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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter XII - Flora MacDonald


AMONG the emigrants to the Scotch settlements on the Cape Fear, was Flora McDonald, a name held in the highest reverence in the traditions of North Carolina and the Highlands of Scotland, though English history has given her neither a name nor a place in her pages, crowded with the events and personages of that day, that no human art can save from the oblivion they deserve. With or without history, the descendants of the Highlanders in North Carolina will love the name of Flora McDonald, while female excellence can he found among their sisters and daughters.

In those heart-stirring events that succeeded the rising in favor of the Pretender, and led to the emigration of the Scotch settlement on the Cape Fear river, Flora McDonald first makes her appearance, a young and blooming girl; in the troubles and distresses-that affected the honest yet divided Scotch in Carolina, at the commencement of the American Revolution, she is the dignified matron; before the disasters and radical principles of the French Revolution troubled her country and employed her children, she was carried to the cemetery of Kilmuir.

The most romantic escape of the Pretender, Prince Charles Edward, in his five months' wanderings in the Highlands of Scotland, hunted from mountain to dell, from crag to cavern, by day and by night, by the soldiers of the Duke of Cumberland, and a price set upon his head as a fugitive felon, was planned and executed by the McDonalds, the most powerful of whom had opposed the attempt to place the Prince upon the throne, as a hopeless rebellion, and many of whom were bearing alms for the house of Hanover; and some even then leading forces in search of time Royal fugitive, into the wilds and fastnesses of the Highlands and the Western Isles.

Roderick Mackenzie aided the flight of the Prince by his chivalrous death; Flora McDonald by her romantic spirit and womanly contrivance. "This young man," says one, "sought concealment in the mountains of Ross-shire after the battle of Culloden, and was surprised by a party of soldiers sent in pursuit of Charles Edward. His age, his figure, his air, deceiving the military completely, they were going to secure him, believing they had got hold of the true prince. Mackenzie perceiving their mistake, with great fortitude and presence of mind instantly resolves to render it useful to his master. He drew his sword, and the courage with which he defended himself, satisfied these soldiers that he could be no other than the Pretender. One of them fired at him; Mackenzie fell, and with his last breath exclaimed—'You have killed your Prince.' This generous sacrifice suspended for the time all pursuit, and afforded an opportunity for the unfortunate Charles to escape from the hands of his enemies."

The escape by the aid of Flora was less bloody and more romantic. With great difficulty he had made his way across the Highlands to the western shore, and setting sail in an eight-oared boat from the farm of Arasag, after encountering a most furious storm, such as are frequent on that northern sea, when, in the language of Ossian, "The thunder of the skies, as a rock, penetrated the heavens, and a fiery pillar issued from the black cloud," he landed on one of the western islands, South Uist, and found a shelter for a time at Ormaclet, with Laird McDonald, of Clan Ronald. The keen scent of his pursuers at length traced him to this place, and three thousand soldiers, red coats as they were called, were sent to search the island, through every dell, and rock, and crag, and cottage; and armed vessels were stationed all around to intercept every ship or boat that might attempt to leave the shore and convey away the royal fugitive. Many projects for his escape were proposed by his anxious friends, and laid aside in rapid succession. At length Lady McDonald suggested a romantic plan,—that, arrayed in female clothes, he should accompany a lady as her waiting woman, or servant maid. Two difficulties were to be encountered; what lady would engage in the dangerous, though romantic enterprise? and how should they obtain a passport from the hostile officers for such a company to leave the island? Two young ladies in the house of McDonald were appealed to, but their courage was less than their tenderness.

At this critical time, who should come to the house of Laird McDonald but the kind and beautiful Flora, from Mil1burg, in the same island, to visit her relations, on her return from Edinburgh, having just completed her education in that metropolis. The father of this accomplished young lady had been some time dead, and her mother was united in marriage with Captain Hugh McDonald, the one eyed; the son of Samuel, the son of great James, the son of young Blue Donald, of Armadale, in the Isle of Skye. her step-father, Capt. Hugh McDonald, was then in Uist, in command of a company of the clan McDonald, in the service of King George, searching for the Prince.

