The history of this breed of large felines has many interesting facets, including a possible link to the Royal cats of Marie Antoinette. There are some myths, which are genetically impossible, but add to the aura of mystery around this unusual and strikingly large and intelligent breed.
Someone back in time (probably American farmers trying to make sense of such a huge cat) decided that this variety of cat must be a combination of regular domestic cats and racoons, that are plentiful in the state of Maine. The obscure logic behind this is that some of the original varieties of Maine Coon had ringed tails, similar to those of a racoon. But as this is genetically impossible, this is one of the romantic myths we can discount immediately.
The second story concerning the early beginnings of Maine Coons involves an English sea captain named Captain Coon. Being fond of cats, he is said to have often taken feline friends along with him on his voyages to the New England coastline, where he traded during the early Colonial days.
Legend has it that his cats, which were most likely early Angoras or Longhaired Persians, both of which were enjoying a huge surge of popularity in England at the time, may have ‘jumped ship’ to enjoy a little ‘R & R’ of their own, never to return.
These cats would doubtlessly have mingled their genes with the local feline population, and soon kittens were being produced with long hair. As these kittens were so extremely unusual (there were no native cats with long hair in North America at that time) the locals called them “Coon’s Cats”. When domestic cats finally arrived in the USA with early settlers from Europe, they were very highly valued, and people are said to have deliberately crossed the “Coon’s Cats” with the imported European cats, thus creating the breed we know today as Maine Coon.
Yet another school of thought believes that today’s Maine Coons are descendants of cats imported to North America by Marie Antoinette, then Queen of France. It is said that when the French Revolution was taking place in France, it was decided to expatriate the Queen temporarily to America. A certain Captain Clough was to take all of the Queen’s possessions to America, later to be followed by the Queen herself. Amongst the royal treasures of silver and furniture were six of the Queen’s treasured longhaired cats.
It soon transpired that even though a good deal of her valued possessions were now in America, the French Queen was not after all going to follow. The treasures were shared out amongst relatives of Captain Clough and the longhaired cats given their freedom. The cats born from these ‘royal’ cats are thought to be the descendants of the breed we know today as Maine Coon.
The less romantic, but more practical and likely explanation of the Maine Coon is that the breed developed in order to survive the often intemperate climate. But since there were no longhaired cats in North America, genes from the cats of European settlers or visitors must have also influenced this breed’s development.