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A chronology of Henson & Peary

May 6, 1856

  • Robert Edwin Peary born to Charles and Mary Peary in Washington township, Pennsylvania.


  • Father Charles Peary dies, Mary Peary moves back to South Portland, Maine, her birth home, with son Robert. She raises the boy herself in a cottage on Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

August 8, 1866

  • In a cabin near Nanjemoy, Charles County, Maryland. Matthew Alexander Henson, born of Lemuel Henson's second wife. He is Lemuel Henson's 3rd child.


  • Mother dies. Father marries third wife - Nellie, a widowed neighbor. Lemuel Henson has a total of 2-girls and 4-boys. Matt Henson's ancestors are not otherwise known. There was a rumor that Josiah Henson was a close relative of Lemuel's. "Local legend had it that Josiah Henson was the original model from whom Harriet Beecher Stowe drew the immortal Uncle Tom. Josiah Henson was born in Charles County, Maryland, and was a Negro overseer on the farm of Francis Newman near Port Tobacco, but no on accurately could say there was a blood tie between Lemuel and Josiah." (Dark Companion)

1874 (?)

  • Father Lemuel dies. Step mother Nellie beats children.


  • A few months after his 11th birthday Matthew Henson decides to run away after being in bed 3-days from a beating Nellie had given him. He runs away at night and makes his way to Washington, DC. He is taken in by Janey Moore of "Janey's Home-Cooked Meals Cafe". Matt is cared for and paid for his work. A local sailor, Baltimore Jack, fills Matt with stories of the sea and Matt determines to go to sea.

  • Robert Peary, 21, graduates from Bowdoin college with a degree in civil engineering


  • At only age 12 Matt is taken on as a cabin boy by Captain Childs of the Katie Hines. Childs takes special care to educate Matt himself, teaching him literature, mathematics and navigation



  • In December Captain Childs dies. Now age17 Matt leaves the Katie Hines. For two years Matt works odd jobs in Boston, Providence, Buffalo, and New York.

  • At age 19 Matt returns to Washington

  • Peary, now an engineer for the Navy, returns to Washington from Nicaragua after working on the Ship Canal survey.


  • Peary makes his first trip to Greenland. With one companion he explores 120 miles into the interior of the glacial terrain at an altitude of 7,500 feet. He returns to Washington and publishes a report with a plan to traverse Greenland.


  • Lieutenant Peary hires Matthew Henson as his valet for the second proposed Nicaragua Canal route survey. (From Dark Companion: "Matt's position as Peary's "man servant" was short-lived....the survey company...thought (Peary's) reluctance to accompany the expedition was due to the petty discomforts of jungle life. Thus offering Peary the privilege of having a man servant...was an attempt at appeasement by the company officials. Once...in the field and Peary learned that Matt had been trained at sea, and that (he) performed a hundred odd tasks with remarkable ingenuity and dexterity, he was quick to realize Matt would be of greater value assisting the survey party...Peary...promoted Matt to...the transit crew, and from that time to the day Matt and Peary parted, (he) never again actually held the title of "Peary's man servant."




  • The Nicaragua survey party returns to Washington. With the job over Matt goes back to work as a stock boy. Several months later Peary finds a Job for Matt at the League Island Navy Yard In Philadelphia as an errand boy in Peary's office. Henson moves to join Peary.
  • Peary Plans to cross the northern tip of Greenland from West to East coast.
  • Peary is married.
  • The Navy grants Peary 18 months leave for his Greenland trip. Funds have been privately raised. One member, geologist Verhoeff pays $2,000 to come along. Peary asks Henson to join the expedition although he can not pay him. Matt volunteers along with the others.
  • The expedition consists of Lieutenant Peary, his wife Josephine, and Matt Henson. The volunteers were Eivind Astrup, Langdon Gibson, a racist named John Verhoeff, and Fred Cook* a milkman from Brooklyn, New York who claimed to be a doctor. They sail on the ship Kite up to Greenland and make their way into Baffin Bay by July. An accident breaks Peary's leg, crushing two bones. But Peary heals his leg and makes history the following spring by exploring unmapped regions of Greenland.

