Old Bergen

Chapter I.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

THE strife for commercial supremacy among the nations of the Old World, in the latter part of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries, produced far-reaching results. The mercantile rivalry of the times engendered a spirit of enterprise that resulted in the discovery of a new continent, and the development of a new world.

The difficulties and dangers attending the trade with India, China and Japan, as carried on through the Mediterranean and by the overland route to the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, were so great that the merchants of the day put forth every effort to discover some plan whereby the tediousness and expense of such voyages could be avoided. Expeditions were fitted out to ascertain whether India might not be reached by skirting the coast of Africa, and several attempts were made in this direction. These expeditions proceeded cautiously, pushing to the south, each one somewhat farther than the preceding one, until Vasco De Gama, in the year 1497, succeeded in rounding the southernmost point of Africa and reached the eastern coast of Asia.

Meanwhile the belief had grown that the Far East could be reached by sailing clue west, and the attention of all navigators was turned in this direction. The sagas of the Northmen which told of lands reached in the dim past by sailing in a westerly direction, were corroborated, at least in theory, by the investigations of mariners who gave special thought to the problems of the unknown sea.

At last Columbus, braving the dangers of the "Sea of Darkness" (as the Atlantic was called), which according to the ignorance and superstition of the times was filled with all imaginable horrors and peopled with hideous monsters, proved that such dangers were but imaginary. He determined the correctness of his theory, that the form of the earth was spherical, by sailing westward and reaching, as he thought, the eastern coast of India.

On his return to Spain with evidences of his discovery, new interest was excited, his theory was generally accepted, and his glowing reports stimulated anew the spirit of commercial enterprise. Nations vied with each other in sending expeditions to the west, and the seas which had been regarded with so much terror were now looked upon as affording new opportunities for enlargement of territory, and the development of that wealth and power so eagerly sought after.

According to the laws of the times, any new territory discovered by any navigator became the property of the nation under whose flag he sailed; and the opportunities for the acquisition of new territory and the resultant benefits therefrom, as presented by the report of Columbus, produced the most energetic efforts to secure these advantages. Among those who pursued the search in quest of a direct route to the East were John and Sebastian Cabot, who demonstrated that the prevailing idea, that the land discovered was part of the eastern coast of India, was erroneous; and by their continued explorations they determined the existence of a great continent. The desire to secure the advantages offered by these discoveries was general, and settlements were projected by the different nations on the shores of the New World.

While England was establishing her first permanent settlements in America, and France was following the great rivers and lakes into the interior at the north; and while Spain, her cupidity excited by the tales of fabulous riches, was pushing her explorations in search of the coveted gold throughout the extreme south; the Netherlands had revolted against Spanish rule and established the Dutch Republic. They drove the Spanish and Portuguese from the ocean and built up a trade with India and the East. Companies were formed by their merchants, the better to prosecute their trade; one of which was the East India Company. Eager to secure any trade advantage, and desirous of avoiding the long and tedious voyage around the Cape of Good Hope, this company determined to search for a more direct route to the Indies; and they accordingly secured the services of Henry Hudson, an experienced navigator, to prosecute this search.