didn't know about the Hudson River

I’m reading a very good book about the Hudson River entitled The Hudson: America's River by Frances Dunwell, and it’s been a real eye-opener so far. I’m only about a fifth of the way through the book, and am amazed at what I have learned about the river’s history as well as about American history. The river’s usefulness as a strategic waterway coincides with the early history and development of New York and neighboring states. You might think that I would remember what we were taught as students about the founding and evolution of America, the American Revolution, and the importance of the Hudson River in those occurrences. I cannot remember much emphasis being placed on the importance of the Hudson River by our teachers. The focus was rather on Revolutionary war heroes such as George Washington and the early American presidents, the Constitution, and so forth. As a companion piece to help me when I forget my American history, I purchased Paul S. Boyer’s American History—A Very Short Introduction; in the preface he writes “This brief introduction to the vast topic of U.S. history avoids either an excessively upbeat, rose-tinted approach or an unduly negative one”. That’s exactly the sort of book I want, so I’m looking forward to delving into it. Just give me the facts and let me make up my own mind about what transpired at that time in my country’s history.

Dunwell’s book presents a very complete picture of the historical events at that time as well as interesting facts about the river. So what have I learned so far that I never knew about the Hudson River before? I didn’t know it was a fjord, nor did I know that it was a tidal river. I also didn’t know how many different types of fish there are in the river. It was an important strategic waterway during the American Revolution, for both the British and the Americans. It also has a reputation as a pirate river (!), since the famous pirate Captain Kidd made his home along the Hudson. Here are just a few of the many excerpts from the book that I’ve highlighted: 
  • Geologists refer to the Hudson as a fjord—a valley cut by glacial ice, then flooded by the sea.
  • The Hudson is a mere 315 miles in length………A traveler from the Hudson’s marshy source, at Lake Tear of the Clouds, to its briny chop in New York Bay can witness the full sweep of American history and ideas and the relationship of people to the environment with which this heritage is so deeply intertwined.
  • The Hudson is the last estuary on the East Coast of North America and perhaps in the entire North Atlantic drainage that still retains strong spawning stocks of all its historical fish species.
  • …….the river…..welcomes seasonal oceanic visitors: Atlantic sturgeon, American shad, blueback herring, and striped bass.
  • Resident fish, like perch, share the river with ocean fish that require fresh or brackish water to spawn—such as alewives, shad, herring, striped bass, and sturgeon.
  • On the Hudson, tidewater extends more than 150 miles inland, nearly half of the river’s 315-mile length. Twice a day, the Hudson flows downstream like any other river would do. However, at slack tide, the tidal portion becomes still, and during flood tide, the flow of water actually reverses, moving north.
  • The Mohican people called the Hudson Muhheahkunnuk, or Mohicanituck, meaning ‘great waters or sea, which are constantly in motion, either flowing or ebbing’……
  • During the decades that the Dutch claimed the river as the central waterway of their colony (1609-1664), they emerged as the world’s leading sea power…….
  • The reputation of the Hudson as a pirate river would become deeply imprinted with the story of Captain Kidd. …..Captain Kidd, a respected Manhattan sea captain who had a history of trading with pirates and knew where to find them. Kidd set sail from New York in 1696 and headed for Madagascar, the gathering place of pirates, but he soon turned to piracy himself……..Kidd and his crew raided many merchant ships…….On the island of Santo Domingo, Kidd left the Quedah Merchant and purchased a small sloop, which he filled with gold and jewels before setting off for his home port on the Hudson. However, Lord Bellomont, one of the investors in Kidd’s mission, turned the captain in when he landed at Boston and sent him to England to stand trial. Kidd was hanged in England in 1701. The fate of Kidd’s treasure remains a mystery.

I’ll be adding to this list from time to time, as I come further in the book. Needless to say, I’m enjoying learning about this river that was a major part of my growing up. We spent hours as teenagers walking around the estates that overlook the river--Rockwood Estate and Lyndhurst, or going to the beach at Kingsland Point in North Tarrytown (now Sleepy Hollow). I’m including a photo I took of the river when I visited the West Point Military Academy in the summer of 2011 together with my sister Renata and her husband Tim. It will give you an idea of how lovely the river and its surroundings really are.






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