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Wed, 08.08.1866

Matthew Henson, Explorer born

Mathew Henson, 1910

*Matthew Henson was born on this date in 1866. He was a Black explorer and member of the 1909 expedition with white-American explorer Robert Peary that is credited with discovering the North Pole.

From Charles County, MD, Matthew Alexander Henson's travels began when he was just a teen. He ran away from home after his parents' death and sailed around the world for six years as a hand aboard the merchant vessel Katie Hines.  Henson was working as a hat store clerk in Washington, D. C., when Peary hired him as a valet.

He traveled with Peary on a survey expedition to Nicaragua in 1897 and accompanied him on seven polar expeditions.  Henson quickly proved indispensable as a navigator in the Arctic and as a translator among the Inuit (also known as Eskimos).

On April 6, 1909, an expedition made up of Peary, Henson, and four Inuit claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole. Henson, who usually broke trail while pulling a sled, may have reached the Pole 45 minutes before Peary, although discovery of the North Pole is usually credited to Peary. In recent years, however, most scholars have concluded that the point the expedition reached was actually at least a few miles from the North Pole.  In 1912, Henson wrote the book, "A Black Explorer at the North Pole". In 1913, President Taft personally recommended Henson's appointment to the United States Customs House in recognition of his exploits in the Arctic.

In 1944 Henson received a joint medal from the Congress of the United States, honoring the Peary expedition to the North Pole. He was also honored by President Truman in 1950 and was admitted to the Explorer's Club, but he passed away in relative obscurity. In 1986, Henson was commemorated on a postage stamp. Two years later he was reburied in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia with full honors.




1001 things everyone should know about African American History
by Jeffery C. Stewart,
Copyright 1996, Doubleday
ISBN 0-385-47309-5

Reference Library of Black America Volumes 1 through 5
Edited by Mpho Mabunda
Copyright 1998, Gale Research, Detroit, MI

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