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Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson

Overview
Matthew Alexander Henson (August 8, 1866 March 9, 1955) was an African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 explorer and associate of Robert Peary
Robert Peary
Robert Edwin Peary, Sr. was an American explorer who claimed to have been the first person, on April 6, 1909, to reach the geographic North Pole...

 during various expeditions, the most famous being a 1909 expedition which it was discovered that he was the the first person to reach the Geographic North Pole.

Henson was born on a farm in Nanjemoy, Maryland
Nanjemoy, Maryland
Nanjemoy is a settlement along Maryland Route 6 in southwestern Charles County, Maryland, United States, and the surrounding large rural area more or less bounded by Nanjemoy Creek to the east and north, and the Potomac River to the south and west. It and the creek draw their names from a Native...

 on August 8, 1866. He was still a child when his parents Lemuel and Caroline died. He was sent to live with his uncle, who payed for his education until he died.
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Encyclopedia
Matthew Alexander Henson (August 8, 1866 March 9, 1955) was an African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 explorer and associate of Robert Peary
Robert Peary
Robert Edwin Peary, Sr. was an American explorer who claimed to have been the first person, on April 6, 1909, to reach the geographic North Pole...

 during various expeditions, the most famous being a 1909 expedition which it was discovered that he was the the first person to reach the Geographic North Pole.

Life


Henson was born on a farm in Nanjemoy, Maryland
Nanjemoy, Maryland
Nanjemoy is a settlement along Maryland Route 6 in southwestern Charles County, Maryland, United States, and the surrounding large rural area more or less bounded by Nanjemoy Creek to the east and north, and the Potomac River to the south and west. It and the creek draw their names from a Native...

 on August 8, 1866. He was still a child when his parents Lemuel and Caroline died. He was sent to live with his uncle, who payed for his education until he died. After his uncles death, Matthew got a job as a dishwasher at "Janey's Home-Cooked Meals Cafe". At the age of twelve he went to sea as a cabin boy on a merchant ship called Katie Hines. The captain, Captain Childs, took Matthew under his wing and thought of him as his son. Childs and Matthew were close for a long time. Matthew sailed around the world for the next several years. He visited places such as China, Japan, the Phillipines, France, Africa, and southern Russia, 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
Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

 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.

Henson died in the Bronx
The Bronx
The Bronx is the northernmost of the five boroughs of New York City. It is also known as Bronx County, the last of the 62 counties of New York State to be incorporated...

 on March 9, 1955, at the age of 88, and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery; after her death in 1968, his wife Lucy was buried with him. In 1988, the Hensons' remains were both exhumed and reburied at Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, is a military cemetery in the United States of America, established during the American Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, formerly the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's wife Mary Anna Lee, a great...

, near the grave of Admiral Peary and his wife. In 1961 an honorary plaque was installed to mark his Maryland birthplace.


Family


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
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

 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
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

.

The "discovery" of Anauakaq and Kali and their meeting with their Henson and Peary relatives were documented in a book and documentary entitled North Pole Legacy: Black, White and Eskimo.

Matthew Henson is also a relative of actress Taraji P. Henson
Taraji P. Henson
Taraji Penda Henson is an American actress and singer. She is best known for her roles as Yvette in Baby Boy , Shug in Hustle and Flow and Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button , for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2009...

 ("The Division", Hustle & Flow), and the great-great uncle of Annapolis, Maryland native and film Director Stanley V. Henson, Jr.  who is the great-great grandson of Matthew Henson's brother and recently worked with Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby
William Henry "Bill" Cosby, Jr. is an American comedian, actor, author, television producer, educator, musician and activist. A veteran stand-up performer, he got his start at various clubs, then landed a starring role in the 1960s action show, I Spy. He later starred in his own series, the...

 and Dick Gregory
Dick Gregory
Richard Claxton "Dick" Gregory is an American comedian, social activist, social critic, writer, and entrepreneur....

 on "Sow your dreams" which includes an appearance by Taraji P. Henson. Matthew Henson's father Lemuel Henson is Stanley V. Henson, Jr's great-great-great grandfather.

Honors


The Explorers Club
The Explorers Club
The Explorers Club is a professional society dedicated to scientific exploration of Earth, its oceans, and outer space. Founded in 1904 in New York City, it currently has 30 branches world wide...

, under its "polar" President Vilhjalmur Stefansson
Vilhjalmur Stefansson
Vilhjalmur Stefansson was a Canadian Arctic explorer and ethnologist.-Early life:Stefansson, born William Stephenson, was born at Gimli, Manitoba, Canada, in 1879. His parents had emigrated from Iceland to Manitoba two years earlier...

