“In 1611 a group of Amsterdam merchants, excited by the news of Henry Hudson’s discoveries in the Half Moon, chartered a vessel to make additional explorations of the Hudson River. Adriaen Block and his partner, Hendrick Christiaensen, were aboard this vessel. When it returned with a valuable cargo of fur pelts, the merchants saw the possibilities of a lucrative fur trade and thereupon agreed to finance two more ships — the Tiger, to be captained by Block, and the Fortune, by Christiaensen.
Both ships entered the placid harbor of what is now New York City, late in the summer of 1613. The Tiger anchored off Manhattan Island while the Fortune proceeded upstream to the Albany area. Bartering trifles with the Indians, Block soon had the Tiger loaded with beaver, otter, and other furs. However, a fire broke out on board and spread rapidly, and the ship burned to the water line. The vessel was a complete loss, although Block and the crew managed to salvage spare sails, rope, shipwright tools, and other fittings.
Almost immediately Block and the crew, with the help of friendly Indians, began to lay the keel of the a new ship. The Indians, who supplied Block and his crew with dried meat, fish, and corn meal, also built crude huts with enabled the Europeans to survive the winter.
Late in the spring of 1614 Block’s crew launched the new vessel, christened the Onrust, meaning ‘Restlessness,’ and sailed up the east side of Manhattan Island through the ‘Helle-gadt’ or ‘Hell gate,’ a treacherous tidal channel with swirling currents and hidden rocks, into Long Island Sound.
The Onrust sailed eastward along the northern shore of ‘Groote’ Bay, or the ‘Beautiful Inland Sea,’ while Block charted the coast’s contours with its harbors, inlets, rivers and islands. Later he described the mouth of the Housatonic River as being ‘a bow-shot wide,’ and impressed by the redness of the countryside, he named that area ‘Roodenbergen,’ or ‘Red Hills.’ Farther to the east, the present New Haven harbor was named the Harbor of Roodenbergen because of the red sandstone hills nearby.
After taking time to explore the Connecticut River, Block continued on an easterly course, charting the shore, until he anchored at the mouth of the ‘River of the Siccanams,’ or the Thames River. He then sailed southeast across the Sound to Montauk Point on Long Island and to Block Island, the only piece of land named in his memory.
Fully six years before the arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, Block explored Cape Cod and Plymouth Bay. He sailed to 42 degrees 30 minutes north latitude (roughly, modern Marblehead, Massachusetts) before he decided to return home to Holland and report his discoveries. Because the Onrust was too small for a safe return across the unpredictable Atlantic, Block knew he had to find the Fortune, which had been exploring the Hudson River. Happily the Onrust and the Fortune encountered one another near Cape Cod. Leaving one of the crew in command of the Onrust, Block directed him to continue to explore the general area, especially the region south of the Hudson River.
While Block was exploring and mapping the coastline of Long Island Sound and Cape Cod and establishing claims for Holland, an Englishman, Captain John Smith, was also exploring and mapping the New England coast and establishing claims for England. Neither of them know of the activities of the other…
It must have been a warm, sunny day that May of 1614 when the Onrust sailed into the mouth of a river at a point now called Old Saybrook. The Onrust, a small craft even for those times, was only 44 1/2 feet long with a beam of 11 1/2 feet and a displacement of sixteen tons. Although the current was not strong in the shallow estuary at the mouth of the river, a fairly strong wind off Long Island Sound was needed to propel the tiny Onrust across the turbulence caused by the treacherous and shifting sandbar just below the surface of the water and to allow the small craft to sail up the river.
May in this area of New England was usually a month of bright sunlit days with high fluffy clouds floating lazily across the sky. Under these conditions the land heated up faster than the waters of the Sound, and the winds, constant and gentle, were generally from the south.
Navigating a small craft like the Onrust up the river against the current, and with the main channel constantly changing direction, required all the skill that Adriaen Block, the Dutch commander of the Onrust, and his crew possessed, so they had to divide their attention between the beauty of the countryside and the demands of the river. Mile after mile of broad meadows, marshes, and forested woodlands of oak, elm, maple, and flowering dogwood greeted them as they proceeded up the river. The depth of the water varied, in some places no more than five feet deep, but the favorably southerly winds enable the Onrust to sail about sixty miles up the river to a point 41 degrees 48 minutes north latitude, just north of the present city of Hartford. The Onrust was unable to proceed any farther north because there the river became very shallow and had a rocky bottom.
Before being forced to turn back, Block and the crew made friends with the Indians living along the edge of the river and became aware of the possibilities of a lucrative fur trade. Block named the river the ‘Versche’ or ‘Fresh Water’ River because of the strong downward current. However, this river eventually came to be known not by its Dutch name but by its Indian name, ‘Connecticut.’
The Indians who populated the river valley belonged to the Algonkian family, and in their language, ‘Connecticut’ was not a proper noun but a phrase: Conne, ‘long;’ tic, ‘tidal river;’ and ut, ‘by’ — ‘by the long tidal river.'”
-Excerpt and (top) image courtesy of the Internet Archive, “Colonial Connecticut,” by Arthur E. Soderlind, 1976