Researchers unearth possible remains from Peter Stewart Ney’s grave

Published 12:10 am Thursday, July 7, 2022

CLEVELAND — French researchers have discovered a possible lead in their investigation into the identity of a Rowan County schoolhouse teacher buried in the cemetery of Third Creek Presbyterian Church.

On Wednesday, the three-person crew from the television series Historie au Scalpel, including director Dominique Adt, producer Mathieu Hucher, and archaeologist, photojournalist and actress Jennifer Kerner continued their descent into the grave of Peter Stewart Ney, despite the blistering weather, sifting through buckets of red clay until they found what they believe is a mouth bone.

The hunt for answers on the “second identity” of Ney began Tuesday morning at when community members, church attendees and historians gathered for the hands-on examination of the burial site of Ney, a 19th century educator. According to the legend, Ney reportedly claimed, both during his lifetime and in a deathbed confession, to be Marshal Michel Ney, the well known commander who served under Napoleon Bonaparte’s command.

History notes Ney initially pledged loyalty to the Bourbon monarchy when Napoleon first abdicated in 1814, but when Napoleon returned in 1815, Ney once again joined him in his fight for the throne. Ney commanded the Old Guard at the Battle of Waterloo, and suffered criticism that his performance cost Napoleon the battle. When the monarchy was again restored and Napoleon was defeated and sent into exile a second time, Ney was charged with treason, condemned to death and shot by a firing squad.

However, through the years, rumors have swirled endlessly that the commander faked his death during his execution in 1815 to flee to the rural parts of North Carolina until Napoleon could return to power. Since that never happened, he remained here, teaching the children of planters in counties along the East Coast until his death on Nov. 15, 1846, at the age of 77.

The goal of the current exhumation of the tomb where Ney’s remains are supposed to lie is to find DNA of the supposed historical figure and match it with the DNA from property of Michel Ney’s sons from France.

Despite a strong group of people who believe Peter Ney was indeed also Michel Ney and that the tomb here in Salisbury holds the true remains of the soldier, there is also an enormous mausoleum located at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France, that is supposed to be the final resting place of the marshal. However, the team with Historie au Scalpel was not granted permission to enter the French burial site, so they received permission to research the grave here. The hope is to try to determine once and for all if Peter Ney and Michel Ney are indeed one and the same.

According to Kerner, who is an archaeologist specialized in the exhuming of bodies, the confirmation could take days as they will need to match the DNA with what has been provided to them in France.

The team, along with a number of volunteer assistants, will continue their search this week.