Flora MacDonald Biography | Women of the Revolution


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created AmericanRevolution.org in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.

    Flora M'Donald.


      Massachusetts has her Lady Arabella, Virginia her Pocahontas, North Carolina her Flora M’Donald,” says the eloquent author of the ” Sketches ” of that State. The residence of this celebrated heroine on the banks of Cape Fear River, and the part she took in the American Revolution, link her name as inseparably with the history of North Carolina, as it is with that of her own Scotland.

      During those events which succeeded the rising in favor of the Pretender, Charles Edward – the rebellion of 1745 – and led to the emigration of the colony of Highlanders who settled among the sandy forests on the Cape Fear, Flora M’Donald first makes her appearance – a young and blooming maiden. After the battle of Culloden, which destroyed the power of the Highland “lairds,” Prince Charles Edward sought concealment in the mountains of Rosshire, where he escaped capture by the generous self-sacrifice of the chivalrous Mackenzie. Landing on the island of South Uist, he found a temporary shelter at Ormaclet with Laird M’Donald; but being traced thither by the keen scent of his pursuers, it seemed that a miracle alone could save him from the net so closely drawn. After many projects for his escape had been proposed, and laid aside, the wife of the laird suggested the plan of disguising him in female attire, and passing him for a travelling waiting-maid; but it was difficult to find a lady willing to undertake the enterprise. Two who were appealed to declined it from fear of the consequences. In this emergency she turned to the young and beautiful Flora M’Donald, the daughter of a petty laird in the same island, whose mother, after her father’s death, had married an adherent of the government, Captain M’Donald, of Armadale, in the Isle of Skye. This step-father was then in command of a company of the clan M’Donald, in the service of King George, and searching for the Prince. Flora had come to visit her relations, on her return from Edinburgh, where she had just completed her education. She was a simple, kind-hearted girl, possessed of strong natural sense, and a resolution firm to accomplish whatever she decided to undertake. She had never seen the Prince; but to the proposition made to her, and her kinswoman’s question, “Will you expose yourself to this danger, to aid the Prince’s escape from his enemies ?” she replied at once, “I am willing to put my life in jeopardy to save his Royal Highness from the dangers that beset him.” In this heroic determination, she was actuated not so much by attachment to the house of Stuart, as by a generous wish to succor the distressed.

      O’Neill, an officer to whom Lady M’Donald entrusted the business, and MacEachen, accompanied Flora to Carradale, a rocky, wild, sequestered place, where the royal fugitive had his place of concealment in a damp and unwholesome cavern. They found him alone, broiling a small fish upon the coals, for his solitary repast. Startled at their approach, he made ready to defend his life; but soon discovered that the new comers were his friends, and entered with delight into their plan for his escape. The preparations for leaving the island being completed, the maiden secured a passport from her step-father for herself and companions, including a stout Irishwoman, whom she called Betsey Burke, pretending she had engaged her as an assistant in spinning for her mother in Armadale. On the 28th of June, 1746, the party set out from Uist in an open boat for the Isle of Skye. A violent storm overtook them, and they were tossed about all night; the heroic girl, anxious only for the safety of her charge, encouraged the oarsmen to exert their utmost strength, while the Prince sang songs he had learned round the Highland watchfires, and recited wild legends of the olden time. At dawn they approached the island. The sight of a band of soldiers drawn up on the shore turned them back; the soldiers fired after them, and while the balls were whistling past, they pursued their course eastwardly, landing about noon, near the residence of Sir Alexander M’Donald, the Laird of Sleite.

      Concealing the Prince in a hollow rock on the beach, Flora repaired to the chieftain’s house, the hall of which was full of officers in search of the royal fugitive. The Laird himself, at that time absent, was known to be hostile to his pretentions; but Flora appealed not in vain to the generous enthusiasm of woman. Lady M’Donald’s compassionate heart responded to her confidence; she sent refreshments to the weary wanderer by the Laird of Kingsburg, her husband’s Baillie, and as it was deemed safest to depart immediately, he accompanied them to Kingsburg. The country people whom they met returning from church looked with much curiosity at the coarse, clumsy, long-legged female figure with the Laird and the maiden; but they reached unsuspected the place of their destination, and Kingsburg conducted the Prince to his house, where he was to pass the night. His wife came to receive him and his guests, and it is said, was terrified on saluting the supposed Betty, at the rough beard which encountered her cheek. The next morning Flora accompanied the Prince to Portaree, and bade him adieu, as he was to embark for the Isle of Raarsay. At parting, he kissed her, and said, “Gentle, faithful maiden, I hope we shall yet meet in the Palace Royal.” But the youthful heroine never again met the Prince who owed so much to woman’s tenderness, and the loyal feelings of Scottish hearts.