The peculiar feelings of the Scotch towards the Royal family of their nation is beautifully exhibited in the occurrences connected with that young lady's visit. While these McDonalds could not take arms to place the prince upon the throne, esteeming the effort madness, and were defending the reigning house of Hanover, and even then in arms in search of Charles, hemmed in among the crags of Uist, they could not find it in their heart to seize him, now in their power, though some of them were so pressed with debt that the large reward offered might have been a temptation, and the fines and confiscations that would follow suspicion of their favor for the Pretender, might have been a sufficient reason to hold them back from any effort for his escape. "Will you," says the lady of Laird McDonald to Flora, after making her acquainted with the presence and hiding-place of the Prince on the island, and the plan she was meditating for his escape, "will you expose yourself to this danger to aid the escape of the Prince from his enemies that have him here enclosed?" The maiden answered, "Since I am to die, and can die but once, I am perfectly willing to put my life in jeopardy to save his Royal Highness from the danger which now besets him." Delighted with this response, the lady opened time matter to an officer named O'Neill, who expressed the same romantic desire to aid the escape of the very man for the apprehension of whom he was then in arms. He accompanied Flora to Carradale, a rocky, craggy; wild, sequestered place, where the Prince lay concealed, in a cave, that they might concert with him the details of the plan of his escape. On entering the cave they found the Prince alone, broiling a small fresh fish upon the coals for his lonely repast. Startled at their approach, and supposing his retreat had been discovered by the soldiers, and escape to be hopeless, he put himself on the defence to sell his life as dearly as his dignity required. The gallant young officer and the beautiful lady do him reverence as a prince. At their kind salutations his alarm gives place to astonishment; and the unfolding of the plan for his escape from his desperate condition, filled his heart with unmeasured delight. After a short interview, Flora left him, and calling on her brother at Millburg, finds a youth, Neill McDonald, the son of Hector, as noble, generous, and romantic as herself, who entered with devotion into the plan for the escape of the Prince, in whose company she returns to Ormaclet., to complete the preparations for the departure from the island.

The most important step was to procure a passport from the island, that might protect them from the search of officers, and detention by the vessels on the coast. Flora at length obtained one from her step-father, Captain Hugh McDonald, for herself, her youthful companion Neill McDonald, and three others, to constitute a boat's crew, and also for her serving maid, BETSEY BURKE, a stout Irishwoman, whom Flora pretended she had engaged for the special purpose of becoming her mother's spinster, at Armadale, in Skye. As the Captain gave the passport, and wrote by Flora a letter recommendatory of Betsey Burke as a spinster, it is conjectured, not without reason, that he was not altogether unaware of the designs of his fair step-daughter, though he wisely kept himself in ignorance.

While the arrangements were in progress for this visit of Flora to her mother, in Skye, Allan McDonald, of the, hill, arrived at Ormaclet with a company of soldiers in search for the Prince, without any particular suspicions that the fugitive was near, or any thought that his fair kinswoman was concerting a plan of escape which his presence might particularly discommode. There was now no time to be lost. Flora, hastening to his hiding-place, clothes the Prince in the attire of an Irish serving woman, and on the afternoon of Saturday, the 28th of June, 1746, the party embark from Uist for the isle of Skye. Soon after they launch forth, there comes upon them a furious storm of wind. Tossed to and fro, and driven about all night, the courage of the maiden never forsakes tier; anxious for her charge, rather than for herself, she encourages the men not to turn back. Inspirited by the exhortations of the maiden, the oarsmen exert their utmost strength, and surmounting all the dangers of the tempest, at dawn of day they approach Point Vatermish in the Isle of Skye. As they draw near, however, the sight of a band of soldiers drawn up upon the shore to receive the boat, turns them back to the ocean; and the volleys discharged at them by the soldiers hasten their flight, while the balls are whistling by and rebounding from the waves. Turning eastwardly they pursue their course, and about noon, on Sabbath, land at Kilbride, in the parish of Kilmuir, near the Magastathouse, the residence of Sir Alexander McDonald, the Laird of Sleite, to repose like the dove after her flight over the waters, for a little space, in the ark.

Concealing the Prince in a hollow rock on the beach, Flora repaired to the chieftain's mansion, and met a most cordial reception from Lady McDonald, in the absence of the Laird. The hall was full of officers, whose sole business was to search for the royal fugitive; and the Laird himself was known to be hostile to his pretensions. The maiden, more self-possessed from the danger, with confiding enthusiasm makes known to the lady the hiding-place of the Prince, and the circumstances of his escape from Uist. The lady's heart answers to the maiden's confidence, and she espouses her cause, and sends by Alexander McDonald, the Laird of Kingsburg, Baillie to Sir Alexander, her husband, who happened to be in the house, refreshments of wine and other comforts suited to the necessities of the fatigued and distressed wanderer. By advice of Lady McDonald, who feared discovery from the numerous officers and soldiers then on the estate, Flora and Betsey Burke set out immediately for Kingsburg, about twelve miles distant, accompanied by the Baillie as their guide. On their way they met many of the country people returning from church, whose curiosity was much excited by the coarse, negligent, clumsy-looking, long-legged female figure that accompanied the Laird and the maiden. Without any indignity or suspicion they reached the place of their destination about sunset, wearied from the storm and perils of the preceding night, and the escapes and journeys of time day. The next morning Flora accompanied the Prince to Portaree, and there bid him adieu. On parting he kissed her, and said, ''Gentle, faithful maiden, I entertain the hope that we shall yet meet in the Palace Royal." They never met again; the hopes of the Prince were as unsubstantial and evanescent as the shadows of the clouds, and the fogs that rest upon the hills. His escape was the work not of his chivalry or courage, but of woman's tenderness, and the loyal feelings of Scottish Hearts.

