Black Philadelphian Peter Finchley may have been one of the first people to visit the continent of Antarctica in 1820. On a recent trip to Antarctica, I learned from my expedition leader Mitya K, about early Antarctic explorer Peter Finchley who hails from Philadelphia!
While George Washington Gibbs, Jr. (November 7, 1916 – November 7, 2000) is documented as being the first Black person to reach the mysterious and remote 7th continent, Antarctica. This distinction may belong to Black Philadelphian Peter Finchley, who traveled to Antarctica on an 1820 expedition led by Captain Palmer. While no one is certain who was the first human to visit Antarctica, Finchley and Palmer are credited by some historians to have made the first journey to the continent. Their discovery of Antarctica was inadvertent. Palmer and Finchley landed on Antarctica on November 18, 1820, while searching for seal rookeries in the southern seas. In the 19th century, seal pelts were a valuable commodity. He was one of a 5-member crew.
In more recent history, George Gibbs traveled to Antarctica on the United States Antarctic Service Expedition (1939–1941) on the U.S.S. Bear. On January 14, 1940, Gibbs landed in the Bay of Whales, Antarctica. Out of 2,000 Navy applicants, Gibbs was selected with 39 other men for this difficult and prestigious mission to Antarctica.
Gibbs kept a journal of his expedition. He states, "I was the first man aboard the ship to set foot in Little America [Antarctica] and help[ed] tie her lines deep into the snow. I met Admiral Byrd; he shook my hand and welcomed me to Little America and for being the first Negro to set foot in Little America."
After his Antarctic exploration, Gibbs served as a gunner during WWII. Gibbs Point, the most northern area in Antarctica, was named after George W. Gibbs, Jr. in 2009.
To learn more about Philadelphia's rich Black history, join us on weekly Black history tours in Philadelphia, visit www.blackjourneyphiladelphia.com.