|Matthew A. Henson|
|Born||August 8, 1866
Nanjemoy, Maryland, USA
|Died||March 9, 1955 (aged 88)
New York, Bronx, USA
Matthew Alexander Henson (August 8, 1866 – March 9, 1955) was an African American explorer and associate of Robert Peary during various expeditions, the most famous being a 1909 expedition which claimed to be the first to reach the Geographic North Pole.
Henson was born on a farm in Nanjemoy, Maryland on August 8, 1866. He was still a child when his parents Lemuel and Caroline died, and at the age of twelve he went to sea as a cabin boy on a merchant ship. He sailed around the world for the next several years, educating himself and becoming a skilled navigator.
Henson met Commander Robert E. Peary in November 1887 and joined him on an expedition to Nicaragua ,with 4 other people that Peary chose. Impressed with Henson’s seamanship, Peary recruited him as a colleague. For years they made many trips together, including Arctic voyages in which Henson traded with the Inuit and mastered their language, built sleds, and trained dog teams. In 1909, Peary mounted his eighth attempt to reach the North Pole, selecting Henson to be one of the team of six who would make the final run to the Pole. Before the goal was reached, Peary could no longer continue on foot and rode in a dog sled. Various accounts say he was ill, exhausted, or had frozen toes. In any case, he sent Henson on ahead as a scout. In a newspaper interview Henson said: “I was in the lead that had overshot the mark a couple of miles. We went back then and I could see that my footprints were the first at the spot.” Henson then proceeded to plant the American flag.
Although Admiral Peary received many honors, Henson was largely ignored and spent most of the next thirty years working as a clerk in a federal customs house in New York. But in 1944 Congress awarded him a duplicate of the silver medal given to Peary. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower both honored him before he died in 1955.
In 1912 Matthew Henson wrote the book A Negro Explorer at the North Pole about his arctic exploration. Later, in 1947 he collaborated with Bradley Robinson on his biography Dark Companion. The 1912 book, along with an abortive lecture tour, enraged Peary who had always considered Henson no more than a servant and saw the attempts at publicity as a breach of faith.
In 1961 an honorary plaque was installed to mark his Maryland birthplace.
Henson married Lucy Ross in 1906.
During their expeditions, both Henson and Peary fathered children with Inuit women, two of whom were brought to the attention of the American public by S. Allen Counter, who met them on a Greenland expedition.
With an Inuit woman named Akatingwah, Matthew Henson fathered his only child, a son named Anauakaq. After 1909 Henson never saw Akatingwah or his son again, though he did receive updates about them from other explorers for a time. Anauakaq, who died in 1987, arrived in the United States with Kali Peary, Robert Peary's son, on May 29, 1987, to visit his father's family and grave site. Anaukaq and his wife, Aviaq, had five sons who, in turn, had many children of their own who still reside in Greenland.
Matthew Henson is also a relative of actress Taraji P. Henson ("The Division", Hustle & Flow), and Annapolis, Maryland native and film Director Stanley V. Henson, Jr. who recently worked with Bill Cosby and Dick Gregory on "Sow your dreams" which includes an appearance by Taraji P. Henson.
The Explorers Club, under its "polar" President Vilhjalmur Stefansson, invited Henson to join its ranks in 1937. Eleven years later the Club reconsidered Henson's membership and instead awarded Henson its highest rank of Honorary Member, an honor reserved for no more than 20 living members at a time.
On November 28, 2000, the National Geographic Society awarded the Hubbard Medal to Matthew A. Henson posthumously. Dr. S. Allen Counter petitioned the National Geographic Society for many years to present its most prestigious medal to Henson. He attended the ceremony with Audrey Mebane, Henson's 74-year-old great-niece. The medal was presented at the newly named Matthew A. Henson Earth Conservation Center (MAHECC) in Washington, D.C., and accompanied a scholarship given in Henson's name by NGS.
The Matthew Henson Earth Conservation Center in Washington, D.C. is named for him, as are Matthew Henson State Park in Aspen Hill, Maryland, Matthew Henson Middle School in Pomonkey, Maryland, Matthew Henson Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland and Matthew Henson Elementary School in Palmer Park, Maryland. Matthew Henson lived for a time in the landmark Dunbar Apartments in Harlem, in New York City.
Henson's exploits and life were portrayed in the 1998 TV movie Glory & Honor. Henson was played by Delroy Lindo, and Henry Czerny played Robert Peary. The film won a Primetime Emmy and a Golden Satellite Award for Lindo's performance as Henson.