From Portaree, the Prince took passage to Raarsay; and from that island he went to Straith McKinnon, having for his guide a poor man, Malcolm McLeod, whose pack he carried as a paid servant, to escape observation. From thence, he took passage by water to Arasag, and then wandered through Arasag and Moodart and the roughest of the Highlands, enduring incredible hardships, till about the middle of autumn he found vessels to convey him and a few friends to France, leaving Scotland as unattended as he entered, hopeless of his crown, multitudes of his friends butchered, and others beggared or in exile, his resources all exhausted, himself the scorn of France and pity of the world. With him sailed to France Neill McDonald, who assisted in his flight from Uist, and had shared his fortunes during his wanderings. The enthusiasm of his fair kinswoman dwelt in his bosom, and spread itself through the youth of the Highlands, and rendered the capture of the Prince more hopeless; after the exploit of the maiden arid the two ladies McDonald, who would hesitate to give him succor and conceal his retreat ? Neill McDonald remained in France; and his son became famous in the wars of the French Revolution, being made marshal by Buonaparte, and for his success created Duke of Tarentum. Had the unfortunate Charles Edward possessed a spirit to command, equal to the courage and daring of his friends, the house of Stuart might now occupy the throne of England.

After the escape of the Prince to France, the troubles of Flora McDonald commenced. Incensed at the loss of their victim, and not satisfied with the possession of the kingdom, and the executions that the plea of necessity may have justified, the officers of the crown seized on those who were known to have aided the Prince in his flight, and conveyed them to London as state prisoners, for sending from the island the cause of the late disturbance, routed, broken down and discouraged, and at once delivering the crown from farther cause of uneasiness, and the country from agitation. Flora was arrested, and together with Malcolm McLeod, whose pack the prince had carried, McKinnon of the Straith, who received him from McLeod, and McDonald of Kingsburg, who aided Flora on the 29th of June, were taken to London and confined in the Tower as prisoners of state, to be tried for their life, as aiding and abetting attempts against the life and crown of King George. The example of the young lady in rousing up her countrymen, however friendly to the house of Hanover, to promote the escape of one whom they could not, and perhaps on account of his religion, would not make king, turned the indignation of those who had lost the splendid reward offered for the Pretender dead or alive, upon herself and her friends. During their confinement, the nobility of England became deeply interested in the beautiful and high spirited Flora, especially as she was not a partisan of the Pretender, nor of his religious faith. Her devotion to royalty, so romantically expressed, won the favor of Prince Frederick the heir apparent, great grandfather of Victoria, the present queen of England; visiting her in prison, he became enlisted in leer favor most strongly; she awakened in his bosom the chivalric gallantry she had called forth in her countrymen; and by his strenuous exertions he procured her release, greatly to his own honor and the prosperity of the kingdom, and the popularity of the king.

After being set at liberty, her residence, while she remained in London, was surrounded by the carriages of the nobility and gentry, who paid their respects personally, congratulating her on her enterprise, her courage, her loyalty, and her release. Lady Primrose, a favorer of the Pretender, a lady of wealth and distinction, introduced her to the court society, and by her example and influence, obtained large presents to make her forget her captivity, and to meet the expenses of her detention and her return to her own country. The tradition in Carolina, where she afterwards lived, is, that "she received golden ornaments and coin enough to fill a half bushel." She was introduced to the king, George II. and to his somewhat ungallant inquiry—"How could you dare to succor the enemy of my crown and kingdom?" site replied with great simplicity—"It was no more than I would have done for your majesty, had you been in like situation." A chaise and four were fitted up for her return to Scotland; for her escort she chose a fellow prisoner, Malcolm McLeod, who used afterwards to boast, "that he went to London to be hanged—but rode back in a chaise and four with Flora McDonald."

