Ney, Peter Stuart
Peter Stuart Ney was a schoolteacher in the Carolinas during the nineteenth century. He reportedly came to America aboard a ship from France. This ship landed in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1818. After a number of moves, Ney took a position as teacher in Mocksville in 1822, and acquired a reputation throughout North and South Carolina for his wisdom and knowledge.
Towards the end of his life, Ney moved to the region surrounding Davidson, North Carolina. It was at this time that the Board of Trustees of Davidson College approached Ney and asked him to draw a design for the college seal. The year was 1840 and the college was only a few years old. Ney designed the seal that the college still uses today.
Although well-respected for his knowledge and skills, Peter Stuart Ney was a mysterious man. On his deathbed, Ney claimed to be Marshal Ney, Napoleon’s famous Marshal of France. Historians have found other connections between the two men. First, the handwriting of the two men has been determined by some experts to be the same. Second, on several occasions Peter Stuart Ney was recognized in America as Marshal Ney by those who had served under him in France. Third, Peter Stuart Ney suffered a violent reaction upon learning of the death of Napoleon. Fourth, the personalities and physical characteristics of the two were reported to be extremely similar. Fifth, Peter Stuart Ney made several references, in addition to his last dying words, that he was in fact Marshal Ney of France.
His tombstone reads: “In memory of Peter Stuart Ney/ A native of France and soldier of the French Revolution under Napoleon Bonaparte/ Who departed this life November 15th, 1846/ Aged 77 years.”
The mystery may never be solved, but researchers and historians continue to explore the relationship between the two men. Dorothy Mackay Quynn (DC042), a graduate of the University of California and L’Universite de Paris, performed extensive research on Peter Stuart Ney and Marshal Ney. Quynn was on the faculty of Mills College from 1923-1926, West Virginia University from 1926-1930, Duke University from 1930-1947, Goucher College from 1947-1948, and Maryland from 1948-1949. She has written numerous articles on Marshal Ney, including “The Two Graves of Marshal Ney” (unpublished) and “Ney’s Attempt to Escape” (1961 French Historical Studies). The Davidson College Archives has Quynn’s research materials used in writing these articles, as well as a collection of her correspondence, manuscripts, printed materials, and photographs relevant to her research on Peter Stuart Ney.
Another researcher interested in the mystery surrounding Peter Stuart Ney is James Edward Smoot (DC041). Smoot was a physician in Concord, North Carolina, who published the book “Marshal Ney: Before and After Execution.” He wrote a supplemental edition of the book which was never published. The Davidson College Archives has a collection of materials that contain Smoot’s correspondence regarding Peter Stuart Ney, original manuscripts and documentation for his book and the supplemental edition, research materials and notes, printed material, newspaper
articles, and photographs.
Of particular significance, the Archives has a manuscript collection on Margaret E. Hampton Alexander (DC0167s). Mrs. Alexander’s family was acquainted with Peter Stuart Ney. The collection consists of handwritten reminiscences of family history and Peter Stuart Ney’s connection to Davidson College.
Davidson’s largest manuscript collection on Peter Stuart Ney (DC043) is comprised of gifts given to the college regarding this mysterious man. The collection is organized into the following series: gifts, correspondence, manuscripts, printed material, recordings, photographs, oversize, and books. Included in this collection are copies of acrostic poems and letters written by Peter Stuart Ney, original Marshal Ney documents, a field desk which had belonged to Peter Stuart Ney, portraits of Marshal Ney, a dictionary and notebook that had once belonged to Peter Stuart Ney, and variety of biographies and articles written on the two men. The amount of material is extensive and provides a useful starting point for anyone interested in researching Peter Stuart Ney.
Alexander, Margaret E. Hampton, Reminiscences, undated (DC0167s)
Ney, Peter Stuart, Collection, 1842-1992 (DC043)
Quynn, Dorothy Mackay, Collection 1931-1966 (DC042)
Smoot, James Edward, Collection, 1926-1947 (DC041)
Author: Molly Gillespie
Cite as: Gillespie, Molly. “Peter
Stuart Ney” Davidson Encyclopedia