Wednesday, December 7, 2011

La vieille garde dans les Carolines

December 7th: the anniversary of the death of Marshal Ney. Ney was Napoleon's saviour at Eylau, the heroic commander of the French rear guard during the retreat from Russia, and a man who had five horses shot out from under him during Waterloo.

Unless, of course, it isn't the anniversary of the death of Marshal Ney. One of your loyal blogger's favourite Southern legends contends that Ney was not executed by firing squad in Paris on December 7, 1815, but instead faked his death, and, with the help of his Freemason brothers, successfully fled France for America.

In this version of the story, the supposedly "dead" Ney arrived in Charleston late in December of 1815, and lived here clandestinely until 1819. After being spotted by French agents in Charleston, the Masons again were forced smuggle him away. He moved around the Carolinas -Georgetown, Columbia, Brownsville- before eventually settling near Salisbury, North Carolina (today about an hour's drive north of Charlotte).

So Marshal of France Michel Ney, the man who took Madgeburg and trapped the Austrians at Elchingen, lived a quiet life in small-town central North Carolina as Peter Stuart Ney, schoolteacher. Neighbors and pupils left accounts of a man who matched the Marshall's description, down to matching scars; spoke perfect French; and was all too happy to draw richly detailed maps or share vivid stories from Napoleon's campaigns. Peter Ney died quietly, far from Paris, late in 1846. Those who were around him attested he claimed to be the Marshall with his final words.

True or not, it's a fantastic piece of regional folklore. And what's absolutely true is that while the Library's events calendar is almost dead and gone for 2011, it will have another life in the coming year! The last Wide Angle Lunch and the final concert of the year take will take place tomorrow. Our last Backgammon Night of the year is next Tuesday... but we're working on the Annual Meeting cards right now... it's been a great 2011, but we can't wait for all that's in store in 2012!

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