      After the escape of Charles Edward to France, the indignation of the officers of the crown fell upon those who had aided his flight. Flora was arrested with others, and imprisoned in the Tower of London, to be tried for her life. The nobility of England became deeply interested in the beautiful and high-spirited girl, who, without any political or religious bias, had exhibited such romantic devotion to the cause of royalty. Prince Frederick, the heir apparent, visited her in prison, and by his exertions at length succeeded in obtaining her release. After being set at liberty, she was introduced into the court society by Lady Primrose, a partisan of Charles Edward, and a person of wealth and distinction. It is said that Flora’s dwelling in London was surrounded by the carriages of the aristocracy, who came to pay their respects and congratulate her on her release; and that presents were showered upon her, more than sufficient to meet the expenses of her detention and return. The tradition in Carolina is that “she received gold ornaments and coin enough to fill a half bushel.” She was presented to George the Second; and when he asked how she dared render assistance to the enemy of his crown, she answered with modest simplicity, “It was no more than I would have done for your Majesty, had you been in a like situation.” For her escort back to Scotland, she chose a fellow-prisoner, Malcolm M’Leod, who used afterwards to boast, “that he came to London to be hanged, but rode back in a chaise-and-four with Flora M’Donald.”

      Four years after her return she married Allen M’Donald, son of the Laird of Kingsburg, and thus became eventually mistress of the mansion in which the Prince had passed his first night in the Isle of Skye. Here Doctor Johnson and Mr. Boswell were hospitably entertained in 1773; at which time Flora, though a matron and a mother, was still blooming and graceful, and full of the enthusiasm of her youth. She put her distinguished guest to sleep in the same bed in which the unfortunate Charles Edward had occupied. It is mentioned in the tour to the Hebrides that M’Donald then contemplated a removal to America, on account of pecuniary embarrassments.

      In 1775, with his family and some friends, he landed in North Carolina, so long a place of refuge for the distressed Scottish families, and settled first at Cross Creek – so called from the intersection of two streams – the seat of the present town of Fayetteville. It was a stormy period, and those who came to seek peace and security found disturbance and civil war. The Colonial governor summoned the Highland emigrants to support the royal cause; General Donald M’Donald, a kinsman of Flora’s, who was the most influential among them, erected his standard at Cross Creek, and on the first of February, 1776, sent forth his proclamation, calling on all his true and loyal countrymen to join him. Flora herself espoused the cause of the English monarch with the same spirit and enthusiasm she had shown thirty years before in the cause of the Prince she saved. She accompanied her husband when he went to join the army, and tradition even says she was seen among the soldiers, animating their courage when on the eve of their march. Though this may be an exaggeration, there is no doubt that her influence went far to inspire her assembled clansmen and neighbors with a zeal kindred to her own.

      The celebrated battle of Moore’s Creek proved another Culloden to the brave but unfortunate Highlanders. The unhappy General M’Donald, who had been prevented by illness from commanding his troops in the encounter, was found, when the engagement was over, sitting alone on a stump near his tent; and as the victorious American officers advanced towards him, he waved in the air the parchment scroll of his commission, and surrendered it into their hands. Captain M’Donald, the husband of Flora, was among the prisoners of that day, and was sent to Halifax: while Flora found herself once more in the condition of a fugitive and an outlaw.

      The M’Donalds, with other Highlanders, suffered much from the plunderings and confiscations to which the royalists were exposed. It is said that Flora’s house was pillaged and her plantation ravaged. Allen, after his release, finding his prospects thus unpropitious, determined to return with his family to his native land – and they embarked in a sloop of war. On their voyage home, an incident occurred illustrative of the character of this remarkable woman. The sloop encountered a French vessel of war, and an action ensued. The courage of the sailors appearing to fail, capture seemed inevitable, when Flora ascended the quarter-deck in the fiercest of the battle, and, nothing daunted by a wound received, or according to one account, an arm broken in the tumult, encouraged the men to a more desperate conflict. The enemy was beaten off, and the heroine safety landed on her native soil. She was accustomed afterwards to say pleasantly, that she had hazarded her life for both the house of Stuart and the house of Hanover; but that she did not perceive she had greatly profited by her exertions.

      Notwithstanding her masculine courage, her character was thoroughly feminine, and blended modesty and dignity with sensibility and benevolence. Her eventful life closed March 5th, 1790. An immense concourse assembled at her funeral, and not less than three thousand persons followed her remains to the cemetery of Kilmuir, in the Isle of Skye. According to a wish long previously expressed, her shroud was made of the sheets in which the Prince had slept the night he lodged at Kingsburg. It is said she had carried them with her through all her migrations.

      The town of Fayetteville covers the former metropolis of the Highland clans. It was surrounded by a sandy, barren country, sprinkled with lofty pines, and the American home of Flora M’Donald stood in the midst of this waste. The place of her residence has been destroyed by fire; but her memory is still cherished in that locality, and the story of her romantic enthusiasm, intrepidity, and disinterested self-devotion, has extended into lands where in life she was unknown.

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