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Elisha Kane

Elisha Kent Kane
Assistant Surgeon Elisha Kent Kane
Born (1820-02-28)February 28, 1820
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died February 16, 1857(1857-02-16) (aged 36)
Havana, Cuba
Buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania[1] ()
Service/branch United States Navy

Elisha Kent Kane (February 28, 1820 – February 16, 1857) was an American explorer, and a medical officer in the United States Navy during the first half of the 19th century. He was a member of two Arctic expeditions to rescue the explorer Sir John Franklin. He was present at the discovery of Franklin's first winter camp, but he did not find out what had happened to the fatal expedition.


  • Life and career 1
  • Honors 2
  • Publications 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6

Life and career

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kane was the son of John Kintzing Kane, a U.S. district judge, and Jane Duval Leiper. His brother was attorney, diplomat, abolitionist, and American Civil War general Thomas L. Kane. Kane graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1842. On September 14, 1843, he became Assistant Surgeon in the Navy. He served in the China Commercial Treaty mission under Caleb Cushing, in the Africa Squadron,[2] and in the United States Marine Corps during the Mexican-American War. One battle that Kane fought in was at Nopalucan on January 6, 1848. At (sic) Napoluca, he captured, befriended and saved the life of Mexican General Antonio Gaona and the General's wounded son.[3]

Kane was appointed senior medical officer of the Second Grinnell expedition which sailed from New York on May 31, 1853, and wintered in Rensselaer Bay. Though suffering from scurvy, and at times near death, he pushed on and charted the coasts of Smith Sound and the Kane Basin, penetrating farther north than any other explorer had done up to that time. At Cape Constitution he discovered the ice-free Kennedy Channel, later followed by Isaac Israel Hayes, Charles Francis Hall, Augustus Greely, and Robert E. Peary in turn as they drove toward the North Pole.[5]

In 1852, Kane met the Fox sisters, famous for their spirit rapping séances, and he became enamored with the middle sister, Margaret. Kane was convinced that the sisters were frauds, and sought to reform Margaret. She would later claim that they were secretly married in 1856—she changed her name to Margaret Fox Kane—and engaged the family in lawsuits over his will. (After Kane's death, Margaret converted to the Roman Catholic faith, but she would eventually return to spiritualism.)[6] [7]

Kane finally abandoned the icebound brig Advance on May 20, 1855 and made an 83-day march of indomitable courage to Upernavik. The party, carrying the invalids, lost only one man. Kane and his men were saved by a sailing ship. Kane returned to New York on October 11, 1855 and the following year published his two-volume Arctic Explorations.[5]

After visiting England to fulfill his promise to deliver his report personally to Lady Franklin, he sailed to Havana, Cuba in a vain attempt to recover his health, after being advised to do so by his doctor. He died there on February 16, 1857.[5]

His body was brought to New Orleans, and carried by a funeral train to Philadelphia; the train was met at nearly every platform by a memorial delegation, and is said to have been the longest funeral train of the century excepting only Lincoln's.


Dr. Kane received medals from Congress, the Royal Geographical Society, and the Société de Géographie.

The destroyer USS Kane (DD-235) was named for him, as was a later oceanographic research ship, the USNS Kane (T-AGS-27).

Kane was a Mason, and a prominent Masonic lodge in New York City (Lodge No. 454) was renamed the Kane Lodge.

The crater Kane on the Moon was also named for him.

On May 28, 1986, the United States Postal Service issued a 22 cent postage stamp in his honor, depicting his route to the Arctic.[8]

The Anoatok historic home at Kane, Pennsylvania was named to allude to his Arctic adventures.


Second winter in Greenland, Kane is the center figure
  • The United States Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin: A personal narrative; Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson, 1856, at the Making of America Project.
  • Arctic explorations: The second Grinnell expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, 1853,54,55; Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson, 1857, at the Making of America Project.


  1. ^ "Elisha Kent Kane (1820–1857)". Find A Grave Memorial. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Kane Elisha Kent". Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  3. ^ Joe Musso, Kane Knife [3] October 28, 2004
  4. ^ "The U.S. Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin: a Personal Narrative".  
  5. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  6. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 89–94
  7. ^ [4]
  8. ^ Scott catalog # 2220.

External links

  • The Royal Navy in Polar Exploration from Franklin to Scott, E C Coleman 2006 (Tempus Publishing)
  • Corner, George W. Doctor Kane of the Arctic Seas (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1972)
  • Edinger, Ray. Love and Ice: The Tragic Obsessions of Dr. Elijah Kent Kane, Arctic Explorer (Savannah, Frederic C. Beil, Publisher. 2015). ISBN 978-1-929490-42-4.
  • (Philadelphia, 1858)Biography of Elisha Kent KaneElder, William,
  • Fox, Margaret. Love Life of Dr. Kane (New York, 1866)
  • Greely, A.W., American Explorers and Travelers (New York, 1894)
  • McGoogan, Ken, Race to the Polar Sea: The Heroic Adventures and Romantic Obsessions of Elisha Kent Kane (Toronto, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2008. ISBN 978-0-00-200776-4)
  • Robinson, Michael, The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2006)
  • Sawin, Mark. Raising Kane: Elisha Kent Kane and the Culture of Fame in Antebellum America. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society Press, 2009. ISBN 1-60618-983-2
  • Sonntag, August (1865). Professor Sonntag's Thrilling Narrative Of The Grinnell Exploring Expedition To The Arctic Ocean In The Years 1853, 1854, and 1855 In Search of Sir John Franklin, Under The Command of Dr. E. K. Kane, U.S.N. Philadelphia: Jas. T. Lloyd & Co. Retrieved August 15, 2009. 
  • David Chapin, Exploring Other Worlds (University of Massachusetts Press, 2004).

Further reading


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