north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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      Flora MacDonald was born to Ranald and Marion MacDonald in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, in 1722. When Flora was about a year old, her father died. After her mother remarried (to another MacDonald), it is believed that she lived with relatives, such as her father’s people Clanranald, who oversaw her education. Unfortunately, much information about Flora MacDonald’s early life is lacking substance and has taken on the characteristics of a folktale. John J. Toffey in A Woman Nobly Planned examines the historiography of Flora MacDonald, dispels many of the myths, and helps sort out the particulars of her adventures. The following sketch draws heavily upon Toffey’s research as it is more grounded in historical method than many of the earlier tales of Flora MacDonald’s life. Any inconsistencies with local lore will be better explained in Toffey’s text.

     Also disputed is the reason for and the means by which Flora MacDonald became involved in a plot to help usher Prince Charles Edward Stuart to safety. Current scholarship indicates that it was likely through her stepfather Captain Hugh MacDonald, despite his loyalty to the Crown. Regardless of the circumstances, however, Flora obtained passports for herself and an Irish servant named Betty Burke, who was the “Young Pretender” (the Prince) in disguise. The unlikely pair set off from Uist on June 28, 1746 by boat with a small crew of Highland sympathizers. After arriving at Skye, Flora sent the boat crew back to Uist. It was those men who, when confronted there by the King’s forces, betrayed the plan and the whereabouts of the Prince and his guide. The two conspirators parted ways at the inn in Portree on June 30, 1746. About ten days later, Flora was captured. She was imprisoned on various ships and in London for about a year, and by the time of her release she had become a celebrity at home and abroad. Flora maintained throughout her life that she helped the fugitive as she would help any person in need. Although she became a Jacobite heroine, the cause was never one to which she claimed loyalty.

     In 1750 Flora married Allen MacDonald, and settled into “matrimonial intermission.” Following difficult financial times, the couple emigrated to North Carolina with two of their sons in 1774. Their eldest daughter Anne and her husband Alexander McCleod arrived at about the same time. Her stepfather Hugh MacDonald and her half-sister Annabella were already in the colony. Annabella and her husband, Alexander MacDonald, lived at Mount Pleasant, in modern Harnett County, where Flora and her family spent the winter of 1774-1775. Flora and Allen made their North Carolina home along Cheeks Creek, near Pekin, in modern Montgomery County.

     True to their allegiance to the crown, as the war in America heated up, Allen MacDonald took up arms with other Highlanders bound for the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. Allen, their older son, Alexander, and their son-in-law, Alexander McCleod, were captured and taken to Halifax, then later to Philadelphia where they remained for two years. During that time Flora endured hardship and illness, the family’s property was confiscated, as was the law at the time. In 1778 she was granted passage to New York for herself, her daughter Anne, and Anne’s children. There they joined the rest of the family, formerly imprisoned, and went to Nova Scotia where Allen, in command of a company of British volunteers, had been ordered to serve. After a bitter winter, Flora returned home to Scotland. Allen followed her four years later. Flora MacDonald died at Skye on March 4, 1790.


References:
John J. Toffey, A Woman Nobly Planned: Fact and Myth in the Legacy of Flora MacDonald (1997)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, IV, 138-139—sketch by Maud Thomas Smith
Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina (1907), VII
Rosalind Mitchison, A History of Scotland (1970)
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Flora MacDonald

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources