North Pole Promise

Black, White, and Inuit Friends

S. Allen Counter

144 pp.,  7 x 9, Paperback


June 2017


The untold story of the children left behind by explorers Peary and Henson

North Pole Promise tells the story of a secret legacy of two famous explorers: Commander Robert Peary and Matthew Henson—one white, one African American, who, with four Inuit assistants discovered the North Pole in 1909. Peary and Henson returned to the US shortly after—the white Peary to acclaim, the African American Henson to obscurity—never to go to the Pole again. They each left behind sons, fathered with indigenous Greenlandic Inuit women. In the 1980s, on a research trip to Greenland, Dr. Allen Counter was introduced to two men in their eighties—the surviving “Amer-Inuit” sons—one from each explorer. Dr. Counter, an explorer himself, tells of discovering the fate of those children and ultimately honoring them and their illustrious forebears on the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the North Pole.

This is the kind of story that transcends eras; as a tale of unity, courage, and the power of the human spirit, North Pole Promise is essential reading. The bravery it took for six courageous explorers, from different backgrounds, to reach the North Pole in 1909 is not only inspiring, but informative for today’s society. There is a reason that, 100 years after their accomplishment, these men are remembered at the geographic North Pole: because their journey is unforgettable—and so is this book.

—Will Smith, actor


Here is a real-life, deeply moving saga of human relations that crosses color lines, cultures, hardships, and geographical distances—a twentieth-century fairy tale that is, paradoxically, true. North Pole Promise is a tribute to man’s exploratory spirit and to life’s unexpected turns. It should be read by generations to come.

—Per Wästberg, chair of the Nobel Committee for Literature 2016


I was tremendously moved by the story of the “secret sons” the first time I heard it. Imagine living on top of the world, knowing you had family far away, and longing to just “touch a relative’s hand.” North Pole Promise gives young people not only a fuller version of history, but demonstrates for them the importance of connection and cooperation among all people.

—James Earl Jones, actor


Curiosity propelled us from caves to the valleys and the mountains of Earth. Exploration propelled us from Earth to the valleys and mountains of the Moon. Harvard professor S. Allen Counter is both an observer of this uniquely human tradition and a participant. In North Pole Promise, he shares a compelling story of arctic exploration that spans a century, touches the lives of generations, and draws cultures together as never before.

—Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, author, and Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City


While the historic first journey to the North Pole has captured our imagination for generations, Dr. Allen Counter shows us how this this iconic feat of exploration has even deeper, richer meaning than we realized. By expanding our understanding of the people, events, and cultures involved—then and now—he is teaching and inspiring a new generation of explorers.

—Ted Janulis, president of The Explorers Club