Elisha Kent

Elisha Kent suffered from a severe heart ailment the majority of his lifetime and was not expected to live very long. With this in mind, his father encouraged him to live as if he could die any day and that is exactly what he did. He attended the University of Virginia and then University of Pennsylvania where he enrolled in medical school. After graduation he passed the medical examination for the navy and received commission, despite his family’s worries that his health would not be strong enough. He enlisted and was assigned to China and later Africa but both were eventually cut short due to illnesses along the way. Before he fully healed from his African trip, he petitioned for a transfer into the army in hopes of fighting in the Mexican-American War, however, another illness erupted and he instead settled as a messenger for President Polk to General Winfield Scott. This is where his first title as an American hero began: he is recognized as saving the life of Mexican General Antonio Gaona.

Kane continued to long for adventure and participated in the Grinnell Expedition in search of Sir John Franklin as the medical officer. Franklin and his crew of over 100 British soldiers went in search of the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean and had not been spotted for at least four years. Kane set sail aboard the Advance which was ordered to search for Franklin northward still with the aims of locating the Northwest Passage. During their trip, the Advance became trapped and the crew faced an entire winter in the artic which Kane is credited with saving their lives since the crew weakened with illness and scurvy; he cared for the crew in the coldest days. Kane returned to the Artic on the Advance but this time as commander and on this voyage he traveled farther north than any white man had ever gone. Despite his crew member’s resistance at times, Kane was determined to push farther and farther north.  Two crew men attempted to ascend the glacier on foot returned to the ship claiming to have seen the Open Polar Sea. Having achieved their goal, the Advance focused on returning home. Even though Kane had not seen the Open Polar Sea himself, he did have the chance to see the Humboldt Glacier, although he never found Franklin. The published notes and discoveries during his expedition were national best sellers, and his achievements made him once again considered an American hero.

What I found most interesting about Kane was his dedication, efforts, and his expedition in general. He ventured where few scientist had ever dared to try: the Arctic. The crew originally went in search for Sir John Franklin without knowing where he was or if he was alive or dead. Another thing I found fascinating is how inspirational he was during his life even though his Arctic expedition was more or less unsuccessful. This is the main reason why I found it upsetting that he is no longer as influential: he was an American hero and despite his health he keep pushing. Although his reputation sometimes got the better of him (with the pressure from his family), he had good motives.  Another interesting fact about him was that his funeral was one of the largest in the United States history, comparable to those of Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay. This fact also makes his faded popularity questionable.




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