    *This man, Cook, became jealous of Peary. He spent his life trying to imitate him. In 1909 Cook lied by telling newspapers that he went to the North Pole before Peary & Henson. Cook went to prison in 1922 for stock fraud.
1893 - 1895
  • Kap/Cape Henson (77 degrees, 23 minutes North [latitude], 71 degrees, 18 minutes West [longitude]) in Northwest Greenland, called "Igdlernorssuk" in the Inuit language, is named as a tribute to Matthew Henson by Robert Peary during his North Greenland expedition.


  • Peary and Henson explorer Greenland, mapping the north coast. The entire north tip of Greenland is named Peary Land.

  • Using Ft. Conger as a base they try to find a way over the arctic ocean to the Pole.

  • They learn that the only way to the Pole is over frozen ocean. They become experienced trying to cross it. They learn how dangerous it is, how the ice drifts, how it breaks open, etc. This will later allow them to make successful expeditions farther and farther across the ice.

  • Peary realizes that he needs a special ship to smash through the summer ice along the west coast of Greenland to reach a position where they can launch a spring expedition. But first he has to build such a ship.

  • Peary sets about raising money for his ship.

  • Matt travels around America as a "porter" on the railroads. He sees the lands he had only heard about, meets bitter racism in the south.

  • Peary builds the Roosevelt, an amazingly strong ship that can get them to the arctic ocean, something no one has ever done.

  • They make the second assault on the pole with teams. It is not enough and the weather delivers storms that stop them. They make a new record for "farthest north".
  • Henson Bay (81 degrees, 52 minutes North, 89 degrees, 25 minutes West) in the Canadian Northwest Territories is named by Robert Peary as a tribute to Matthew Henson.
  • The ship is damaged when the rudder is smashed and the propeller bent. They slowly steam home but the ship needs major repairs.
February 22, 1909
  • Peary's party depart their anchored ship, USS Roosevelt, at Cape Sheridan to make the remainder of the journey to the North Pole by dogsled. 24 Men, 130 dogs work as a team to lay supplies and make the trail for Henson & Peary.
April 6, 1909
  • Matthew Alexander Henson is the first man to reach the North Pole during the arctic expedition of Commander Robert Edwin Peary. Peary, who arrived 45 minutes later with the rest of the polar party, claimed the North Pole in the name of the President of the United States.
September 6, 1909
  • Commander Peary announced from Indian Harbor, Labrador, that he and the five members of his polar party - his assistant, Matthew Henson and the four Inuits, Ootah, Egingwah, Seegloo and Ooqueah - had reached the North Pole.



  • Peary's claim to the North Pole was recognized by the National Geographic Society. The investigation of his claim was lead by Henry M. Gannett, geographer of the United States Geological Society, Admiral Colby M. Chester, a navigation expert, and Otto H. Tittmann of the Coast and Geodetic Survey.
  • Henson writes his article about the North Pole trip in a magazine called The Worlds Work.
  • Henson makes lantern slides of his north pole photos and delivers a coast to coast lecture tour.
  • A number of American and foreign geographical societies, including the Royal Geographical Society in London recognized Peary's claim.
  • The Congress of the United States also formally recognized Peary's claim to the North Pole.
February 1912
  • The Frederick A. Stokes Co. of New York publishes Henson's autobiography, A Negro at the North Pole, with a foreword by Robert Peary and an introduction by Booker T. Washington. In this work, Henson acknowledges that he was inspired by Frederick Douglass to make an achievement in life that would bring recognition to all African Americans.


  • Peary dies.

June 5, 1924
  • Morgan State College confers Henson with a honorary Master of Science degree.
  • Henson is elected to membership in the Explorers Club based in New York.


  • Henson Gletscher/Glacier (82 degrees, 20 minutes North, 40 degrees, 00 minutes West) in North Greenland is named as a tribute to Matthew Henson by Lauge Kock, a Danish geologist who made an aerial expedition of northern Greenland.

June 6, 1939

  • Howard University confers on Henson a honorary Master of Science degree.


  • After a five-year search, Herbert M. Frisby locates the cabin in which Henson was born near Nanjemoy, Charles County, MD. While a schoolboy, Frisby, a black Marylander, science teacher, researcher and explorer, had been inspired by Henson's achievement


  • Bradley Robinson publishes Dark Companion, Robert McBride & Co., a biography of Matthew Henson.


