Maine: An Encyclopedia

Peary, Robert E.

The Peary House on Eagle Island (2002)

The Peary House on Eagle Island (2002)

Peary's Library Exterior (2010)

Peary’s Library Exterior (2010)

Library Interior (2010)

Library Interior (2010)

(1856-1920), who summered on Eagle Island, received a degree in civil engineering from Bowdoin College in 1877, was a noted Arctic explorer who became famous as the discoverer of the North Pole, though many experts believe that the claim has not been proved. Peary was accompanied by his Black assistant Matthew Henson and four Inuit people.

Josephine Diebitsch Peary, Arctic explorer and writer, was the first non-native woman to explore the Arctic when she took part in Robert Peary’s 1891 expedition. Her daughter, born in 1893, was the first white baby born north of the Artic Circle. Josephine summered on Eagle Island until her death in 1955.

Donald B. MacMillan of the Bowdoin class of 1898 led one of Peary’s support teams. The ship for his final Arctic expedition, the Roosevelt, was built at Verona Island in 1905.

Peary returned to the United States a national hero and was promoted to the rank of rear admiral. Peary, whose career is documented at the Peary-McMillan Museum at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, lived on Eagle Island, part of the town of Harpswell, in Casco Bay. Peary’s house contained, and still retains, many artifacts of his explorations in an elegant, rustic setting among the islands of Casco Bay.

Eagle Island itself is a State Park, operated by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, a division of the Department of Conservation. Peary’s summer home is part of the Eagle Island State Historic Site. Visitors are welcome from mid-June to Labor Day, but since the island is a bird sanctuary, dog are not allowed. There are some moorings near the pier and opportunities for dropping the hook if the anchorage is not crowded. Charter tours also serve the island.

The island has a series of walking trails that follow its coastline and explore its interior. Ocean wildlife is readily apparent both on its rocky shores and in the adsjacent waters. Located three miles off the coast of Harpswell, it hosts about 6,000 visitors each season.

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Additional resources[a selection from many]

Henson, Matthew Alexander. A Black Explorer at the North Pole: an Autobiographical Report by the Negro who Conquered the Top of the World with Admiral Robert E. Peary. Foreword by Robert E. Peary. Introduction by Booker T. Washington. New York. Walker. 1969

Keely, Robert N. and G. G. Davis In Arctic Seas [microform]: the voyage of the “Kite,” with the Peary expedition, together with a transcript of the log of the “Kite.” Philadelphia. R.C. Hantranft. 1892.

MacMillan, Donald Baxter. How Peary Reached The Pole; The Personal Story Of This Assistant, Donald B. MacMillan…. Boston, New York. Houghton Mifflin Company. 1934.

“Northward Over the Great Ice.” The Library of Congress. American Memory. at (accessed November 16, 2010).

Peary, Robert E.. “Address Of Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary, U.S.N. At A Luncheon Of The Rotary Club Of Portland, Maine.” [Portland, Me. Tucker Printing Company, 1915.

Wright, Theon. The Big Nail: The Story Of The Cook-Peary Feud. New York. John Day Co. 1970.

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