Tuesday, December 25, 2007
HENSON, MATTHEW Dismissed for years as the "servant" of Commander Robert E. Peary, Matthew A. Henson (1866-1955) was in reality Peary's companion and assistant who not only accompanied him on his Arctic voyages but also made possible Peary's "discovery" of the North Pole on April 6, 1909. When the Peary expedition was within five hundred miles of the Pole, Henson and his four Eskimo guides were chosen over five other white support teams to complete the final leg in Peary's now famous trans-arctic adventure. One of the white support team leaders, Donald MacMillan, later recalled why Henson was chosen: "He was the most popular man aboard the ship with the Eskimos. He could talk their language like a native. Henson, the colored man, went to the Pole with Peary because he was a better man than any of his white assistants." A native of Maryland, Henson was belatedly and posthumously honored as "co-discoverer" of the North Pole by a bill passed in the Maryland state legislature in 1961. A bronze plaque to that effect now hangs in the Maryland State House in Annapolis.