Is the Mystery Grave at Airlie Gardens that of Michel Ney, one of Napoleon’s Marshalls?
A single grave, with the short inscription ‘Known in Eternity’ on the head stone and ‘J.J.H. 1833’ on the foot stone rests in a quiet corner of the beautiful landscaped Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina. I had the opportunity to visit this lone tombstone when my daughter got married in Airlie’s Pergola Garden about a year ago. It is an elegant and gorgeous place. The burial spot sits above the Pergola Garden and offers a glimpse into one of history’s great mysteries: did Michel Ney, one of Napoleon’s Marshalls, escape execution?
Although the initials J.J.H. on the grave refer to John J. Hill, which is the name the man went by, it is known that wasn’t his true identity and only a fictitious name he called himself. He was a mysterious Frenchman who arrived in Wilmington sometime after 1820 and began tutoring the children of the Wright family who owned the land and boarded him. Joshua Grainger Wright, the owner, acquired the land in the late 1700’s.
The story goes that after this well-educated and liked gentleman passed away (1833), and was buried under the oaks he loved to sit under, a paper was found amongst his belongings which stated, “I am the Marshall’. For this reason, some believe the mysterious grave belongs to that of Napoleon’s Marshall, Michel Ney, who was rumored to have cleverly escaped execution on December 7th, 1815.
There had been tales floating around the time that Michel Ney had escaped the firing squad by an ingenious planned and successful scheme to stage his death and re-locate to America.
Interestingly enough, however, the mystery grave at Airlie Gardens is not the only one or only person who died in America with claims to the name and title of Michel Ney, one of the 12 Marshalls of Napoleon.
In a different part of North Carolina, another Frenchman, with a mysterious background, and going by the name of Peter Stewart Ney, spoke last words of “I am the Marshall”. This man died in 1846, and is believed by many to have been the true Marshall. So, if this is the case, then who was the person buried in Airlie Gardens and why was ‘I am the Marshall found in his papers?
It’s intriguing to note that the letters for NEY can be found in Eternity; offering another possible meaning to ‘known in EterNitY’ (as mentioned, the letters can be seen/known in the word Eternity). Had the more quiet man buried at Airlie been the ‘real’ NEY, and the second man followed suit? Or maybe J J H secretly accompanied the other Ney to America, and kept the secret with him.
No one knows, and so the mystery remains who is really buried in these men’s graves.
Wonderful and informative books have been written investigating this fascinating story and tale. Here is a link to one in the public domain: History on Peter Ney
This shares an in depth look on how Peter Stewart Ney could have escaped being executed on that historic day in Paris, near Luxembourg Garden, in 1815 (or how anyone else could have too (like the person buried at Airlie))
So many mysteries to explore!
And here, just for fun, are my four children in front of the famous almost 500 year old oak tree at Airlie Gardens….
Best of luck with all that you seek! Always Treasure the Adventure!
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