Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
December 28, 1893
GLIMPSES OF THE PAST
Contributions to the History of Charlotte County and the Border Towns.
XCVII FLORA MACDONALD.
Connected not only with some of the early settlers of St. Patrick, but also, less directly, with those who came to the parish of St. James a generation later, the story of Flora Macdonald is of special interest to the people of Charlotte county. Her gentle character, her great beauty, and her devoted attachment to the cause of the Young Pretender, bonnie Prince Charlie, whom she concealed from his pursuers, undaunted by the danger and untempted by the great price set upon his head, have made her a favorite heroine in Scottish history. The tale will bear a repetition:1
Flora Macdonald was born about 1720, in South Uist, one of the most remote islands of the Hebrides.
Her father, Macdonald of Milton, died when she was a child, and her mother, being young and handsome, was wooed by Macdonald of Armadale, in the Isle of Skye. She declined the offer repeatedly, and at length the Highland chieftain resorted to a species of courtship not uncommon among those despotic lords-he carried off the lady by force, and married her. The union proved a very happy one, and Flora grew up to womanhood in the rugged, lonely fastnesses of Skye.
That branch of the Macdonald family to which Floras own father belonged joined the Prince almost to a man. Macdonald of Armadale was more prudent. He foresaw from the first the failure of the enterprise, and though his heart was with the Stuart, he rendered a nominal adherence to King George, and was made commander of the royal militia raised in the neighborhood. He also had sufficient influence over Floras brother, young Macdonald of Milton, to prevent him publicly joining the Stuart standard. Thus it will be seen that Floras immediate relatives were not with the Prince although the clan to which she belonged was fully committed to his cause.
Prince Charles landed in Scotland on the 19th of August, 1745, and was immediately joined by a band of Highlanders. With these he went southward, his small, irregular army being augmented gradually by adherents from Lowland and English Jacobite families. He took possession of Edinburgh, routed the royal armies at Prestonpans and Falkirk, but at Culloden sustained such a terrible defeat that the only hope was to escape to France, and there endeavor to reorganize his plans.
Surrounded by enemies more savage than sleuth-hounds, he assumed a humble disguise, and almost alone sailed to in an open boat for the Hebrides, where, after many perilous adventures, he found a temporary refuge in South Uist, the Macdonalds of that sept, as before said, having been deeply engaged in the rebellion.
But it was at the best a refuge exposed to every misery and to every danger, and it was not long ere the government suspected his retreat. Then the South Uist was so beset by sea and land that it was impossible for the Prince to move a mile in any direction without risk of being taken and slain, for orders to that effect had been issued. Examining a map, it will be seen that the Hebrides extend in detached masses along the northwestern coast of Scotland for about one hundred and fifty miles. They are nearly all difficult of access, and present the wildest features of mountains, moors, and morasses. Lewis is the largest and most, notherly (sic) and southward of it lie North Uist, Benbecula, and South Uist, the last three so closely connected by small rocky islets that they are often spoken of collectively as the Long Island. Opposite to South Uist lies Skye, the most important of the Hebrides, separated from Long Island by a strait forty miles across.
At this juncture he was in South Uist, with a faithful attendant called ONeil. He had been wandering between South Uist and Benbecula for ten days, often lurking within the sound of the voices of those who were hunting him. His case was desperate in the extreme. Then ONeil discovered that Flora Macdonald was on a visit to her brother in Milton. He was slightly acquainted with the lady, and he determined to throw the Prince upon her generosity, and trust his safety to her good sense and courage.
In some way he obtained an interview with her. With all the passion and tenderness of a Celtic nature, ONeil described Charless distress and danger, and implored her aid. Flora wept at his recital and agreed to visit the Prince, and arrange a plan for his escape. An interview was appointed on her brothers land in Benbecula; and with a faithful servant she managed to pass the little strait unseen and unchallenged. It is not difficult to imagine the desolate, storm beaten rock, and in its rude Hebridean sheeling the royal wanderer and his faithful friend holding with the Highland maiden an anxious council of life and death.
It was at length decided that Flora must find some way to convey Prince Charles to her mothers house in Skye; and as Floras step father was then in command of the militia patrolling South Uist, she hoped to procure a pass to Skye which would include the Prince in some disguise or other.
As she was returning from this conference she was met by a party of soldiers, and as she had no pass authorizing her to visit Benbecula, she was arrested and taken before the officer then on duty, who fortunately was her step father. No particulars of the interview have been preserved, but there is little doubt Macdonald of Armadale entered warmly into Floras scheme; for he gave her at once a passport to her mothers house in Skye, which included her man-servant and a young Irishwoman called Betty Burke, whom Macdonald specially recommended as a good spinner of flax, and who was really Prince Charles in that character.
Flora then took her relative, Lady Clanranald, into her confidence, and with her help a proper dress and a small shallop were quickly prepared. Together they then visited the hut where Charles and ONeil were anxiously waiting some intelligence. When they entered they found this handsome young heir of kings roasting the liver of a sheep upon a wooden spit. The whole party partook of it, Flora sitting on the Princes right hand and Lady Clanranald on his left.
While they were eating, Lady Clanranald was hastily called home by the intelligence that General Campbell, with a large force of soldiers, was seeking the Pretender at her house. She was questioned very strictly, and though she deluded the government at that time, both she and her husband subsequently suffered a long imprisonment for their kindness.
