All That’s Black: Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson, Explorer:


Born to sharecroppers, who were free people of colour on a farm in Nanjemoy, Md., Matthew Alexander Henson became the first African-American Arctic explorer and is credited by many as the first man to reach the North Pole, in 1909. He began as most of us do, a young child, attending school.

However, Henson left school at the age of 12 to pursue gainful employment. He eventually found work at a department store in Washington, where he met Robert Peary in 1887. Peary was, at the time, working on the Nicaragua Canal and hired Henson on as a personal valet.  In 1891, Henson and Peary went on their first of seven voyages together, to the Arctic.

Soon after, Henson became known as Peary’s “first man” and took up studying Inuit survival techniques, earning the name Mahri-Pahluk. He was known as the only non-Inuit to master driving the dog sleds and dog training in the Inuit way. In 1909, Peary and Henson began the voyage for which they would be most famous. The expedition was large, with 49 women, men and children, 246 dogs and over 70 tons of whale meat. Before the goal was met, Peary became ill and was unable to continue, allowing Henson to be the first man to set foot on the North Pole, where he planted the American Flag. 

In 1937 Henson was admitted as a member of the prestigious Explorers Club in New York City.


By Aprille’ Morris & Emily Burke

Edited By Keshav Kant

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