AMERICANREVOLUTION.ORG LETTER BOOK OF CAPTAIN ALEXANDER McDONALD,
ROYAL HIGHLAND EMIGRANTS
In the 18th century, it was customary when corresponding to create two letters. The original, as you might suspect, went to the addressee. The sender, before posting it, would make a copy, which would remain with the sender in a "letter box" or a "letter book" for future reference.
For the wealthy, the entire task was done by a personal secretary, with the "writer" doing no more than signing their name. As we travel down the social (or military) ladder, the creator of the letter not only wrote the letter itself, but also made the copy.
As you might expect, this was a tedious process, and copies that have survived and have been compared to the originals are usually poor shadows of the originals. Extensive abbreviations, often only known to the writer, are often seen, as well as glaring grammatical errors that were hopefully (but not necessarily) corrected in the original. Indeed, when the copy was made in haste, it would not be unusual to see the same word spelled two different ways in the same sentence!
An inferior grade of paper was often used for the copies, leading to a more rapid rate of deterioration.
Thus, when you see "***", it will mean there was a gap of illegible writing or destruction of paper in the original.
Spelling and punctuation have been left intact as much as practicable, to give the reader the "feel" of the original letterbook.
Since you are about to journey into the private and public lives of Alexander McDonald, Captain of the Royal Highland Emigrants, a loyalist regiment, you should know a little bit about that most interesting gentleman.
Alexander first pops up in the historical record in 1746, in Scotland, with service in the Earl of Loudon's Loyal Highlanders during the Jacobite Rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie. This was followed by service against the French, and in 1757 the Seven Years War (our French and Indian War) saw him sent to North America as a lieutenant in Montgomery's 77th Regiment of Foot. Recovering from wounds received in an action near Fort Duquesne, in 1758 he was transferred south to the French West Indies theater of the war, where he fought in Dominica and Martinique. When Spain entered the war, MacDonald's company was sent to the siege of Havana, where the 77th suffered heavy losses. When the 77th returned to the mainland, an indian uprising sent MacDonald into action at the wilderness battle at Bushy Run in western Pennsylvania.
In 1763, the 77th was disbanded in New York. Alexander retained his commission as a senior lieutenant when his regiment was disbanded. The British army would often place veterans on an inactive list, on half-pay, in what we would call today a Ready Reserve. Rather than return to the Scottish Highlands, MacDonald elected to stay in America, settling in New York, and marrying quite well - his wife Suzanna belonged to a branch of the Livingston family, one of the richest and most powerful in New York.
Many of MacDonalds fellow officers and enlisted men of the disbanded 77th had settled further upstate, in the Mohawk Valley west of Albany, and were joined by other immigrants from the Scottish highlands. Sir William Johnson, the Indian agent to the Iroquois nation and a large landowner in the Valley, convinced the Indians to allow this influx, and lined his pockets well from this rapid increase in rent-paying tenant farmers. MacDonald had many relatives and former comrades in arms among these colonists, and he kept in contact with all of them.
He also kept in contact with Scottish immigrants in North Carolina through his kinsman Allan MacDonald, who would later be a leader of the Loyalist contingent at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge. Allan, by the bye, was married to Flora MacDonald, and if that name isn't familiar to you, you obviously know nothing of Scottish history - according to legend, after the disastrous defeat at Culloden Moor, Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to France, and eluded capture before slipping out of Scotland by literally hiding under the skirts of ... yup, you guessed it - Flora.
Alexander himself settled at Decker's Ferry on Staten Island; a rural, agricultural community where his wife had inherited property. His sister in Britain was married to a doctor who was also a merchant in the Portuguese wine trade.
In 1765 the imposition of new taxes caused protests and riots in cities throughout the colonies. As the political storm clouds gathered, the Livingston family and their allies gradually became the leaders of the whigs (patriots), and the rival DeLancey family and friends devolved into the Loyalist leaders in New York. The Livingstons offered a military commission to MacDonald (Richard Montgomery, a half-pay British captain living in New York and married to a Livingston, became a General in the Continental Army in this fashion), but Alexander would have none of it.
In 1772 the British promoted MacDonald to a captaincy. He began writing to his cousin Allan in North Carolina, to John Small, a major on the army staff at Boston, and to old friends in the Mohawk Valley, proposing the creation of a regiment of loyal Highlanders in the event of an armed rebellion against the crown.
In October 1774 he left his beloved wife and children on Staten Island and traveled to the Mohawk valley to recruit from among his old comrades. When he had secured the agreement of more than a hundred, MacDonald went to Boston to place his new regiment at the service of the crown, to be "put on the establishment", meaning that he hoped that the regiment would be approved and taken into the British Army.
Shortly thereafter is where we enter his life through his letters ...
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