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Did Marshal Ney Die in 1815 or Did He Escape to America?

By Tom Holmberg

The book, Historic Doubts as to the Execution of Marshal Ney by James A. Weston (N.Y.: Whittaker, 1895) presents the theory that Marshal Ney escaped from France after a staged execution to live in the United States as a schoolmaster. The evidence presented is tenuous at best, on a par with the theory that Elvis is still alive. In late 1819, a somewhat mysterious stranger going by the name Peter Stuart Ney appeared in South Carolina, where he was hired as a schoolmaster. Three years later P.S. Ney moved to North Carolina where he taught school in various communities until his death on 15 November 1846.

P.S. Ney had certain general physical similarities to the famous French Marshal, he was "vaguely" foreign, and bore scars similar to those the Marshal may have had. P.S. Ney allowed people to believe him to be the famous Marshal; on occasion, especially when he'd been drinking, he would declare himself to be the Marshal. Supposedly certain, unnamed, Frenchmen and foreigners recognized P.S. Ney as the Marshal at various times during his 'stay in America.'

As for the rest of the evidence it consists of statements such as that P.S. Ney was an excellent horseman and fencer, that he had a military bearing, and other characteristics he might have shared with the Marshal. Similarities were noticed between P.S. Ney's handwriting and the Marshal's. Supposedly Ney escaped execution through the intervention of Wellington and was unable to return to France (while the monarchy reigned) under threat of death.

P.S. Ney's last words were reportedly: "Bessieres is dead, and the Old Guard is defeated; now let me die." He was also reported to have confessed on his deathbed to being the Marshal. The inscription on his tombstone reads, in part: "...Peter Stuart Ney, a native of France and a soldier of the French Revolution under Napoleon Bonaparte..."

Editor's Note: Several graduates of Davidson College in North Carolina have told me that one of their school's legends is that Marshal Ney taught there after faking his execution in France. Could they have been referring to Peter Ney?