Marwood Maine Coons
The History of the Maine Coon
The Maine Coon cat is one of the most famous cat breeds in New England and most of the United States. They are the hardiest, furriest and largest cats of all the domesticated cat breeds kept in homes around the Western world. Apart from their good looks and gentle personality, their history is also quite mysterious! Their origins are more folk tale and theory than real proven facts. Some might even say that they are the Maine Coon myths.
As one of the “original native cat-breeds” of the United States, the Maine Coon cat is known for having adapted to the harsh winters and natural wild environment of the state of Maine. The cold and the distances between human settlements in Maine helped the Maine Coon cat breed stay unmixed for hundreds of years. This is mainly due to a small number of other cats in the area and a first-hand experience of Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. Unfortunately though, not much is known about how they got there in the first place.
There are a few theories, some more fairy tale than fact. Others more like science fiction due to genetic improbability. Still, none of the theories have been proven and their mysterious origins have become part of the Maine Coon’s uncanny feline charm.
Here are some of the well-known theories as to the origins of the Maine Coon cat. Which story you tell about your cat, is up to you. Nonetheless, an undeniable fact about the Maine Coon cat is that it’s the state animal of Maine and that’s pretty impressive in it itself.
Cat + Wild Animal Theory
One of the most common theories about the Maine Coon cats’ origin is that it is a hybrid. There are two general strains to this origin theory. The first is that a domesticated cat cross-bred with a raccoon. The other is that a domesticated cat cross-bred with a bobcat.
Of the first theory (cat+raccoon) there is little possibility since cats and raccoons are completely different species and cannot breed with each other. The second theory of a cat breeding with a bobcat might sound more probable but actually isn’t. Cats and bobcats are both from the Felidae family but are not the same species. Bobcats are a lynx species, meaning they cannot breed with normal cats.
Even if the hybrid theory is genetically and scientifically impossible, when it comes to looks and personality, things can get confusing. People from Maine will tell you that the theory of the Maine Coon being half raccoon or half bobcat is an old wives tale. Similarities in fur color and thickness, the love of water, the lynx-like ears, it all makes one wonder.
The cat + raccoon theory also has a bit of influence in the name of the Maine Coon. Before it was called the Maine Coon, it was simply called “Maine cat.” The addition of the second word, Coon, could be from the abbreviation for raccoon, coon, or as we will see further on, from Captain Charles Coon.
This improbable theory has been around for hundreds of years but has no proof whatsoever.
Ship Cats Theory
The strongest theory about the Maine Coon cats’ origin is that they are descendants of European ship cats. Ship captains would usually keep cats onboard to keep control of the mice and rats that could wreak havoc on the cargo and the inner workings of the ship. Some captains were so close to their long-haired cats that the kittens were very well taken care of and looked after. Some seafaring families kept close watch over their cat families, usually maintaining the color strain for generations.
Two hundred years ago, the state of Maine was a common harbor for ships to anchor and get repairs, and for sailors to take a break on land. Not only that, Maine was also very popular with ship-building companies. Many sea-faring families settled in the coastal towns of Maine, bringing along their precious cats. Some captains also retired in the area, bringing along their loved feline families.
These cats might have been one of a few long-haired breeds of European cats. The most mentioned in relation to this theory are the long-haired Angora breeds. It is believed that these sailor cats would then become the much loved Maine Coon. People always say that Maine Coons are great mousers, giving even more weight to this theory.
Captain Charles Coon and his Cats
Of the ship cat theories, a particular story seems to stand out from the rest. Back in the 1800’s, there was a ship Captain by the name of Charles Coon. Even if his name is an extremely convenient match for the Maine Coon cat origin story, there is no proof that it’s not just another folk tale. The story of Captain’s Charles Coon and his long-haired cats could be the story of any sea captain but this is a memorable one.
When Captain Charles Coon would come to anchor in the ports along the New England coast, including Maine, his cats would come on land as well. As the story goes, they bred with the local feral cats and when long haired kittens started showing up in litters all over the coast, they were called Coon’s Cats because they looked so much like the Captain’s own cats.
Is the Captain’s name a coincidence or did it really give the cat breed its name? Nobody is completely sure.
There is another variable to the ship cats theory of British and French boats bringing long-haired cats aboard for mouse control and then leaving them behind in Maine. Some Maine Coon theorists believe that these furry creatures are descendants of the Norwegian Forest Cats. These would have made their way to the United States aboard Scandinavian ships for company and mouse control. Nordic explorers arrived in the US long before other Europeans did and so if this theory were true, Maine Coon cats would be a much older native species.
Even if all the ship cat theories sound highly probable, there is no concrete proof of any of them and the stories have become more folk tales than ‘real origin’ stories. It really depends on what part of New England you are in. Each town will have their own Maine Coon cat origin story, most probably a version of one of the ones we mention here.
Marie Antoinette and her Angora Cats
The most colorful and interesting of all the Maine Coon cat origin myths is the one that has to do with guillotines, huge wigs and a bit of cake.
