Elisha Kent Kane

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Elisha Kent Kane (February 3, 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.

Elisha Kent Kane
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Born(1820-02-03)February 3, 1820
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
DiedFebruary 16, 1857(1857-02-16) (aged 37)
Havana, Cuba
AllegianceUnited States of America
BranchUnited States Navy
Service years1843–1857
RankAssistant surgeon

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.

Early lifeEdit

Born in Philadelphia, Kane was the son of John Kintzing Kane, a U.S. district judge, and Jane Duval Leiper. His maternal grandfather was Thomas Leiper, American Revolutionary War patriot and a founder of the Philadelphia City Troop.

His brother was attorney, diplomat, abolitionist, and Civil War general, Thomas L. Kane. Kane graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1842.


On September 14, 1843, he became an assistant surgeon in the Navy. He served in the China Commercial Treaty mission under Caleb Cushing, in the Africa Squadron,[1] 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 Nopalucan, he captured, befriended, and saved the life of Mexican General Antonio Gaona and the general's wounded son.[2]

Kane was appointed senior medical officer of the Grinnell Arctic expedition of 1850–1851 under the command of Edwin de Haven, which searched unsuccessfully for Sir John Franklin's lost expedition.[3] During this expedition, the crew discovered Franklin's first winter camp on Beechey Island.

In 1851, Kane was elected as a member of the American Philosophical Society.[4]

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 would eventually return to spiritualism.[5][1]

Kane then organized and headed 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 between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, later followed by Isaac Israel Hayes, Charles Francis Hall, Adolphus Greely, and Robert E. Peary in turn as they drove toward the North Pole.[6]

Kane finally abandoned the icebound brig Advance on May 20, 1855, and made an 83-day march of indomitable courage to Upernavik on the west coast of Greenland. 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.[6]


Elisha Kent Kane mausoleum and historical plaque in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia

After visiting England to fulfill his promise to deliver his report personally to Lady Jane Franklin, he sailed to Havana in a vain attempt to recover his health, after being advised to do so by his doctor. He died there on February 16, 1857.[6] His body was brought to New Orleans and carried by steamboat and a funeral train to Philadelphia; the train was met at nearly every platform by a memorial delegation, and is said to have been the second longest funeral train of the century, surpassed only by that of Abraham Lincoln. After lying in state at Independence Hall, he was transported to Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery where he was placed in the family vault on the hillside near what is now Kelly Drive.


Kane received medals from Congress, the Royal Geographical Society, and the Société de géographie. The Geographical Society of Philadelphia created the Elisha Kent Kane Medal in his honor. He was also elected to the American Antiquarian Society in 1855.[7]

The Anoatok historic manor at Kane, Pennsylvania, was named to allude to his Arctic adventures. The destroyer USS Kane (DD-235) was named for him, as was a later oceanographic research ship, the USNS Kane (T-AGS-27). A lunar crater, Kane, was also named for him. In 1986, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 22 cent postage stamp in his honor, depicting his route to the Arctic.[8]




  1. ^ a b "Kane Elisha Kent". Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  2. ^ Joe Musso, Kane Knife [1] October 28, 2004
  3. ^ "The U.S. Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin: a Personal Narrative". World Digital Library. 1854. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  4. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved April 14, 2021.
  5. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 89–94
  6. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  7. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  8. ^ Scott catalog # 2220.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.