Biography of African American explorer Matthew A. Henson (1866–1955), credited as the first man to reach the North Pole.
In 1908–1909, Henson accompanied explorer and U.S. Navy officer Robert Peary (1856–1920) on an expedition to the North Pole, reaching their goal on April 6, 1909. Henson had met Peary by chance in 1887 and accompanied him as a valet on a trip to survey a canal route through Nicaragua. “Peary soon found that Henson’s ability to help chart a path through the jungles and his experiences as a seaman made him more valuable as a colleague than as a valet. Peary took Henson with him on all his trips to the Arctic except his first in 1886: 1891–1892, 1893–1895, 1896, 1897, 1898–1902, 1905–1906, and the final dash to the pole 1908–1909.” (DANB)
Despite some claims that the records of final expedition to the pole had been falsified, scholars credit Henson with being the first man to actually reach the Pole. Henson wrote a memoir of his Arctic explorations, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole (1912), but, because of his race, wider recognition did not come until later.
The present biography, Dark Companion (1947), was published three years after Congress awarded Henson a medal for his service in the 1908–1909 expedition. The book helped publicize Henson’s achievements in the wider culture. Henson was subsequently made an Honorary Member of the Explorer’s Club, Class of 1949—an honor limited to only 20 living members at a time.¹ Henson is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near the grave of Robert Peary.
The book includes a Foreword by Commander Donald B. MacMillan (a participant in the 1980–1909 expedition) and introductions by Vilhjalmur Stefansson and Peter Freuchen. In his introduction, Stefansson, himself and arctic explorer writes: “Even more constantly in speech than in writing did Peary keep referring to Henson as the best traveler whom he had known, the most nearly indispensable man.” (pxvi)
Description: Dark Companion.
New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, (1947). xviii, , 266pp. First edition. 8vo. Publisher’s black cloth binding with red spine lettering. Endpapers photo-illustrated and with Arctic map. Spine slant. Overall, a very good and handsome copy.
Note. 1. The Explorers Club - About - Honorary Members accessed online.