"Matthew Henson" New York Public Library Digital Collections.

United States – Matthew Alexander Henson, Arctic Explorer

Matthew Alexander Henson was born in Maryland on August 8, 1866, to sharecroppers who were free before the American Civil War. In 1878 at the age of twelve, Henson worked as a cabin boy on Katie Hines, a merchant ship that traveled to ports in Africa, China, Japan, and the Russian Arctic seas. While aboard, Captain Childs taught him to read and write.

In November 1887, when he was 21 years old, Henson met Commander Robert E. Peary while working at B.H. Stinemetz and Sons, a clothing retailer in Washington D.C. During that visit, Peary learned about Henson’s sea experience and recruited him for his upcoming expedition to Nicaragua. Impressed with Nelson’s work ethic, skills, and ability to find solutions to problems, Peary included Henson on all his future expeditions, including the 1908-1909 trip to the North Pole. Commander Robert Peary took the glory, but Henson detailed what happened in his memoir, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, published in 1912.



  • Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Matthew Henson.” New York Public Library Digital Collections.