Henson, Matthew (Alexander)(1866–1955) explorer; born in Charles County, Md. An African-American who went to sea at age 12 or 13, he met Lt. Robert E. Peary in 1887 and became his valet and assistant for 22 years. He, Peary, and four Eskimos reached the North Pole on April 6, 1909. Henson worked in the New York Customhouse (1913–33) and never profited from his achievement. Not until the final years of his life did he receive recognition for his role in Peary's expeditions, for Peary, although friendly enough in private, shunned Henson in public. Only in the 1980s was it revealed that both men had fathered children by Eskimo women while on their Arctic expeditions.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.