Matthew Henson

Widely recognized as the first man to reach the North Pole, Matthew Henson's journey began in the Old Line State. Born in Nanjemoy, Charles County on August 8, 1866, Matthew Alexander Henson began traveling the world at the ripe age of 13. Henson's mother died when he was very young, and his father died shortly after moving the family to Georgetown, right outside of Washington DC. Orphaned at age 11, Henson worked odd jobs around DC, until the age of 13 when he reportedly walked to Baltimore City seeking work on a ship in hopes of exploring the world. In 1879, he found himself on an expedition to China on the merchant ship Katie Hines, which set sail from Baltimore's harbor. Years later, after meeting Captain Robert Peary, the two men set out to reach the North Pole in 1891. By that time, Henson had already made expeditions to Japan, Spain, Russia, and Nicaragua. Between 1891 and 1908, Henson and Peary made six attempts at reaching the "top of the world," but with little success. Their final attempt in 1909 proved to be the breakthrough. On April 9, 1909, Henson, Peary and four Eskimos in their party planted the United States flag and other mementos at 89' 57'N, the coordinates they believed were the northern tip of the world. Although later evidence showed that they did not quite reach the extreme pole, no one at that time had traveled as far. It took years for Henson to receive recognition as the "first" man to the Pole, Captain Peary took much of the credit for the journey, and Henson felt no one would believe that he actually arrived at the Pole forty-five minutes before Peary, who was slowed by exhaustion and frostbite. But Henson soon received his due, and was honored in his home state on November 18, 1961, six years after his death on March 9, 1955, with a plaque that hangs in the State House in Annapolis. Henson's plaque was the first state-sponsored memorial honoring an African American.

Article on Henson's accomplishments

Picture of Matthew Henson

Henson Memorial Plaque, State House in Annapolis

September: Maryland General Assembly (1664)

Return Home

This information resource of the Maryland State Archives is presented here for fair use in the public domain. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: Rights assessment for associated source material is the responsibility of the user.

Tell Us What You Think About the Maryland State Archives Website!

[ Archives' Home Page  ||  All About Maryland  ||  Maryland Manual On-Line  ||  Reference & Research
||  Search the Archives   ||  Education & Outreach  ||  Archives of Maryland Online ]

Governor     General Assembly    Judiciary     Maryland.Gov

© Copyright November 18, 2005 Maryland State Archives