Thursday, March 26, 2020

Did Henry Hudson See American Fairies??


This is one of the more attractive claims of a famous person contacting dwarf-like people. It is a claim which appears all over the internet. Did it happen? 

Here's the story as claimed: Henry Hudson was on early sailing missions to the New World, and ends up cruising the eastern seaboard and go up the to-be-named Hudson River looking for a passage to the "Northwest" and a shorter path to the Orient. While going up the Hudson, he and his crew allegedly encountered the North American version of the European dwarves. 

The claim is that Hudson and his men during the 1609 expedition encountered many native peoples along the Connecticut coast and day-by-day up the River. These people were sometimes friendly sometimes not. As the River narrowed, headway became basically impossible, and Hudson sent men on shore (he had done this previously) to see what he could learn. At the last stop, he encountered a dwarf people playing music, dancing around a fire, and drinking. They were small (c.2-3 feet tall) and dark complected, and quite hairy, especially regarding facial hair. After merry-making to no practical end, Hudson and his men turned back down river and ultimately returned back to Europe. The claim was that anyone could read this material in Hudson's own trip diaries.

Well, Great, eh? 

The trouble with this is that I can't find any source for the story which is credible. I ploughed through all of Hudson's diaries line-by-line and right up the river --- nothing.

I had a very bad memory which excited me about this thing before I dipped into it. I thought that it was a Janet Bord case, and so felt extremely confident that the research was good. But the excellent Ms. Bord was NOT the claim author. Who then was? 

I went to the internet hopefully. I looked at ten resources (it might have really been more.) The claim was all over. 8 of the ten came to the same source: some essay by a person named S E Schlosser. This person writes the tale in fine detail, leaving the reader to believe that this is definitely in Hudson's notes. I don't like to call names, so I'll leave it there. THE ALLEGED REFERENCE DOES NOT (TO MY READING) EXIST. 

The other two references go back to a legitimate source: Charles M. Skinner. MYTHS and LEGENDS of OUR OWN LAND. 1896. In THAT book there is still no listing/description  of a Henry Hudson interaction, but rather a linking of interactions with fairies with Rip Van Winkle, who is clearly a fiction character. Still, try as I might to coalesce the Rip Van Winkle tale with the Henry Hudson story (the resource clumsily smears the two awkwardly and obviously fictionally),  I can't see this as an excuse for the previously mentioned sloppy claims.

Good Lord I hate this sort of thing. Is there any way to save this post entry? I think that we can. I have, by an odd piece of good fortune, two somewhat unusual resources which could help.  The first is below: 

This is just a serendipity. In this volume of the Bureau of Ethnology is a long study by a great ethnologist named Frank Speck. Here he was (early in the 1900s and the late 1800s) studying a remnant of Native American persons in the New York and Connecticut region. One of the people he extensively interviewed was a very old woman, who was perhaps "the last of the Mohegan-speaking people." (Speck thought so)

Speck's passion was the preservation of the cultural histories and languages of "disappearing peoples." Finding the last surviving speaker of a language was the ultimate in his quest. That speaker was Fidelia Fielding.

 She lived alone on her small plot of land, tending her gardens and bemoaning the state of the world as she saw it. She kept a rudimentary diary in her near-extinct language, and, simplistic as most entries were, it was for me fascinating. This grand old lady had a direct and clear-eyed view of things and was willing to write bits of that down. 

It was, however, not in her diary, but in interviews conducted by Speck, that she informed him about the Little People who had frequented this area in older times. 

Speck was quite interested in all of this, and had collected other such tales from Native Americans of slightly different linguistic stocks living nearby. Perhaps, just perhaps, these memories of "dwarf indians" living or appearing nearby and even in these Hudson River locations reflect something about the Henry Hudson claims which began this post. 

I'm going to post Speck's map of the local remnant linguistic areas below, which show the various types of people reporting, and note that beyond the map to the northwest are areas of forested hills quite near and like the Catskills today, which abut the Hudson River valley. Then I'll try to describe these dwarves.

What were these creatures like? According to Mrs. Fielding, they were like "little indians" about the size of small boys. They were dark complected and hairier than local indians. They cared about nature. They would sometimes interact with humans, but usually did not want to. When they DID want to, it was to get some favor. If granted, they gave something back in return. In these latter ways, they were astonishingly like British gnomes or what Agricola would have called Coballos of the rural and forested areas. She called the dwarves "makiawisag" in the Mohegan language. Best translation?: The Little Boys or The Little People.

Can we say much more? Mrs. Fielding, although she cited actual people who had lived around her plot, stated that the people who had personally seen these little indians had passed away, and no one had probably seen the creatures for several decades. (including of course herself --- Mrs Fielding said that the only fairy-like thing that she perhaps had seen was a Will-o-the-Wisp like light which had moved slowly and mysteriously in the hills nearby.) But, maybe, there are other sources not in this volume.

John Roth is a marvel and a huge storehouse of Native American fairy lore. If you are interested in these matters, you should own a copy of his book. 

Roth classifies cultural groups as do the professionals, and then lists however many little people (and other related folklore) references he has been able to find --- which are always MORE than anyone can delve into. Under "The Algic of Southern New England", Roth not only lists the Mohegan culture and its neighbors, but also has (already) heard of Speck's talking with Mrs. Fielding. There is probably little that is factual that he does not know. 

It turns out that there are many folktales of Little People up and down the coast, and they differ in detail. This was interesting, but it gave me problems: did makiawisag equate to any of the others? I can't solve it. But I'll BS a try and then you can dive in and do better. 

If I was making my best guess as to a compromise appearance of these entities, it would be:
two to two-and-a-half feet tall, dark-complected Native American appearance, but stockier (i.e. more dwarf-like), clad in well-made skins, sometimes only to the waist, facial dark hair, perhaps slightly slimmer than British gnomes, living in hills or old stone pile/fort areas underground, not unkind but not particularly friendly either. 

Many of the other legends picture different looking beings, but I'm trying to center around Mrs. Fielding's opinions here, and add small amounts of cohering detail from elsewhere. THUS:
the following drawing is my cartoon pictorial for her makiawisag.

  ... and what else you should know is that this is another person's rendition of Little People from the American Central Great Lakes and Pacific coast areas. 

Is there any chance that Henry Hudson saw some beings like this? Who knows? There doesn't seem to be any real evidence for that claim. But might the ancestral neighbors of Mrs. Fielding have seen them? THAT is a lot more believable once all the rest of the more modern sightings come in. 

OK. Done again. Harder than I'd planned  ... again. At least this had a happier ending than the last. I might begin to do smaller and smaller chunks of this so I don't burn out. I'll post Leprecat page #2 next time and see if there is anything there worth writing/thinking about. 

Till then ... Bless and Keep you all.


  1. Your return to these ethno-mythological/anthropological studies is off to a great start in recent entries. Be well and safe.

  2. Have you seen this video on the Little People of modern Atlantic Canada?

    1. The documentary begins with a great "feel" to it. The commentator gets the atmosphere just right --- a gentle open-minded adventure in exploring something. But it's over a hour long, and this requires concrete content, so that lovely atmosphere can't be maintained. In several places the content verges on the utter unbelievable or even BS, although the author himself never succumbs to that. Here and there the action becomes truly exploratory again, especially near the end with the MicMac stories and at the halfway point where the laborer fellow (Scottish?) has two of the Little People trying to cut off his shadow --- a wonder-filled concept. I felt most at home with the early-in-the-documentary harpist, who continually surprised me by hitting the right tone both musically but more importantly mindfully. Both she and the documentary-maker would be good people to know and hang around with.



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