Four centuries ago, Adriaen Block, the Dutch navigator and trader, set sail from New York Bay into uncharted waters aboard a new, untested vessel.
Block had previously made four voyages to the Northeast in order to establish a fur-trading network with Native Americans and to chart the coastal waters and rivers Henry Hudson had surveyed for the Dutch a few years earlier. But the year leading up to 1614 had been full of uncertainty for Block. While wintering at New York Bay between 1613 and 1614, Block’s original vessel, the Tyger, caught fire and burned to the waterline. From the ashes and salvaged remains of this vessel, Block and his crew built a new ship in the frigid winter.
Onrust Tours and Cruises
Connecticut River Museum
67 Main St. | Essex
Through early October
The new vessel was named Onrust, Dutch for “unrest” or “restlessness.”
During the ship’s maiden voyage, Block explored the East River, becoming the first known European to navigate that river’s treacherous Hellegat (Hell Gate) and to enter Long Island Sound, sailing what would become Connecticut’s waters. Moving up the Sound he located the Housatonic and Thames rivers and sailed up the mighty Connecticut River, past the site of present-day Hartford, whose eponymous Adriaen’s Landing is home to the Connecticut Convention Center and the Connecticut Science Center.
That historic voyage was recreated on a June evening when members of the media were invited aboard a replica of the vessel as it arrived in Connecticut for the first time from its homeport in New York state. The Connecticut River Museum in Essex will host the Onrust until early October. The vessel will be available for cruises Thursdays through Mondays at 1:30, 3:30 and 6 p.m., and tours when not cruising.
“It’s been 403 years since the Onrust has been here,” Christopher Dobbs, executive director of the Connecticut River Museum, says at the start of the recreation’s “return” voyage. “This is a momentous day and such a historic day for the river itself and for the Connecticut River Museum to be able to host the Onrust.”
The building of this second Onrust was led by New York-based nonprofit the Onrust Project. Before building the vessel, the Onrust Project conducted extensive research, during which traditional Dutch shipbuilding techniques were rediscovered. More than 250 volunteers participated in the build of the vessel launched in 2009 at the Mabee Farm Historic Site in Rotterdam, New York. The voyage to Connecticut is the Onrust’s longest to date.
Press and other dignitaries boarded the vessel in Old Saybrook and were treated to a ride. Though the recreated boat traveled the river with the help of a motor, when cruising in the vessel, it was easy to imagine what that first voyage had been like long ago. At the start, Walter W. Woodward, Connecticut’s state historian, discusses the original Onrust’s significance.
“Then, as now, the word ‘restless’ had many meanings and all of them would apply to the world this little vessel made,” says Woodward as the vessel departed Old Saybrook. “A generation of restless Europeans, constantly in motion, continually operating, never ceasing or pausing, both Dutch and English, would come to this river. First, in search of trade with the indigenous people, and soon after, in quest of their lands.”
He adds, “For those already here, the arrival of the Onrust heralded a new native restlessness. First, as the indigenous people jostled with each other for control of the distribution of European trade goods, sharp metal tools, imported cloth and other rarities, and later, to fight the efforts of these insurgents to drive them from their home. For them the arrival of Onrust brought centuries of restlessness, literally unrest, frequent wars, sickness and turmoil.”
Block’s original voyage had a profound impact on what would become Connecticut and U.S. history.
On a famous map of the region made after the voyage, he named Block Island after himself and dubbed the area he had explored — including parts of modern New England — New Netherland.
The recent partial recreation of that voyage is less momentous, but not fully lacking in drama. Near its start, Old Saybrook’s first selectman, Carl P. Fortuna Jr., who was riding on the vessel, announces he had just told Norman Needleman, Essex’s first selectman, that we were on our way “with cannon,” referring to the small cannon on board that are similar to what Block and his crew would have been equipped with. These weapons proved more useful than anticipated.
During the voyage, the Onrust attracted notice from modern boats traveling the river. Several pulled close by to take pictures of the ship with it sails unfurled against the fading light of early evening. One vessel drew near before playfully setting off a small firework as if to challenge the boat. It was good natured, but the Onrust is not to be bandied with. A few minutes later the crew let loose two (empty) cannon shots. The sound of these explosions rang across the river, a booming and exciting herald of the vessel’s arrival in Connecticut, and one that, as is fitting, caused some unrest.