In the time of French royalty, and Marie Antoinette’s extravagant tenure at Versailles, the Turkish and Persian Angora cats were a common house pet. Sometimes they were even considered a pest, due to how fast they reproduced and took over the homes. King Louis XVI is said to have used the cats as hunting targets for fun with his friends.
The tale that connects Angora cats to Maine Coon cats is the story of Marie Antoinette’s near escape to the United States. When Marie Antoinette and her family were arrested at Versailles in 1793, her ship captain Samuel Clough, and some of her sympathizers planned an escape to the state of Maine. At the docks, there was an anchored ship which regularly traveled the merchant route between France and Maine. The plan was to get the family on the ship and take them to Maine, and safety.
While Marie Antoinette and her family were kept incarcerated, the ship’s captain and his sailors loaded the ship with royal furniture, royal wallpaper, the fanciest of clothing and according to theorists, quite probably a family of Angora cats. All rescue attempts failed, resulting in the decapitation of Louis XVI and then Marie Antoinette.
When the royal family was executed and dissolved, the ship captained by Samuel Clough, left France in a hurry and sailed to the planned destination in Maine. There, on the coastal town of Wiscasset, the captain’s wife awaited with a large house ready for her royal guests. The huge manor was furnished with all of Marie Antoinette’s regal possessions and opulent decorations. This house still stands and is known as “The Marie-Antoinette House.” It was once a museum but is not a private residence and cannot be visited.
This story of the almost survival of Marie Antoinette and her family is a real proven fact, but what remains a mystery is the presence of the Angora cats on Samuel Clough’s ship. If the Maine Coon cats are descendants of Marie Antoinette’s royal Angora cats, it would make for a nice story, but there is no real documented proof, only speculation.
This article was written by the Maine Coon Expert
Blue eyes may be found when a cat has a high degree of white marking on the face and body but it is unusual to find blue eyes in a cat with little to no white, however in the Netherlands, Joyfield's Faith is Blue-Cream Silver and White with blue eyes. Alice Gal - van Valkengoed and her husband bought cream-and-white Rociri’s Elvis (father to Joyfield's Faith) from Ciska Mennings, choosing him when he was only one day old. Rociri’s Elvis is the son of Anverscoon Grenache (blue male) and Famke of Keraysun (cream smoke female). Famke does not have any odd-eye or blue-eye ancestors but the father of Anverscoon Grenache is an odd-eyed white (i.e. one blue and one orange eye) with odd-eyed white in his ancestry. The breeders and vet believe that the odd-eye gene has mutated so that blue eyes show up in non-white cats. Elvis was the only male in his litter and the breeder never had any other blue eyed offspring from the same pairing. When Elvis had his first offspring, Alice did not expect to see blue eyes – but two of his kittens had inherited the trait, showing it to be a gene mutation that could be passed on.
Our blue eyed Heart Stealer's Que Lindo is from the Joyfield line and is the great grandson of Rociri's Elvis. We are very excited to have him in our breeding program and look forward to working with and specializing in the line of blue eyed Maine Coons.
The original article may be found on the Messy Beast website.
Aleksandra Arakeliants of Blue Ridge Cattery from Krasnodar Russia has been working since 2017 to develop a line of blue eyed Maine Coons outside of the Joyfield line. In order to accomplish her goals of producing blue eyed Maine Coons she received special permission from FIFE and acquired a black smoke, deep blue eyed Altai male which she then proceeded to cross with the Maine Coon. Once she had three generations of offspring she then took them to shows so that experts in the Maine Coon breed could examine her efforts and state whether the offspring were indeed in line with MCO standards. To her great joy all of her efforts had been fruitful and the cross has been a success in producing blue eyes with the Maine Coon breed characteristics. The work that she has done is of great benefit to our cattery as it will bring in new blood to our blue eyed Maine Coons as well as helping to maintain generations of healthy offspring.
Polydactyl cats, also known as Hemingway cats, got their name from the Greek origin word, polydactyly which means many or extra toes. Unlike humans, dogs or any other species, where this trait does not often occur, among felines is pretty standard and affects the cats predominantly from the US, Wales, and England. An average cat usually has 18 toes, four of them are on the back paws and five on the front legs. A polydactyl cat can have to up to eight toes on each leg. Polydactyl cats are born with extra toes because of a genetic mutation which was first recorded on the ships out of Boston passed down to them by one of their parents. A kitten born with this mutation is not in any danger and can lead a normal life like any other cat.
A lot of myths and folk stories surrounded these animals which they are also known as Hemingway cats, getting their name from the famous writer, and a fact acknowledged about him is that he was the owner of many cats and more than half of them were polydactyl. Moreover, the polydactyly was predominantly found in the Maine Coon breed, and more than 40% of them have had this trait. A few years back the Polydactyl trait in the Maine Coon cat was being bred out by breeders, but in the recent years, it has started to make a comeback and gain more and more popularity. A polydactyl ginger tabby cat holds the record for the most toes with 28 digits, and each toe had its pad and nail.
This excerpt was also taken from the Maine Coon Expert.