Flora MacDonald, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and North Carolina

One of the most colourful characters in North Carolina is Miss Flora MacDonald. She was a Jacobite heroine and an royalist whose husband fought in what may be considered the first actual pitched battle of the American Revolution in North Carolina, though it is rarely if ever mentioned in American history books.

To say that Flora had an exciting life would be an understatement. She had a remarkably adventurous life, which sounds like a swashbuckling novel. Her acquaintances were the stars of the 18th century, and include Prince Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, The Duke of Cumberland, son of King George II and Dr Samuel Johnson. Two of these were the protagonists in the Highland Rising of "45" commonly called simply the "45". She was imprisoned in the Tower of London, released, married and moved to North Carolina and lived in Cross Creek, now called Fayetteville. Fayetteville is named for the Marquis de La Fayette, the home of Fort Bragg, and is located in Cumberland County (named for the Duke of Cumberland). Now how is that for irony?

Flora MacDonald (in Gaelic: Fionnghal NicDhòmhnaill) was born in 1722 to Ranald Macdonald and his wife Marion, on the island of S. Uist in the Outer Hebrides. (The outer Hebrides are the dark shaded blue on the map of Scotland, right) The Hebrides are a cold inhospitable place, with the wind from the north sea blowing down the Irish sea. The people there are kind, hardy, determined and some of the most loyal people in the world. This is a hallmark of the Scots people and found doubly in the personality of Flora.

When she was a young child her father died and her mother was abducted by Hugh Macdonald of Skye. Flora was educated with the help of her clan, the McDonalds of Clanranald, in Edinburgh. Evidently her clan saw something in this woman more than just a woman to marry off and bear children. They would not be disappointed.

She was living on the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides when Bonnie Prince Charlie took refuge there after the Battle of Culloden. Culloden was a sanguine battle, the last of the "45" and highland risings, and an English victory. Culloden marked the end of the military phase of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. The battle was followed by a lengthy period of suppression in the Highlands marked by massacre and despoiling and the burning of crofts. Children and the aged were not spared. Of the officers and chiefs who escaped the battle, those who could fled to Europe and served in foreign armies mainly the French, Royal Eccosais.**

Some were in due course permitted to return. Many of the Jacobite rank and file fled to the American colonies, including New york, North Carolina, South Carolina and the West Indies. The prisoners were tried at Berwick, York and London and around 80 were executed, the last in 1754.

Hesitating at first, Flora promised to help the Prince to escape the island of Skye. An elaborate ruse was designed. The head of the local militia was her uncle, he prepared for her a pass to go to mainland Scotland in the company of her maidservant and Irish spinning woman and six oarsmen. The spinning woman called Betty Burke was in fact Prince Charles in disguise. They landed after several trys on the Isle of Skye, from there he escaped first to Ramasay and hence to France. Unfortunately the oarsmen, who could not keep the escape to themselves, were arrested and divulged the entire story. Flora was then arrested and imprisoned in London in the Tower.

As she was a woman she eventually was allowed to live outside of the Tower, under the guard of a jailer. She was released in 1747 under the Act of Indemnity. In 1750 she married at the age of 28, (old for those times) Captain Alan Macdonald of Kingburgh. It was during her stay at Kingsburgh that she met Dr Samuel Johnson, who found her, "a woman of soft features, gentle manners and elegant presence."** in 1773 the couple emigrated to North Carolina and setted in a predominantly Scots area of central North Carolina called the Sandhills region around Cross Creek.

In April 1775 the British troops attempting to remove the gunpowder from Lexington and Concord Massachusetts were attacked by rebels and fought a running battle back to Boston. The sentiment in North Carolina was reaching a boiling point and a force of patriots loyal to the Crown were assembled to march onBrunswick town. The patriots were to rendezvous with the British troops in Brunswick town, south of Wilmington on the lower Cape fear river. Gov. Martin would supply weapons to the patriots and lead them in subduing North Carolina and returning it to British rule.

The rebels under the command of Alexander Lillington and Richard Caswell (first Governor of North Carolina after the rebellion)assembled to prevent this and planned on a defensive action at the Widow Moores creek in what is now Currie, North Carolina. Patriot troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Donald McLeod, an 80-year-old experienced British officer, led a combined force of about 700 Scot Highland emigrants and 800 other loyalists.

At dawn on February 27, 1776, the Highland Scots, under the command of Lt. Colonel McLeod and Captain John Campbell, arrived at the bridge over the creek to find it blocked by the rebels who during the night had removed the board leaving only the two supports remaining. The supports were greased making them slippery. In the style of the highland the Scots shed their breacan an fhéilidh (great kilt), pulled their bonnets down with a shrug, drew their broadswords and charged the bridge with crys of "King George and broadswords!" they were met by with heavy rebel musket and cannon fire at point-blank range. With the whole attacking party cut down in just 3 minutes, the rebels rushed across the bridge in a counter-attack, forcing the remaining Highlanders and Loyalists to flee. The rebels victorious, lost only one man killed and another wounded, while inflicting about 30 casualties, including both McLeod and Campbell who were killed, thus preventing the planned rendezvous with the British regulars at Bruswick.

Flora Macdonald husband was numbered with the captured and was sent to Halifax, Virginia as a prisoner. In 1779 on the advice of her husband Flora left the colonies and returned to Scotland. On the way her ship was attacked by a French privateer. refusing to go below she remained on deck and fought off the attackers with the crew. Her arm was broken.

She resided at Milton, and upon the return of her husband she returned to Kingburgh were she died in 1790. She was wrapped in a sheet upon which both the Prince and Dr Johnson had slept and she was buried in the church yard at Kilmuir. She was 68 years old.

Flora Macdonald from the NC Dept. of Archives and History.

Left... Flora Macdonald from the digital library NYPL

Note*:There is to my mind some small mysteries concerning the Royale Eccosais. The Regt itself had been in existance before the "45". At Culloden the British captured a number of what were called the Irish piquets, that is about 100 soldiers from the 4 Irish Regiments then in service to France, being Ruth, Lilly, Berwick, and Dillion who wore red with 4 different facings and some troops from the Royal Eccosais who wore a blue uniform with red facings. Some histories say that those soldiers, when captured fared better than the un-uniformed Scots. It may be that these soldiers were repatriated back to France because of their service. Some of the fresh drafts into the Royale Eccosais that had fought at Culloden wore a bonnet with a white cockade. A series of prints sent to the Spanish King during the reign of Louis XV which purports to show the Royale Eccosais with just such a bonnet.

Note**:The Dictionary of National Biography By Sidney Lee page 478

NOTE: Patriots were loyal to the crown.
Rebels were in opposition to the crown.

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