Wherries full of armed men patrolled the coast, and Charles was very thankful when the night permitted him to assume the quilted petticoat, coarse printed gown, and mantel of dun camlet peculiar to the Irish peasant girl. He had now also to part with his last follower, ONeil, for Flora had taken as her guardian a relative of her own called Neil Makeachen, or Macdonald. This Macdonald afterward escaped to France, and became the father of the famous Marshal Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum, a soldier distinguished during the wars of Napoleon, and who, eighty years after this hazardous enterprise, visited the scenes which his relatives valor had made so memorable.
The night proved wet and tempetuous, and they had to wait among the rocks many hours before an opportunity of putting off presented itself. Even then the raging seas of those narrow straits threatened continually to swamp their little boat. When day dawned they were out of sight of land, and had no means of knowing in what part of the Hebrides they were. When they did reach the shores of Skye they found them lined with militia, who, on their refusal to land, pursued them with a deadly rain of bullets.
At length, after severe fatigue and exposure, a landing was effected on the northern extremity of Skye, where Sir Alexander Macdonald had a seat. Flora wisely left the Prince in hiding, and went with her supposed servant to reconnoitre. It was well she did so. There were several British officers in the house, but she managed, with great presence of mind, to converse merrily with them on topics quite foreign to the matter which filled her heart and thoughts.
Lady Macdonald, a true Jacobite at heart, was soon informed how affairs stood, and not daring herself to leave the house, she sent her relative, Macdonald of Kingsburgh, to succor the Prince. He gladly carried the fugitive wine and food, and then took him home to his own house. The lady of Kingsburgh was at first greatly alarmed at the guest her husband brought her. The Prince! she screamed; then well be a hanged noo.
Hout! tout! We can die but once, an we couldna die in a better cause. Gang awa an mak haste wi the supper for his Royal Highness, answered the old gentleman gallantly.
The good lady needed little persuasion; she was for Prince Charlie as heartily as any of the Macdonalds, and Charles enjoyed under her roof such a supper and such a bed as he had long been a stranger to. Flora arrived at Kingsburgh as soon as it was possible to do so without arousing the suspicion of the officers who were at Lady Macdonalds, and the next morning the little party, guided by Kingsburgh, proceeded to walk across the island to Portree, where they hoped to find friends and a boat to convey Charles to Raasay-a little island between Skye and the mainland of Scotland, that offered many advantages for future safety.
When Charles left Kingsburgh there was a very touching scene between its mistress and her Prince. She arranged his disguise with the lingering fondness and devotion of a mother, and after she had watched him out of sight, went weeping up stairs, and folding the sheets in which he had laid, declared that no hand should touch them until her death, when they should be used as her winding sheet. She gave one of them subsequently to Flora for the same solemn purpose, and in all her American straits and wanderings it was carefully preserved.
At Portree, Charles found faithful friends eager to help him, and here, therefore, Flora took a final farewell of one whom she had gladly risked her life to save.
Flora returned quietly home, and waited anxiously the result of her efforts. She was aware that sooner or later suspicion would be aroused, and indeed she had scarcely arrived at home when she was arrested and conveyed on board a ship of war. Led from place to place, she was at length taken to Leith, where she remained two months. Though not allowed to land, the commodore treated her with all the deference due to her heroic character, and the noble Jacobin ladies of Edinburgh and its vicinity constantly visited her.
At length she was put on board the Royal Sovereign, and it sailed at once for London. Arrived there, the gates of the gloomy Tower opened at once for the noble Highland maiden.
But her fame had preceded her, and the government did not think it prudent to deal too harshly with one whom the public had not only forgiven, but determined to honor. Her room in the Tower became a kind of court, where all that was noble and great came to do her homage; and there is no doubt her modest yet enthusiastic advocacy of the Highland people did much to soften the rigor of the persecution against them.
Indeed, Frederick the Prince of Wales was so impressed by her character and views that he not only exerted himself to procure her liberation, but also that of Macdonald of Kingsburgh, and of Malcolm Macleod, of Gallingal, who had acted as Prince Charless guide after Flora left him at Portree.
On her return to Skye she was married to young Macdonald of Kingsburgh, and on the death of his father became the lady of Kingsburgh. But the estate was greatly impoverished by war, fines and unstinted hospitality, and when all hopes of the Stuarts return had to be abandoned, Flora and her husband resolved to emigrate to the Carolinas.
The Macdonalds settled near Halifax, in North Carolina, and seem to have been regarded as the head of a large Scotch emigration scattered around that vicinity. Unfortunately the Revolutionary war broke out before they had become attached to their new home, and Macdonald, who had given his allegiance to the house of Hanover when Charless cause became dead and hopeless, transferred with it the rigid loyalty that had been so marked a characteristic of his race.
A regiment of Highlanders was formed, Floras husband being its colonel, and her son, a lad of sixteen, one of the captains. The first fight between it and the colonists took place at Moores Creek, Feb. 27, 1776; and the Highlanders were defeated.
After the battle of Moores Creek, Col. Macdonald remained for some time a prisoner, and on his release served with his regiment in Canada. At the close of the war he retired on half pay, and they returned to their home in the barren, cloudy mountains of Skye.
Flora retained to the last her beauty, her vivacity and her spirit. She died on the 5th of March, 1790, at the age of seventy years. Her winding-sheet was actually one of those in which Prince Charles had slept at Kingsburgh.
1From a writer in Harpers Magazine for October, 1880.
By a blunder in last weeks issue, the date of the
plundering of Squire Currys house was given as 1787.
It should have been 1778.