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Royal Realty in Maine

Last week’s blog centered around the origin of our state feline, the Maine Coon. One of the theories involved the attempted escape of Marie Antionette from France. This baseless theory about how Maine Coons came to be is an urban legend at best, and I’m not surprised that I didn’t learn about it in history class, but parts of the story did have some merit. In Edgecomb, Maine, there stands a Victorian era house that locals have dubbed the Marie Antoinette House. This home was supposedly the intended destination for the doomed queen had her escape plan worked.

Her Crimes

Marie Antoinette was born into royalty. She was the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, and like many noble young women, she was married off for political reasons. She obeyed her family’s wishes, and in 1770, she married King Louis XVI to strengthen the French-Austrian alliance. 

Antoinette moved to France during a chaotic time where the peasantry had little to eat and was pushing for reform of the monarchy. Accustomed to her lifestyle, she urged her husband to resist reform. She continued to live lavishly and even powdered her hair with flour when many of her people didn’t even have flour for bread. When given news that the peasantry didn’t have food, she is famously quoted as saying, “Let them eat cake.” Antoinette actually never said the famous and callous line. To be fair, she was actually one of the least extravagant people in the French Court. The truth didn’t matter to the peasantry, though. They had their own version of events, and their anger drove them to capture the king and queen and try them for treason.

The Hero

James Swan was a successful immigrant from Scotland who set up a trading business importing and exporting goods between France and America. Samuel Clough was one of his sailors and captain of The Sally, which he frequently used to make the long trips between France and his home in Maine. His ship was docked in France’s port of Le Havre in the summer leading up to Marie Antoinette’s death. A friend and royalist sympathizer, Jean Pierre de Batz, approached Clough and offered him money to help the queen escape to America.

Clough accepted, and the royalist sympathizers went ahead with their plan. They piled Clough’s ship with Antoinette’s most prized possessions and paid one of the royal guards to deliver a bouquet of flowers to the queen. Wrapped around the stem of one of the carnations was a note. Marie Antoinette replied to the message by using a pin to prick holes into the paper. She returned the note to the guard who suddenly suffered from cold feet and revealed the plot to his superiors.

Antoinette was taken to the Conciergerie, a more secure prison where her chance of escape was slim to absolute none. She was found guilty of treason in October of 1793 and was taken to the guillotine. Samuel Clough reportedly watched the queen’s execution before sailing back to America.

How Much of It Is True?

There is evidence that Clough was in France leading up to the queen’s death, and he did return to Maine with a boat full of fine furniture and expensive fabrics. The royal palace was looted before Clough left France, so it is possible he acquired it by means other than what the legend suggests. Some of this furniture still remains in the Marie Antoinette House.

Many of Clough’s family members reported that he had become quite fond of the queen, so much so that he named his first daughter after her. He even returned from France with a white garment, which he claimed was the death robe of Marie Antoinette. This robe has since been lost to time.

The Marie Antoinette House does physically exist in Edgecomb, Maine. The home can be viewed from afar as it is private property owned by historical crime author Lea Watts. Whether the stories attributed to the house are true is up for you to believe or not. Many are quick to point out that there is not enough evidence suggesting Antoinette was ever destined to come to Maine. However, secret and illegal endeavors rarely have a paper trail to follow.

– Written by Stacy Oswald & Photo by Donald Giannatti