The Plot Thickens: Did DNA Settle a Centuries-Old Conspiracy?

Production crew at Ney documentary

Researchers and a crew of documentary filmmakers from the French TV series History and the Scalpel visited North Carolina to dig into the mystery of a schoolmaster thought to be one of Napoleon’s top lieutenants.

The case is closed, at least to a group of French researchers. 

The crew from a French TV series, History and the Scalpel, sought to establish whether Peter Stewart Ney, North Carolina schoolteacher and designer of Davidson College’s seal, was actually Marshal Michel Ney, a top lieutenant to Napoleon. The mystery included that Ney had craftily escaped a firing squad in France and fled to South Carolina, moving later to North Carolina. 

The researchers’ conclusion: Non. 

The legend around Ney generated, not one, but four books. His grave, adorned with a plaque claiming his adjutancy to Napoleon, was exhumed at least twice. The latest was in July of last year by the French team. Those researchers found no remains, at least in part because souvenirs were claimed during previous digs. 

They were able to extract DNA from Ney’s flute, held in the college’s archives. Laboratory testing determined Peter and Michel were two different men. Peter’s hair color, eye color and skin tone were different than Michel’s. 

“Peter Stuart had a DNA typical of the population who colonized North America—north-west Europe,” Dominique Adt, who headed the documentary team, wrote in an email. “Marshal Ney’s family was from Switzerland or Germany.”

The TV and research team concluded that Peter Stewart Ney may have been a British officer who admired Michel Ney and, perhaps influenced by war trauma, claimed to be the famous French officer. 


  • September 18, 2023