Hendrick van der Heul (14 May 1676 – c. 1762) was a Dutch privateer who served with Captain William Kidd as his quartermaster. He later purportedly led an attempt to traverse the Northwest Passage, during which he and his crew froze to death. Because of references to him as a "small black man", he has sometimes been identified as African-American, which would make his the highest ranking known black pirate. However, his known ancestry is Dutch, and the description may simply mean that he had swarthy skin.
Van der Heul was born in 1676 in New Amsterdam, the site of present-day lower Manhattan, the son of Abraham Jansen van der Heul (d.1702). His mother, Tryntjen Kip, was born in 1633 in Amsterdam and died in 1695. Hendrick married Marritje Meyer, with whom he had five children.
In 1696 The Scottish seafarer William Kidd received letters of Marque from agents of King William III and other prominent English lords to outfit a ship and proceed to the Indian Ocean to find and take from the 5 or 6 known European pirate vessels in those waters any merchant goods they had and eliminate the threat they posed to trade between England and India. Among Kidd's officers was his quartermaster, Hendrick van der Heul. The quartermaster was considered 'second in command' to the captain in pirate culture of this era. It is not clear, however, if van der Heul was the executive officer, because Kidd was a privateer. Quartermasters on pirate vessels were entitled to 2 shares of the booty like the captain, and were elected by the crew. He also was responsible for dividing the shares equally.
Van der Heul is noteworthy because he may have been a dark eyed, dark haired man whom the Dutch termed black, or of African descent. Various works describes him as a "small black Man". If van der Heul was indeed of African ancestry, this fact would make him the highest ranking black pirate so far identified. However, Van der Heul went on to become a master's mate on a merchant vessel out of North Harbor, L.I. and was never convicted of piracy.
Van der Heul moved to Montaukett territory, where he settled and built a family. He became a Masters Mate on a merchant vessel and in 1730 captained a ship north in search of the Northwest Passage, for which a prize of £20,000 was being offered.
The apocryphal English trading ship Octavius, a merchant vessel, became his purported first and last command. Sailing to the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay in northeastern Canada, Hendrick set about finding a route to the Pacific.
Confounded by weather, He sailed around the world to and from the Orient. In 1762, The Octavius reportedly hazarded the passage from the west at Point Barrow, Alaska, which cleared of ice sporadically. But the ship became trapped in sea ice. In 1775, the whaler Herald out of North Harbor, L.I. found the Octavius adrift near Greenland with the bodies of her crew frozen below decks. Thereby the Octavius and Captain Hendrick van der Heul may have earned the distinction of being the first captain and sailing ship to make the northwest passage. He achieved a place in fictional lore, as the story was used as the basis for a search for Kidd's treasure in the game Assassin's Creed.
The tale has been dubbed a myth and other sources point to the similarities between the Octavius and the Gloriana, the original ship name in this story, in a newspaper article that was found in 1905 and repeated in 1937. The first explorer to conquer the Northwest Passage solely by ship was the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. In a three-year journey between 1903 and 1906 he transversed the passage in a shallow draft herring boat, the Gjoa. It wasn't until 2009 that a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Schooner the St. Roch, piloted by Henry Larsen became the second to sail the passage, crossing from west to east. Due to global warming, the passage has increasingly become available for commercial traffic, saving thousands of nautical miles of transit. The Canadian government, however, have required all ships making the voyage to notify them for permission first.