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Kane, Elisha Kent (1820-1857)

Kane, Elisha Kent (1820-1857)

Arctic explorer and husband of Margaret Fox, one of the Fox sisters, who pioneered American Spiritualism. Kane attended the University of Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. In 1843 he was commissioned assistant surgeon in the U.S. Navy. He served two years in India and served with the marines in Mexico (1847-48). In 1850 he was assigned to accompany an Arctic expedition to search for the lost John Franklin expedition. In 1853 Kane set out on the trip that gave him some degree of fame. He sailed into the Arctic on a ship that became icebound. He and the crew made friends with the Eskimos and learned much of their culture. Abandoning the ship, they marched across land to a Danish settlement in the south of Greenland, arriving in 1855.

Kane met Fox soon after his return from Greenland. They were married in a simple ceremony in 1856. Kane's health had been broken by his Arctic experience and he died the next year. His relatives refused to accept the marriage or Margaret's claim to Kane's estate. In 1865 Margaret published a volume, The Love-Life of Dr. Kane, which contained his correspondence to her.

Kane did not believe in spirits, but there was nothing in his letters to suggest that he discovered fraud on Margaret's part. On the contrary, in a letter to her sister Kate he writes: "Take my advice and never talk of the spirits either to friends or strangers. You know that with my intimacy with Maggie after a whole month's trial I could make nothing of them. Therefore they are a great mystery." A lively controversy arose, however, about the meaning of his accusations against Margaret for "living in deceit and hypocrisy."

In another letter he writes: "I can't bear the thought of your sitting in the dark, squeezing other peoples hands. I touch no hand but yours; press no lips but yours; think of no thoughts that I would not share with you; and do no deeds that I would conceal from you."

Sources:

Baird, George W. Great American Masons. Kila, Mont.: Kessinger Publishing, 1992.

Fornell, Earl L. The Unhappy Medium: Spiritualism and the Life of Margaret Fox. Austin, Tex., 1964.

Kane, Margaret Fox. The Love-Life of Dr. Kane. New York, 1865.

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Kane, Elisha Kent

Elisha Kent Kane, 1820–57, American physician and arctic explorer, b. Philadelphia. Seeking adventure after medical school, Kane entered naval service and before he was 30 had seen many parts of the world and had served in the Mexican War. As senior medical officer he sailed (1850) on the first Grinnell expedition in search of the lost Franklin party. Kane's U.S. Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin (1853; repr. in part as Adrift in the Arctic Ice Pack, 1915) stirred such interest that he was able to organize and lead the second Grinnell expedition (1853–55). This expedition, of which the American physician and arctic explorer I. I. Hayes was medical officer, passed northward through Smith Sound at the head of Baffin Bay, discovered and explored Kane Basin, and discovered Kennedy Channel beyond. Several sledging journeys were undertaken, on one of which a record of lat. 80°10′N was achieved. Humboldt Glacier was sighted, and scientific observations resulted in valuable new information on the Arctic regions. Frozen in at Rensselaer Bay, the party abandoned ship, and Kane led a difficult retreat by land to Upernavik, Greenland. Kane's expedition had contributed more knowledge of Greenland than that of anyone before him. His health, never robust, was weakened by the rigors of his adventurous life, and he lived only long enough to complete his narrative of the second expedition, Arctic Explorations (1856), which had tremendous sales. The spiritualist Margaret Fox (see Fox sisters) claimed after his death that she had been his wife. The Love Life of Dr. Kane (1866) contains many of his letters to Margaret Fox.

See studies by J. Mirsky (1954, repr. 1971), O. M. Villarejo (1965), and G. W. Corner (1972).

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