Timeline Description: Matthew Henson was known as the first African-American to explore the Arctic. He traveled with Robert Peary for several voyages and went on many expeditions, including the first known trek to the North Pole.
|August 8, 1866||Matthew Henson is born
Matthew Henson was born in Maryland on a sharecropper's farm. He was born to free people of color who were free even before the Civil War.
|1868||Life at sea
When Matthew Henson was twelve years old, he left home and traveled to Baltimore, Maryland. He began working under a Captain named Childs as a cabin boy on a ship called Katie Hines, and they traveled to China, Japan, France, Africa, and more.
|1887||A chance meeting
Matthew left his life at sea behind, and he began working at a clothing store in Washington D.C. While serving customers, Henson met Commander Robert E. Peary, an explorer; Peary recruited Henson to work on an expedition in Nicaragua.
|1890||Expedition to the Arctic
After several years of gathering funding, Commander Peary invited Matthew along on his expedition to the Arctic. Matthew agreed to come along, even though he wouldn't be paid for his work.
Henson spent several months with Peary in Greenland. They explored unmapped regions of the country, in spite of medical interferences.
After years of exploring Greenland and figuring out a way to reach the North Pole, Henson and Peary set about building a special ship. The ship was named Roosevelt, and it would be able to smash through the ice in Greenland's frozen waters.
During an attempt to reach the pole, Matthew Henson and Peary's team was forced back because of bad weather. But they reached the farthest northern point ever recorded in history up to that point.
|February 22, 1909||Another try
Again, Henson and Peary began their journey toward the North Pole. They set out with around twenty-four men and over one hundred dogs.
|April 6, 1909||A victorious expedition
After sickness and injury, Matthew Henson was forced to leave his partner Commander Peary behind. He trekked forward and became the first person to reach the North Pole.
Henson and Peary returned home with their claim to the North Pole, and an investigation followed. The investigation was led by navigation experts from the United States and other organizations, including National Geographic.
The Matthew Henson autobiography was published by the Frederick A. Stokes Co. of New York. In it, Henson revealed that he was inspired by Booker T. Washington to do something that would bring recognition to African-Americans around the world.
|1924||Master of Science
Matthew Henson's experiences with Peary continued to earn him honors and recognition over many years. He was presented an honorary Master of Science degree by Morgan State College in 1924.
|1937||The Explorers Club
Other awards continued pouring in for Henson. In 1937 he was elected to membership with the Explorers Club in New York. In 1938 he had a glacier named after him in Greenland, the Henson Gletscher/Glacier.
|1948||Geographic Society of Chicago honors
Henson was presented with a gold medal to commemorate his achievements with Peary. They said Henson was the "first Negro in [America] to be honored for a scientific achievement in geography."
At the age of 88, Matthew Henson died in New York. His work and achievements continue to be recognized even decades after his death, including the bestowment of medals, plaques, and other honors.