Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Kane, Elisha Kent

Kane, Elisha Kent

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Assistant Surgeon, USN, (1820-1857)

Elisha Kent Kane was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 3 February 1820. Though weakened by rheumatic fever as a youth, he was educated as a physician at the University of Pennsylvania and, in July 1843, was appointed an Assistant Surgeon in the United States Navy. In 1844, prior to taking up his duties, Kane sailed to China as part of a U.S. diplomatic mission. His later Navy assignments involved cruises off Africa, in the Mediterranean Sea and off South America. In 1847 he undertook a daring courier mission to Mexico City, travelling through hostile territory, and surviving severe battle wounds.


In 1850-1851, Kane was surgeon and official historian for the DeHaven expedition, sent to the Canadian Arctic in the brigs Advanceand Rescue to look for possible survivors of Sir John Franklin's exploring party. A second expedition sailed in the Advance in late May 1853, with the same object and with Kane as leader. Frozen in between Greenland and Canada, Kane and his men endured more than two years of hardship and an arduous journey over ice and open water to Upernavik, Greenland. Hailed as a hero upon his return to the U.S., Kane undertook a program of writing and lectures. After his health failed during a trip to England in the Fall of 1856, he went to Cuba in search of recovery. However his condition became worse, and Elisha Kent Kane died in Havana on 16 February 1857.


The U.S. Navy has named two ships in honor of Elisha Kent Kane, including:

  • USS Kane (DD-235); and
  • USNS Kane (T-AGS-27).


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