  • The Geographic Society of Chicago awards Henson with a gold medal and cites him as "the first Negro in this country to be honored for scientific achievement in the geographical field."

April 6, 1949

  • U.S. Department of Defense gives Henson a citation for his contribution to the discovery of the North Pole


  • Dillard University, New Orleans, LA, names its new gymnasium Henson Hall after Matthew Henson. (Henson Hall still stands, but ceased as a gymnasium once the Albert W. Dent Hall was dedicated on the campus to serve that purpose, March 14, 1970.)

February 9, 1953

  • The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People presents the Explorers Club with a bronze bust of Matthew Henson by John LaFarge during a ceremony at the Wendle Wilkie Memorial Building in New York City.

April 6, 1954

  • Henson is commended at the White House by the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, for his significant contributions to the success of the discovery of the North Pole.

March 9, 1955


  • Henson dies in New York City from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 88, survived by his wife, Lucy Ross Henson. He is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY.
  • A Memorial Resolution is passed by the Maryland General Assembly commending the explorer and lamenting his death.

August 12, 1956

  • In recognition of Matthew Henson's achievement, another black Marylander and explorer, Herbert M. Frisby, flies over the North Pole and drops a steel box containing a U.S. flag, a Maryland State flag, a photograph of Henson, two articles he had written about Henson which appeared in the Afro-American newspaper and an inscribed bronze memorial plaque to Henson.
1960 -1970
  • The civil rights movement led to interest in Black History studies in colleges. Numerous books were published, including "Ahdoolo" which plagiarized Matt's official biography. Lawsuit filed and upheld by the court. Author Bradley Robinson receives settlement for copyright infringement.
  • Dark Companion is republished in paperback by Fawcett.
  • Several derivative Henson books are written - the best one by Dolan.
  • Matt's own 1912 book, now public domain material, is republished in 1969. Two other reprints will follow.
1980 -1990
  • Dr. Allan Counter locates Matt's Inuit descendants in Greenland.
  • Dr. Counter writes an article for the Centennial issue (1988) of National Geographic.
  • Dr. Counter brings the Inuit relatives of both Peary and Henson to the United States.
  • Dr. Counter is instrumental in the reinterment of Henson at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • A 1986 set of US Postal stamps features Henson and Peary's attainment of the Pole.
  • January, 1990: The National Geographic Magazine publishes the report by Admiral Davies of the Navigation Foundation. Titled NEW EVIDENCE PLACES PEARY AT THE POLE it shows previously unknown evidence to prove that Henson & Peary reached 90 degrees North.
1990 - 1999
  • Dark Companion is republished by the biographer's son, Bradley Robinson, and sold online at Amazon.com
  • Henson website created
  • A librarian temporarily confuses the media by releasing his 1,000 page tribute to North Pole hoaxer Fred Cook. The resulting backlash begins the process of vilifying the criminal Cook once and for all.
  • US Navy names an oceanographic survey vessel after Matt - the USNS HENSON
  • The Navy takes Henson relatives for a cruise on the HENSON.
  • The 10th anniversary of Matt's reinterment is commemorated with a wreath laying ceremony.
  • Actor Delroy Lindo portrays Matt Henson in TNT feature film, Glory & Honor, about Matt.
Year 2000
  • Widget Magic creates the first electronic form of Henson's famous 1912 book, A Negro Explorer At The North Pole. This marks the first ever reprint not to tamper with the original text, or to "modernize" the title. A PDF version is given away free on the Internet. A print version is also sold at Amazon.com.

  • Paul Landry reaches the North Pole by dog team within 4 days of the time it took Henson in 1909. His remarkable sledding speeds prove all critics wrong. He finds the Henson record very believable for a skilled dog team driver to achieve.

  • The highly coveted and prestigious HUBBARD MEDAL is awarded posthumously for the first time to Matthew Henson.


  • Inuit Hensons and Pearys take part in the circumnavigation of Greenland by dog sledge.

  • Dr. Allen Counter publishes a new version of Matt's 1912 autobiography.


  • More websites about Henson and Peary come online.

  • More of Peary & Henson's books are republished.

  • A Peary & Henson Foundation is formed to provide educational materials about the great partnership these two men formed and how it changed history.

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