Monday, July 7, 2008

A Poplar Grove mystery

On the first day the research team went to Poplar Grove to begin processing documents for transport to the Archives, every document warranted a discussion. A few of the questions we asked three weeks ago have since been answered, but the document featured in this post is still quite perplexing. No direct names are used, no date is listed, and no location is given. But judging by the document's content it appears the author and recipient wanted it that way.

To the left is the image of a cypher, void of any specific author, with instructions on how to read a coded letter. It reads:

"You are the Duc de Feltre
I am las Casas

The Key

The superscription and the signature be found in their proper place and [illegible] be read forwards in the usual way.
To read the body of the letter you must begin at the bottom and read backwards up. Capitalize smaller letters placed without any sense to propriety

V Signifies Bonaparte
A The King of England"

Directly below the instructions is the alphabet--as we know it-- on top, in which each letter corresponds with a different symbol below.

The final bit of text at the bottom reads: "[Placing] the dot in the letter between each separates [illegible] the words."

It is unclear--and, in fact, I have no idea-- whether this is a playful exercise between the adolescent Anna Maria Hemsley and her brother, or whether the cypher was used for more dubious reasons. Either way, it is an intriguing piece of history and one that jogs the imagination.


Adam Goodheart said...

The Duc de Feltre was a famous Napoleonic general who became Minister of War. "Las Casas" may refer to Emmanuel-Augustin-Dieudonné-Joseph, Comte de Las Cases, another trusted member of Napoleon's inner circle who accompanied the Emperor in exile to St. Helena and acted as his secretary there.

I am reminded of a local legend that during Napoleon's imprisonment on St. Helena, a group of gentlemen on the Eastern Shore of Maryland plotted to rescue him and secrete him away in a house called Beverly in Somerset County. Allegedly, the plan was thwarted only by the ex-Empereur's death in 1821. I'd always assumed it was just a romantic old tale, but who knows ... maybe there is even something to it?

Could someone at Poplar Grove have been scheming to bear the victor of Austerlitz triumphantly away to the Land of Pleasant Living, here to pick crabs, drink Natty Boh, and bore the watermen with reminiscences of his faded imperial glories?

It would certainly seem to jibe with Thomas Emory's politics as a passionate Democrat and hater of the British.

Mike M. said...

The above comment gives me chills. I remember reading about the same legend as you have described.

Crazy stuff.