CLEVELAND — The mausoleum in the cemetery of Third Creek Presbyterian Church is the center of some controversy. Is Marshal Ney really buried in N.C. soil or did he die in France?
Ney was the marshall in Napoleon’s army who was scheduled for execution. But some believe he escaped and came to the United States.
Peter Bradshaw, a retiree who lives in Mooresville, has researched Ney’s life for more than 10 years and has written a book that focuses on the seven years between Ney’s supposed execution and when Bradshaw believes he came to Mocksville.
Historians agree on the beginning of Ney’s life. He was born in 1769 in France, the son of a barrel maker and blacksmith. He wanted to join the military, but his father persuaded him otherwise. At 15, he held an apprenticeship for a lawyer for about two years. Just before the start of the French Revolution, Ney joined the army. “He wanted the life and the glory of the military,” Bradshaw said.
Because he was smart and educated, he quickly moved up through the ranks. Since many of the noblemen had fled to other countries, “the army was headless so young guys were getting promoted quickly,” Bradshaw said. He became a Mason in 1792, a move that would prove beneficial in the future. He was a colonel in 1795, a brigadier general in 1796 and a general of division in 1799. Ney met Napoleon in 1801 and became one of his best battlefield commanders.
At the close of the Revolution, the rising government saw the need to make a symbol of someone and sentenced Ney to die in 1815. This is where historians and experts begin to disagree.
Bradshaw believes that on Dec. 7, 1815, Ney was taken behind the prison in Paris to be executed. He believes the firing squad shot with blanks and Ney used a bag of red dye. His body was taken to a nearby hospice, where it is believed he waited until dark. Ney fled south with assassins following him. Bradshaw believes that the royals wanted him dead, but did not want to admit they had let him escape. Ney’s Masonic brothers and the British assisted him in his escape to America, where he landed Dec. 22, 1815, according to Bradshaw. Ney then changed his name to Peter Stuart Ney, his father’s name being Peter and his mother always claiming relation to a family named Stuart, according to Bradshaw.
Ney was in Charleston by 1816, but was soon recognized. A Masonic lodge again smuggled him to safety in Georgetown in 1819. He was then smuggled up the Yadkin River, landing in Brownsville.
When Napoleon died in 1821, Ney realized he would never again set foot on French soil, giving up hope of ever re-uniting with his wife and four children.
During a trip to Columbia, S.C., Ney was discovered again. He then fled to Mocksville in December 1822. He taught in schools from Salisbury to Mocksville, in Iredell County, Statesville and Lincolnton. One school was the one at Third Creek Presbyterian Church in Cleveland.
“I think it is unquestionable that the people in the area knew who he was and were protecting him,” Bradshaw said.
Ney died in December 1846 and many say he told several people on his death bed that he was in fact Marshal Ney. “I will not die with a lie on my lips,” he is believed to have said.
Bradshaw points to several kinds of proof that the man buried here and Marshal Ney are one in the same.
The man buried here could draw vivid maps of battles of the French Revolution.
The military leader and the school teacher both fit the same description in many respects. Physical descriptions by Peter Stuart Ney’s students match that of descriptions of Marshal Ney in French military and police documents. The two men share identical wounds, one to the left elbow and one to the knee. They both spoke the same languages.
When the Secret Service and a private firm independently examined writing samples by both men, they concluded it to be of the same hand.
Although many believe Marshal Ney was executed in France in 1815, many area residents, including Bradshaw, contend that he is buried in Cleveland.
Contact Jillian McCartney at 704-797-4253 or email@example.com