Many explorers were given advantages of wealth and education in their childhood. Matthew Henson did not. His early years were hard, but they probably gave him the toughness he needed to explore the North Pole.
Henson was born on August 8, 1866, in Maryland. His parents were freeborn, black sharecroppers. His mother died shortly after he was born. His father took the family to Washington D.C. to look for work. He died when Henson was young, leaving family members to care for the young boy.
Henson ran away from home when he was 11. A neighbor woman took him in and cared for him. When he was 12, he went to work as a cabin boy on a ship. The captain taught him to read and taught him navigating. When the captain died, Henson went to work as a store clerk. There he met Edwin Peary, a navy officer and explorer. Peary hired Henson to go on his expeditions. Their group has been recognized as the first to reach the North Pole.
Fun Facts About Matthew Henson for Kids
- Henson and Peary went on many expeditions to explore Greenland and the Arctic Circle. Henson learned the survival skills of the Eskimo people.
- Two of the trips ended poorly. On one trip, the team nearly starved to death. They had to eat some of their sled dogs.
- On another trip, six Eskimo teammates died of starvation and exposure to the cold.
- In 1909, Peary and Henson reached the North Pole.
- Peary received a lot of fame and glory for his expedition, but as a black man, Henson’s efforts were mostly ignored.
- Finally, when Henson was 70 years old, he received an award from the U.S. Navy and a gold medal from the Chicago Geographic Society.
Matthew Henson Vocabulary
- Advantage: favorable circumstances
- Sharecropper: a person who rents farmland from an owner, grows crops and shares the profits with the owner
- Navigate: map out and direct the course of a ship
All About Matthew Henson Video for Kids
Check out this cool video about Matthew Henson for kids:
Matthew Henson Q&A
Question: What happened to Matthew Henson after the expeditions were over?
Answer: Henson was 43 years old when he and Peary traveled to the North Pole. He came home and spent the next 30 years working as a clerk at a New York federal customs house. He also wrote two books. He was almost 90 years old when he died. He was buried in a New York City cemetery. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan authorized the moving of the bodies of he and his wife Lucy to Arlington National Cemetery, as a sign of respect and honor.
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