Matthew A. Henson, Matt to his friends, was born in Maryland in 1866, the son of free-born sharecroppers. Orphaned at age seven or eight he lived briefly with his uncle in Washington, D.C. before running away to sea when he was eleven. He traveled the world as a cabin boy and seaman for eight years before returning to Washington. There, in 1887, while working at a haberdashery, he met Robert E. Peary, who was preparing for a survey expedition to Nicaragua. Peary hired Henson as a valet for that trip, the beginning of a long working relationship between the two men.