Fri. Jul 30th, 2021

Emory and Henry College hosted a lavish wedding in May 1855. Noted Scott County bachelor Henry Solon Kane, Esq., married Sarah Anderson, daughter of the esteemed Col. Anderson, of Washington County.

The couple enjoyed a beautiful ceremony. Festivities then moved to the Kane family home for the reception. The Kane estate was called “Flat Lick.” One of the party’s highlights was luscious custard, a delicacy at the time. Everyone enjoyed their fill, but the revelry was not happily-ever-after.

Things took a horrific turn that night. Everyone who consumed the custard grew violently ill. The few who hadn’t enjoyed the dessert attempted to care for the ailing. Two physicians attended the festivities and both concluded the entire party was poisoned. The remaining custard was examined and found to contain a lethal level of arsenic.

The servants did not draw suspicions because they had eaten as much as the guests, and were just as ill. The victims exhibited similar symptoms. They complained of a burning sensation in their stomach, which lead to an agonizing headache.

By the time all victims succumbed, around 25 people were not expected to survive, including the bride. Regardless of how grim it appeared, the only known fatality was a man named John Bishop. Suspicion eventually fell upon a slave, but was then redirected towards an unnamed white woman. The deed was also attributed to a white couple and their slave. Another slave, named Anderson, was arrested and jailed in Scott County, but later released.

Fortunately, both bride and groom survived the brush with death and went on to have seven children. Information circulated around the end of July stating several physicians agreed the poison was that from iron and copper cookware. This was in part because the victims all exhibited jaundiced skin, which was not a symptom of arsenic poisoning. If this theory were true, the poisoning was accidental. At that time, the most probable origin of accidental poisonings was paint or varnish on the dinnerware, itself.

Of course, today it is known that jaundice is a common symptom of arsenic poisoning. Other known symptoms include the odor of garlic or almonds, seizures, rashes, or even gangrene of the extremities.


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