The Life and Times of Matthew Alexander Henson

An American Explorer

Fleeing to new Horozings

Matthew Alexander Henson

August 6, 1866 - March 9 1955

An American Explorer who discovered the North pole.


August 08, 1866

Born in Charles County, Maryland as the only child to Lemuel and Caroline Henson.

Fleeing to new Horizing


Matthew Alexander Henson's mother died when he was born. After this Henson's father was remarried to Henson's stepmoter who was described as cruel. Henson's mother was abusive and because of this he felt forced to run away to Washington D.C., area, Henson found work as a kitchen helper at a small cafe where one of the patrons was a sailor named Baltimore, Maryland, to find a job on the waterfront.

Henson's first job

August 8, 1879

When first became a cabin boy on the merchant vessel, Katie Hines, are better document. An elderly seaman named Captain Childs, who ran the ship , educated Henson in several areas, including mathmatics, the bible, and the classics. During the six years in which he traveled the seas to such countries as China, Europe, and North Africa. Henson became an able-bodied seaman with the help of Child's tutoring. He returned to the United States when Childs died and worked a series of jobs, eventually going back to Washington, D.C. In 1887, while he was employed on a hat store as a stock clerk, Henson was introduced to the U.S. Navy Lieutenant Robert E. Peary, who hired him as his valet on the store owner's recommendation. Peary and Henson's association would last well over tweo decades and would include a surveying trip to Nicaragua and seven Northern expeditions. Shortly before leaving on his last polar voyage in 1907, Henson married ALucy Ross, a clerk in a New York.

A whole Century of Research


Late twetienth-century schlarship about the expedition has benn devoted to debate to over wheather Peary adequatly poved his claim that thegroup had not yet reached the North Pole, His behavior toward Henson upon his retuen was courious; Herbert wrote that ungloved his hand to congraulate Peary, but noted that " a gust of wind blew something in {Peary's} eye .... and without both hands covering his eyes, he {went to take a nap and} gave up orders to not let him sleep for more than four hours." If the oiriginal Camp Jesup site was accurate, scholars surmise that Henson did reach the Pole first, which may have comefrom another source: the realization that after his dangerous and difficult journey, he had not to lecture publicly about the discovery of the North Pole. The two men did not maintain contact throughout the rest of their lives, but Henson was reported to have wept at Peary's death and put flowerss on his grave.

Spoting a new horizon

April 6, 1909

Peary, Henson, and four eskimos named Ootah, Egingwah, Seegloo, and Oooqueah were the only members of the expedition to reach the North Pole. Breaking the trail for Peary, Henson arrived at the Camp Jesup site 45 minutes ahead of the Commander. " I think I'm the first man to sit on top of the world," Henson told Peary, as reported by Wally Hebert in the National Geographic. Peary did not give Henson much response, and Pole. Peary planted the American flag at the top of the igloo and , without telling Henson, left the camp several hours later accompanied by Egingwah and Seegloo. Herbert speculated that Peary probably realized his erroe and tried to remedy his mistake.

The journey for Searching New Beginings


The trek to the North Pole was a treacherous journey that 413 nautical miles. Throughout earlier unsuccessful attempts to reach their destination, Henson, a versatile assisstance, had become an invaluable member of Peary's crew. Ayres wrote that Peary said of Henson, "He must go with me. I cannot make it without him". Serving as a combination blacksmith, carpenter, dog trainer, hunter, adn interpreter, Henson was the only member of the party to learn the Eskimo langauge. The Artic natives called him Maye-Palq, " the kind", and he was credited with sole responsibility for convincing the Eskimos for companies, speaking their language, dressing in the same kind of clothes, living in the same kind of dens, eating the smae food, enjoying their pleasures, and frequently sharing thier griefs. I have come to love these people."

The Begining of the Racial Conflict


Consistent with the racial attitudes of the time, Peary came home to lucrative awards and honors while Henson sttruggled to find work. Ironically, Peary was appointed to the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, but Henson parked cars in a New York garage, publishing his autobiography against Peary's wishes because he needed the money. After black leaders pressured President William Howard Thaftin 1913, Henson recieved a civil service appointment as amessanger boy in a U.S. Customs House in New York City. He remained at the Customs House 20 years, retired on a small stiped of $1,020, and died in 1955 at the age of 88.

Henson recieves his respect


Henson recieved national attention towrad the end of his life with the 1947 publication of Dark Companion. In 1950 President Harry S. Truman saluted him at a White House ceremony, and he was eventually admitted to the Explorers Club. In addtion to honorary degrees from Howard University and Morgan State College, President Dwight D. Eisenhower be burried as a public hero in Arlington National Cemetary upon his death, their request was denied on the grounds that Henson had never served in the military.

African American's continue to rise to eqaul rights

January 1, 1955

In the late 1980s, Dr S. Allen, Alen Counter, director of the Harvard( University) Foundation and promoter of black historical figures, petitioned President Ronold Reagan to have Henson reinterred at Arlington. Counter was the scholar who, while doing research in neurophysiology in Sweaden, discovered that Henson and Peary had both fathered their only sons among the Eskimos. After President Regan granted the request in 1987, Counter and Ebony publisher John H. Johnson raised the funds for Henson's Eskimos son Anaukaq and his family as well as Henson's American relatives to be present at the ceremony. Though Peary's American family was also invited, only his American-Eshimo relatives attended the service on April 6, 1988. An article in the New York Times related, "Sevently nine years to the day after he reached tha North Pole with (Commander) Robert E. Peary only to spend most of the rest of his life in historical oblivion, Matthew Alexander Henson was given a hero's burial today in Arlington National Cememtery." Couner's eylogy, a writer in Ebony conjectured, " summed up the feelings of most of those in attendance." It stated in part ," Matthew Henson we give you the long overdue reconition you deserve. We lay you to rest to right a tragic wrong, to correct a shameful record."