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Winter Web: Activity 4: Activity 4: Explorers of the Mighty North: Reading Worksheet

The 1909 Expedition to the North Pole

Robert Peary & Matthew Henson

Rear Admiral Robert Edwin Peary

1856-1920

Robert Edwin Peary, who was born on May 6, 1856, in Cresson, Pa., was a member of the U.S. Navy Civil Engineering Corps. While in the Navy, Peary made four trips to Greenland, which were his first expeditions into the Arctic region. These exploratory journeys earned him great fame and prepared the way for his most ambitious journey to the North Pole.

Peary began his Arctic career in 1885 as he began to plan an expedition that would ascend the Greenland Ice Cap. He had dreamed of exploring the Arctic since he was a young child reading Elisha Kent Kane's accounts of Arctic travel. Peary had a strong desire to become famous. He felt that one sure way to gain that fame would be to discover the North Pole. In 1886 he crossed a section of the Greenland Ice Cap, and in 1892 he investigated northeast Greenland. His exploration of the far North continued until 1909.He was 52 years old when he announced that he, his assistant Matthew Henson, and the Polar Eskimos (Inuit) Uutaaq, Ukkujaaq, Sigluk, and Iggiannguaq were the first men to reach the North Pole. Peary felt he and his assistants stood on top of the world.

Matthew Alexander Henson

1866 - 1955

Matthew Henson, one of the world's greatest explorers, was born in Baltimore in 1866. At an early age, Henson's mother died, leaving him to live alone with his father. Unfortunately, the family experienced problems with the Klu Klux Klan. To escape the problems and make a better life for his son, Henson's father moved the family to Washington, D. C.. While Henson's father worked, Matthew took care of the elderly uncle they lived with. While they lived in Washington, Henson's father died, leaving his son in the care of his uncle. Henson's uncle was mean and abusive to the point that it caused Matthew to run away from the only home he had. For awhile, Henson wandered the streets. He was a poor, ragged and uneducated kid. What could he offer to someone to earn a living? Finally, he came to a small restaurant. The owner hired Henson to sweep and mop the floors, clean the kitchen and wash the dishes. Since he had nowhere else to stay, the owner allowed Henson to sleep on the floor of the restaurant after closing.

One day, Henson saw a sign advertising a ship captain looking for young men to go to sea. That cabin boy position was the beginning of Matthew Henson's sailing career. For the rest of his teenage years, Henson sailed around the world learning mathematics, navigation, the operations of a ship and how to read books and maps. By the time he was 21, Matthew Henson was an experienced sailor.

Between his terms at sea, Henson would sometimes work to earn a little money. One job he had would change the course of his life. The year was 1887, the place was a fur and supplies shop in Washington, D. C. where Matthew Henson had been working as a clerk. It was a family owned shop so the owner knew Henson quite well. One day, as Henson was working, a man visited the store to buy some supplies. He was an engineer and explorer named Robert Peary. Peary needed supplies and a servant to take with him on a trip to Nicaragua. He was working for the government to chart the Nicaraguan jungle in hopes of building a canal there. The store owner told Peary that Henson was "bright and strong. He's only 21, but he's already been around the world." This began the relationship between Robert Peary and Matthew Henson.

Peary's dream was to be the first person to reach the North Pole and he wanted Henson with him. Every attempt to reach the pole with the exception of the first, paired Peary and Henson. Over the span of five attempts, Henson learned everything he possibly could from the Eskimos about surviving in the arctic. He learned to break trails, build camp, repair sleds, drive a dog team, hunt polar bears, and even make clothes out of animal skins. Henson was so skilled and strong that Peary remarked "I couldn't get along without him."

More extensive information on Peary or Henson can be found by clicking on their underlined names above.

Extension Exercises:

1. In April 1922, the National Geographic Society unveiled a marble statue dedicated to Robert Edwin Peary. This tribute has an inscription on the monument. Search the internet to find the translation of the Latin inscription, then write an essay as to why you feel the translation greatly honors Peary.

2. Arlington National Cemetary has a website containing biographies of some of its veterans. Visit the webpage of Matthew Henson and read the biography. Write an essay explaining the characteristics Henson displayed which made him a good partner for Robert Peary.

3. Research the lives of the 4 Inuit/Eskimo explorers mention in paragraph 2. Discover the group they belonged to and some of the qualities they possessed for Arctic exploration. Write an report describing Inuit Eskimo life.

**Want your essays on the web??? E-mail them to the Winter Web creator, Lottie Simms, at Lawton Chiles Middle School**

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