Sunday, January 24, 2010

Matt Henson at the North Pole, from Edcon Publishing.

That flag was made by Robert Peary's wife, and Matt Henson is proud to raise it at the North Pole.

Something you will read about: trailblazer: someone who guides or prepares the way for others

Most people believe that Robert Peary was the first person to reach the North Pole. Everybody agrees that it was Peary's idea to search for the North Pole, and that he was the leader of the group that did find it. In fact, Robert Peary was made an admiral in the United States Navy for his work. However, a man named Matt Henson arrived at the North Pole shortly before Peary. Henson, a black man born in Maryland, explored the polar lands with Peary for sixteen years. They made seven trips together, and they shared every peril.

While a boy, Matt lived near the sea, and he loved to watch the sailing ships. Men told him that the ships sailed all around the world. Matt decided to become a sailor, and, at thirteen, he signed on a ship as a cabin boy. Matt never had time for school as a boy, and the captain of the ship decided to teach him to read and write. Matt stayed with the sailing ship for five years. He visited many civilized countries and some that were not so civilized. He learned to get along with all kinds of people. After the long voyage, Matt worked at different jobs on land. He was working in a clothing store when a man came in to buy a hat. The man was Robert Peary, an officer in the United States Navy.

Peary and Matt Henson became friends immediately. Peary was going on an exploring trip, and he offered Matt a job as his servant. Although Matt didn't want to be a servant to anyone, he did want to go on the trip. He thought it would be a great adventure, and he looked forward to times of peril in unusual lands. Matt decided to accept the job of being Peary's servant. He was never sorry that he did. Peary soon recognized Matt's courage and imagination and construction skills. Matt was made a part of the regular crew. For twenty-three years, Peary and Henson traveled together. Their last sixteen years together were spent searching for the North Pole. They used all kinds of transportation - sailing ships and Eskimo kayaks, wagons pulled by horses, and sleds drawn by dogs.

The North Pole
Seven years after their first trip together, they went to explore the frozen country of the Far North. There was no money to pay Matt, but he wanted to go so badly that he was willing to go without pay. With a sailing ship for transportation, they left the civilized world behind.

When they had landed in the bitter cold of the North, Peary broke his leg. This did not stop him. He insisted on staying and exploring. The ship was sent home and the men spent a year near the North Pole. They faced many perils without any hope of outside help. At the end of the year, Peary and Henson returned to the United States. Peary told Henson that he wanted to return to the North and find the North Pole. He needed Henson's skill in the construction of shelters. He also needed his strength and courage.

Nobody knew exactly where the North Pole was. There was no way of finding it except by using dog sleds for transportation across the empty miles of ice and snow. Robert Peary and Matt Henson made their last trip to the North in 1908. They had suffered bitterly on all their trips. On one voyage, Peary's feet were frozen and most of his toes had to be removed. Another time, Matt Henson fell into the sea. He would have frozen in the icy water, but an Eskimo rescued him.

Four Eskimos who accompanied
Peary and Henson to the North Pole
The last voyage was the most difficult. The men struggled through the winter and into the spring. Spring near the North Pole was worse than winter anywhere else. Only six men remained for the last part of the trip. Four of the men were Eskimos who didn't care anything about the North Pole. To them, it was just another icy spot in a frozen world. The fifth man was Robert Peary, who had spent much of his life looking for the North Pole. The sixth man was Matt Henson, the black American, and the first one to reach the Pole.

Matt was the trailblazer, and he led the way every day, driving his dog sled across the snow. He wore fur clothes as the Eskimos did, but the bitter northern winds cut his face. At every stopping place, Matt was responsible for the construction of a house built from blocks of ice so the men would have a place to sleep. On a cold day in April 1909, Matt Henson and one Eskimo reached the North Pole. Matt started cutting blocks of ice for the shelter house. Almost an hour later, Admiral Peary arrived with the other three Eskimos. Peary was very excited, and he gave the American flag to Matt. He told him to place it in the snow at the North Pole. And Matt did it.

That was how Matt Henson became the first person known to stand at the North Pole.


1. This story is about ________
a. an Indian.
b. an Eskimo.
c. an explorer.
d. a soldier.

2. The hero of the story is _____
a. Admiral Peary.
b. an Eskimo.
c. a polar bear.
d. Matt Henson.

3. When Matt was thirteen, _____
a. he got a job on a sailing ship.
b. he got a job in a clothing store.
c. he became Robert Peary's servant.
d. he placed a flag at the North Pole.

4. Matt learned to read and write __
a. in school.
b. at home.
c. on a ship.
d. with Admiral Peary.

5. Matt Henson and Robert Peary were looking for __
a. a civilized place.
b. the North Pole.
c. Matt's mother and father.
d. a buried treasure.

6. One kind of transportation used by Peary and Henson in the frozen North, was _____
a. automobiles.
b. trucks.
c. snow plows.
d. dog sleds.

7. In the snow at the North Pole, Matt Henson placed __
a. an American flag.
b. a book by Admiral Peary.
c. a message he wrote himself.
d. some supplies.

8. The most important thing that Matt Henson did was __
a. to spend five years on a sailing ship.
b. to work in a clothing store.
c. to build ice shelters in the Far North.
d. to place a flag at the North Pole.

9. Another name for this story could be ______
a. "A famous black explorer."
b. "How to Travel by Dog Sled."
c. "Matt Henson and the Sailing Ships."
d. "An Adventure at Sea."

10. This story is mainly about _______
a. kinds of transportation.
b. exploring.
c. construction of ice shelters.
d. helping a friend.

Read the following short article from Wikipedia:

Matt Henson Bio

The following is a longer article:

Matt Henson, Arctic Explorer

Here is a video about Matt Henson as part of a Black History Month celebration:

This video explains more details of the expedition and Matt Henson's role:

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