, 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 May 28, 1986, the United States Postal Service
United States Postal Service
The United States Postal Service is an independent agency of the United States government responsible for providing postal service in the United States...

 issued a 22 cent postage stamp
Postage stamp
A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are made from special paper, with a national designation and denomination on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side...

 in honor of Henson and Peary; they were previously honored in 1959, but not by name.

On April 6, 1988 Henson was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, is a military cemetery in the United States of America, established during the American Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, formerly the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's wife Mary Anna Lee, a great...

 near Peary's monument. Many members from his American family and his Inuit family (Anauakaq's children) were in attendance.

In October 1996, the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 commissioned USNS Henson, a Pathfinder class
Pathfinder class survey ship
The Pathfinder class survey ships are owned by the United States Navy and operated by Military Sealift Command for the Naval Oceanographic Office . They have entirely civilian crews, including scientists from NAVOCEANO .-References:*...

 Oceanographic Survey Ship, in honor of Matthew Henson.

On November 28, 2000, the National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
The National Geographic Society , headquartered in Washington, D.C. in the United States, is one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world. Its interests include geography, archaeology and natural science, the promotion of environmental and historical...

 awarded the Hubbard Medal
Hubbard Medal
The Hubbard Medal is awarded by the National Geographic Society for distinction in exploration, discovery, and research. The medal is named for Gardiner Greene Hubbard, first National Geographic Society president.-Recipients:...

 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.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, and accompanied a scholarship given in Henson's name by NGS.

The Matthew Henson Earth Conservation Center in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 is named for him, as are Matthew Henson State Park
Matthew Henson State Park
Matthew Henson State Park is a greenway along the Turkey Branch of Rock Creek in Aspen Hill, Maryland. The park takes its name from arctic explorer Matthew Henson. A hiking/biking trail through the park was completed in 2009. The state park is managed by Montgomery County under an agreement with...

 in Aspen Hill, Maryland
Aspen Hill, Maryland
Aspen Hill is a census-designated place and an unincorporated area in Montgomery County, Maryland. It got its name from aspen trees that once were found near the first post office in the area...

, Matthew Henson Middle School
Matthew Henson Middle School
Matthew Henson Middle School is a public middle school located in Pomonkey, Maryland in Charles County.The school was originally dedicated in 1957 as Pomonkey High School, a segregated black junior/senior high 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
Dunbar Apartments
Constructed in 1926, the Dunbar Apartments are a set of buildings in North-Central Harlem in New York City, built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to provide housing for African Americans. The apartments were designed by architect Andrew J. Thomas, noted for his designs in the community of Jackson...

 in Harlem
Harlem
Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, which since the 1920s has been a major African-American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands...

, in New York City.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante
Molefi Kete Asante
Molefi Kete Asante is an African-American scholar, historian, and philosopher. He is a leading figure in the fields of African American studies, African Studies and Communication Studies...

 listed Matthew Henson on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans
100 Greatest African Americans
100 Greatest African Americans is a biographical dictionary of the one hundred historically greatest African Americans , as assessed by Molefi Kete Asante in 2002.-Criteria:...

.

Legacy


Henson's exploits and life were portrayed in the 1998 TV movie Glory & Honor. Henson was played by Delroy Lindo
Delroy Lindo
Delroy George Lindo is an English actor and theatre director. Lindo has been nominated for the Tony and Screen Actors Guild awards and has won a Satellite Award...

, and Henry Czerny
Henry Czerny
- Career :Czerny received formal training at the National Theatre School in Montreal. After graduating in 1982, he went on to perform onstage across Canada, from Ottawa's National Arts Centre to Edmonton's Citadel Theatre and the Stratford Festival. By the late 1980s, he had established himself as...

 played Robert Peary. The film won a Primetime Emmy and a Golden Satellite Award for Lindo's performance as Henson.

Henson's role in polar expeditions was part of E.L. Doctorow's book Ragtime
Ragtime (novel)
Ragtime is a 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow. This work of historical fiction is primarily set in the New York City area from about 1900 until the United States entry into World War I in 1917...

.

Reference

  • Miles, J. H., Davis, J. J., Ferguson-Roberts, S. E., and Giles, R. G. (2001). Almanac of African American Heritage. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall Press.
  • Potter, J. (2002). African American Firsts. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Corp.

External links