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Who Was Flora Macdonald?

In 1774, she and her husband emigrated to North Carolina. During the American War of Independence Captain Macdonald served the British government in the 84th Regiment of Foot (Royal Highland Emigrants). Legend has it that she exhorted the Loyalist force at Cross Creek, North Carolina (present-day Fayetteville)

Oxford University - Ashmolean Museum

Flora Macdonald by Allan Ramsay

Scottish National Gallery

The Prince Charles Edward Stuart - "Bonnie Prince Charlie"

Flora Macdonald, Jacobite heroine, was born in 1722 to Ranald Macdonald of Milton on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, and his wife Marion.  Her father died when she was a child, and her mother married Hugh Macdonald of Armadale, Skye.  She was brought up under the care of the chief of her clan, the Macdonalds of Clanranald and was partly educated in Edinburgh. Throughout her life she was a  practicing Presbyterian.  During the Jacobite Risings, in June 1746, she was living on the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides when Bonnie Prince Charlie took refuge there after  the Battle of Culloden.  The prince's companion, a Captain O'Neill, sought her assistance to  help the prince avoid capture.  After some hesitation, Flora agreed to

help the prince escape the island.  The commander of

the local militia gave her a pass to the mainland for herself, a manservant, an Irish spinning maid, Betty Burke, and a boat's crew of six men.  The prince was disguised as Betty Burke. 




The party landed and the prince was hidden in the rocks while Flora

found help for him in the neighborhood.  It was arranged that he

be taken to Portree, Skye from which he later escaped to safety in France.  The talk of the boatmen brought suspicion on Flora

Macdonald, and she was arrested and brought to London for aiding

the prince's escape.  After a short imprisonment in the Tower of

London, she was allowed to live outside of it, under guard until 1747,

when she was finally released.


On 6 November 1750, at the age of 28, Flora married Allan

Macdonald of Kingsburgh, a captain in the British army.  The couple

lived on the Isle of Skye where they subsequently raised five sons

and two daughters.  Upon the death of Allan Macdonald's father in

1772, the family moved into the Macdonald family estate at

Kingsburgh.  Her bravery and loyalty had gained her general 

sympathy, increased by her good manners and gentle character.  

The eminent eighteenth century author Dr. Samuel Johnson, who

met her in 1773, the year before she moved to America, described

her as "a woman of soft features, gentle manners, kind soul and

elegant presence."  He also paid the tribute that is engraved on her memorial at Kilmuir: "...a name that will be mentioned in history,

and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour."  

In 1774, she and her husband emigrated to North Carolina.  During the American War of Independence Captain Macdonald served the British government in the 84th Regiment of Foot (Royal Highland Emigrants).  Legend has it that Flora exhorted the Loyalist force at Cross Creek, North Carolina (present-day Fayetteville) as it headed off to battle in February of 1776.  Allan Macdonald was captured and held prisoner for two years until a prisoner exchange occurred in 1777.  He was then sent to Nova Scotia where he again  took command of the 84th Regiment of Foot (Royal Highland Emigrants).   After her husband was taken prisoner, Flora remained in hiding while the American patriots ravaged her family plantation and stole all of her possessions.  When her husband was released from prison during the fall of 1778, she reunited with him in Nova Scotia.


In 1779 Flora returned home to Scotland in a merchant ship which was attacked by a privateer en route. She refused to leave the deck during the attack and was wounded in the arm.  Flora resided at the homes of various family members until Allan returned to Scotland and the family settled again at Kingsburgh.  She died at on the Isle of Skye in 1790, at the age of 68 and is buried there in the Kilmuir Cemetery.

Flora's grave in the graveyard at Kilmuir, overlooking  the Hebridean sea

Flora's death does not bring an end to her story. Two of the children of Flora and Allen Macdonald died during their years in North Carolina and their graves lay forgotten near the site of the Macdonald's homeplace.  Flora Macdonald College founder and president, Dr. Charles Vardell, learned of these children and arranged to have them re-intered on the grounds of the college named in honour of their mother.  In 1937 an impressive funeral was arranged, with the remains lying in state in a double coffin beneath the dome.  They were carried to their final resting place by six college girls - all of whom were named Flora Macdonald.  After a storm damaged the monument on Flora's grave on Skye, the college raised funds to help replace it and Dr. Vardell travelled to Scotland for the installation of the new stone. He returned home with the original damaged marble tablet from Flora's grave and it was placed over the graves of her children where it remains today.

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