Maine Coon Early History: Eight Theories

Maine Coon Cat Boswell

We will never know for sure the origins and early history of the Maine Coon
Maine Coon Cat Boswell. Photo copyright Helmi Flick

This page sets out eight theories on the history and origins of the Maine Coon cat in America.

Raccoon Hybrid

A raccoon mated with a domestic cat to produce the Maine Coon. There was a time, not long ago, when this theory was still believed by some people:

“In the Northeast, it is thought to have been bred from a raccoon because the cat’s front claws are divided like a raccoon’s”…..The Cat and Man by G.Grilke

The Maine Coon’s tabby coat supported the theory. Today there are many Maine Coon coat types. The tabby Maine Coon has a ringed tail pattern like the raccoon. It seems that the islanders from islands off the coast of Maine spread some rumours about the raccoon hybrid cat. One journalist was taken in by an islander who stated that the breed originated when “a cat from China, Maine” mated with a raccoon.


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This theory is now just a fanciful story and discredited as biologically impossible.

The interesting aspect of the raccoon hybrid theory is that there is a presumption that there were housecats in Maine when the hybridisation took place. As domestic cats are not native to America where did those housecats come from? What I am saying is that the raccoon origins theory is incomplete. It does not go back far enough. That fact in itself is enough to ignore it.

Bobcat Hybrid

This is more plausible but also discarded. Bobcats were, and still are, found in Maine. The American bobcat does mate with domestic cats and it does have ear tufts, which is one of the hallmarks of the Maine Coon. Another distinguishing feature of the bobcat that can been seen on the Maine Coon are the outsized furry feet.

There are well documented cases of bobcat/domestic cat hybrids. There is even one fictional story regarding a current cat breed: the Pixie-bob. Some said this rare breed is a bobcat x domestic cat hybrid. It is bred to look like a bobcat but DNA test have proved that the cat is all domestic.

The Maine Coon has nothing to do with the American bobcat. That theory is well and truly laid to rest. Also, once again the origins are incomplete. Where did the housecats come from to mate with the bobcats?

Marie Antoinette – Former Queen of France

As Marie Antoinette lived from 1755 – 1793 by implication, this theory states that the Maine Coon started life in America just before the beginning of the 19th century. Quite recently. This makes it immediately implausible because the first immigrants to the US came in the early 1600s. They came in ships and ships had ship’s cats – almost 200 years before the Marie Antoinette origins theory.

What is the Marie Antoinette Maine Coon origins theory? In summary, a sea captain from Maine, Captain Samuel Clough decided to sail to France to save the life of Marie Antoinette from the guillotine. He sailed to France and picked up her furniture and several long haired cats some of which may have been long haired cats from Norway – think Norwegian Forest Cats (NFCs). The NFCs had been given to her by a Swedish diplomat, Count Axel von Fersen. He knew that the queen loved cats and gave her the perfect gift. The other long haired cats were Angoras and Persians.

He brought the cats to America, without Marie, who was executed in 1793, October 16th. The cats dispersed in Maine and founded the glorious empire that is the Maine Coon breed!

It appears that the motivation for Captain Clough was money. Perhaps he was well paid and he thought there may have been bonuses to be had just like modern day bankers.

Captain Coon

This is another sea captain story. The story comes from Biddeford, Maine. The captain was an Englishman. He had brought his ship’s cats from England. They were Persian and Angoras. He traded up and down the New England coast. His cats got of the ship and sometimes went AWOL. They began the Maine Coon dynasty.

Vikings

This is the well known theory that the Vikings sailed and rowed from Sweden, Norway, Denmark etc. and brought with them, to their settlements in Greenland and Vineland, their long haired cats, which were the forerunners of the modern day Norwegian Forest Cat. From Greenland the Norwegian Forest Cat settled in Maine and hence the great similarity between these two breeds both physically and in character. One judge in 1975 in a Berlin cat show declared that they were the same breed.

Long-haired Russian Cats & and The French Domestic

Long haired Russian cats were popular in Europe and were taken to the UK. From there they were shipped to America. The French Domestic looks very similar to the Maine Coon. The theory is that French explorers brought these cats to America to trade them with the Native Americans for Native American products. The cats were useful as rodent catchers.

Early Trade and Settlers

The classic theory is that the ancestors of today’s Maine Coon are the ship’s cats of the early European immigrants in the 1600s and from ships thereafter who traded their cargo up and down the northeast coast  of America.

Combined Theory

The eighth theory is the best. Combine all these theories as possibles except for the hybrid stories and don’t ask too many questions. Focus mainly on the ships’ cats theories together with natural evolution over 400 years in a harsh climate. We don’t know the answer to the question, “what are the origins of the Maine Coon in America?”. It is likely to be a combination of one or more of the above.

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Maine Coon Early History: Eight Theories — 7 Comments

  1. Hi Michael 🙂

    “what are the origins of the Maine Coon in America?”. It is likely to be a combination of one or more of the above.

    Not really. ”Early Trade and Settlers” is actually the only theory that makes sense. Genetic studies reveal to us that Maine Coons come from random bred European cats. It is not so old breed and before all this refinement/selective breeding has took place, Maine Coon looked just like any longhair cat.

    Marie Antoinette theory has no basis, it’s all made up. First how do we know that Marie Antoinette got any cats? It is known that she liked dogs. But cats, let alone Angoras,”Persians”? The only sources that provide us with this story come from cat related pages – unsourced, implausible. Those who say otherwise should find some reliable historical sources, but I doubt there are any!

    • I know….I am having a bit of fun here because the common sense stories about settlers and traders have got to be correct but it is fun to see how people like to try and dress-up the routine stuff. Hope you are OK in Turkey.

      • Thank you Michael. We are fine, I hope you too.

        I agree, made up stories and legends are more interesting. However I find it problematic when those stories become historical facts. I don’t think it’s anyhow good to believe in something what is obviously untrue.

        Kind Regards.

  2. Those complicated and fanciful tales about the origins of the Maine Coon only serve to make people look foolish. Not only are the W Eutopean origins of the Maine Coon clearly proven by genetics this is also backed up by the fact that the polydactyl trait is common in Maine Coons and also cats in SW England (Ref. Sarah Hartwell)which had extensive trade links with N America. I have my own theory about this and it is the sailors thought that cats with an extra toe would be better able to manage the heaving deck of a ship at sea, and so preferentially chose such cats.

    • I have heard that about sailors thinking that polydactyl cats make better ship’s cats. We sort of know how the Maine Coon started in the USA but it is quite nice to look at the stories. People like the exotic. The routine story isn’t quite good enough.

  3. Yes. But they fill people’s heads with false information which is never helpful and leads them astray. It’s the same with the Persian. They look for foundation Persians in Iran and never find any. There’s nothing dull about cats going to the New World from Devon and Cornwall and being selected for their seaworthiness.

  4. I think it’s good to hear legends as well as the routine historical versions, because in the end what does it matter how cat breeds truly originated?
    It’s much more important that people are educated on how to care properly for all cats who exist, no matter how their lineage began.

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