Profile of the Day: Matthew Henson

Posted April 6, 2018 by Amanda | No Comment
Profile of the Day: Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson

On this day in 1909, Arctic explorers Robert E. Peary and Matthew Henson became the first men to reach the North Pole. Henson is remembered as the first African-American Arctic explorer and assisted Peary for nearly 23 years on his explorations of the Arctic.

Henson was born on August 8, 1866 on his parents’ farm near the Potomac River in Charles County, Maryland. His parents were sharecroppers and free people of color before the American Civil War. Orphaned at a young age, Henson left home around the age of 11 and became a cabin boy on a ship where the captain taught him to read and write. Henson was working as a store clerk when he first met Robert E. Peary, who recruited Henson to join his surveying expedition to Nicaragua after learning of his experience at sea. The voyage would mark the beginning of a long working relationship between the men that would span for over 20 years.

On April 6, 1909, Peary, Henson and their team arrived at the North Pole. In 1912, Henson published his memoire, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, which chronicled his arctic explorations. Over his long career, Henson came to master the Inuit language and become very skilled in driving the dog sleds in the Inuit way. His mastery of these skills were of great importance to the success of their Arctic explorations. Unfortunately, for decades after, Henson’s contributions were largely ignored.

Henson died on March 9, 1955 in New York at the age of 88 and was buried in the Bronx. In 1987, he and his wife’s remains were reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of his contributions to Arctic exploration.

Explore Matthew Henson’s family tree on Geni and share your connection to the Arctic explorer.

View Matthew Henson’s Geni Profile

Image: Library of Congress

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