Is Davie’s Ney France’s Nay? The mystery continues

Published 11:46 am Sunday, September 17, 2023

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By Marcia Phillips

Historian, Davie

County Public Library

Is Ney a Nay?

In the summer of 2022, a French film crew came to this area to exhume the body of Peter Stuart Ney in an attempt to determine from DNA whether the Mocksville school teacher and mystery man was who he claimed to be, Napoleon’s cavalry leader.

We observed the grave being emptied – of almost nothing but highly acidic soil – and the examination of a textbook in the holdings of the Martin-Wall History Room at the Davie County Public Library in which the teacher had written many marginal notes and even drew a self portrait.

In the end, it was his wooden flute at Davidson College that yielded DNA most likely to be his.

This week we received an email with a summary of their findings.

The forensic scientist came to the conclusion that the DNA was not that of Marshal Michel Ney of France, based upon the following facts it told about the flute player: he probably had light hair, not red; he came from a genetic pool of northern Europe; he had brown eyes, not blue; he had “intermediary” white skin, not pale.  They further challenged his use of the French language and handwriting as a match.

The questions this raises includes if or why they did not compare the DNA with the sample from the descendant of his sister in their possession.

Also, can it be proven the DNA from the flute could not be anyone else’s?

Regardless, this might have been the last good chance for a definitive answer and the solution to the mystery becomes unknowable.

If you would like to see the textbook and other resources, examine the facts for yourself and join the debate– a special display will be in the Martin-Wall History Room through September on Monday and Thursday afternoons and Tuesday mornings.

If you would like to see a real mystery, the Davie Historical and Genealogical Society rescheduled the site visit to the unique mill operated by a circa 1930 Oldsmobile to Sept. 28, meeting in the library parking lot at 5:45 or get directions from the History Room or Society website. All are invited.