Four years after her return to Scotland she was married to Allan McDonald, son of the Laird of Kingsburg, who, at the death of his father, succeeded to the estate and title; and thus she became mistress of the very mansion in which the Prince passed his first night in the Isle of Skye, June 29th, 1746, after the romantic escape from Uist. Dr. Johnson and Mr. Boswell, in their tour to the Hebrides in 1773, were hospitably entertained by Allan and Flora McDonald, and were greatly gratified by being put to sleep in the same bed in which the unfortunate Charles Edward had slept the night he passed upon the island. Flora, though then more than twenty years a wife, and the mother of numerous children, still retained her blooming countenance and genteel form, and was full of the enthusiasm of her youth. On account of the pecuniary embarrassments of her husband, they were then, the doctor tells us, in his journal, contemplating a removal to North Carolina, to join their countrymen and friends on the Cape Fear river, sent thither immediately after the rebellion of 1745. From that period the sandy country of the Carolinas had been the refuge of the Highlanders, whether they fled from poverty or oppression, or were drawn by the desire of being independent landholders and wealthy men. In the year 1775, just as the troubles in the American colonies were turning into rebellion against the tyranny of England, and the assertion of independence of all foreign control, Allan and Flora, with their family and some friends, landed in North Carolina and took their abode for a short time at Cross Creek, now Fayetteville. The place of her residence was destroyed by the great fire that swept off a large part of the town one Sabbath in the summer of 182—. The ruins of this dwelling are still to be seen as you pass from the market-house to the court-house, on your right hand, just before you cross the creek, not far from the office built out over the stream. After a short stay in this place, they removed to Cameron's Hill, in the Barbacue congregation, about twenty miles above Fayetteville, in Cumberland county. While residing at this place, Mrs. Smith, now living in Robeson county, from whom much of the information respecting Flora was derived, remembers seeing her, at the Barbacue church, a dignified and handsome woman, to whom all paid great respect. They afterwards removed farther up the country into Anson county. While residing there, Donald McDonald, a relation of Flora's, who had been an officer in the Pretender's army in 1745, and had taken the oath of allegiance and emigrated to save his life, was commissioned by Governor Martin as general in the service of his Majesty George III. On the 1st of February, 1776, he issued his proclamation calling on all loyal and true highlanders to join his standard at Cross Creek. Some fifteen hundred men soon assembled in arms; some of whom were sincerely attached to the house of Hanover, and others were under oaths of allegiance to which they owed their life, and, as some believed, their property. With these were assembled Kings-burg McDonald, the husband of Flora, with their kindred and neighbors, animated by the spirit of this matron, who now, on her former principles, defended George III. as readily as she had aided the unfortunate Charles Edward about thirty years before. Tradition says she accompanied her husband and neighbors to Cross-wicks, and communicated her own enthusiasm to the assembled Scotch. From this fact it has been supposed by sonic, that she followed the army in its march to join Governor Martin at the mouth of Cape Fear. Mrs. Smith, however, expressly asserts that she did not follow the army; but returned to her residence in Anson, when the army first moved tip Rockfish, as it did in a short time, in preparation to march down time river.

On their march down the river the forces of General McDonald were met by Colonels Lillington and Caswell, near the month of Moore's Creek, in New Hanover, and after a severe engagement, on the 27th, were entirely routed and dispersed, taken prisoners or killed. Among the prisoners was the husband of Flora, who served as captain.

After the release of her husband from Halifax jail, the place of confinement for the officers taken in the battle, having suffered much in their estate from the plunderings and confiscations to which the Royalists were exposed, they with their family embarked in a sloop of war for their native land. On the voyage home, the sloop was attacked by a French vessel of war; and as the engagement grew warm the courage of the sailors deserted them, and capture seemed inevitable. Ascending the quarter deck, she animated the men to renew the conflict with activity and courage, nothing daunted by a wound she received in her hand. The sight of the courageous and wounded woman aroused the spirit of the crew to the highest pitch. Having beaten off the enemy, they landed Flora and the family safe on their native soil, from which she never again departed. She used sometimes to remark pleasantly on the peculiarity of her condition, "I have hazarded my life both for the house of Stuart and the house of Hanover; and I do not see that I am a great gainer by it."

To the close of her life she was of a gentle, affable demeanor, and greatly beloved; her modesty and self-respect were blended with kindness and benevolence. There were none of those masculine passions and habits, or tempers, so commonly connected in our thoughts with acts of bravery performed by females. She was always womanly in her course, and always lovely. The mother of a numerous family, five sons and two daughters, she inspired them all with her spirit of loyalty and adventure; the sons all became military officers, and were faithful to their king and country the daughters were married to military men, and maintained their loyalty and their honor, as true descendants of such a mother. Loyalty in these ladies had no servility in it; it was a sense of the necessity of a firm and established government to execute laws for the peace of the community, and a conviction that a restricted monarchy was the best form of government, and that a hereditary was better than an elective crown. The most desolating wars in the history of their country had been waged by disputants for the crown.

The eventful life of this amiable lady was closed March 5th, 1790. We have no record of the mental and religious exercises of her last moments. She was educated, lived, and died in the Presbyterian faith, the faith of the Church of Scotland; and never sympathized in the religious creed of the Pretender, whose life she saved. It was not so much admiration of the Prince, as a character or a man, as the workings of her own kind heart and noble soul in looking upon her hereditary Prince in distress, that moved her to the romantic and hazardous enterprise of his escape from Uist. An immense concourse of people were assembled at her funeral; not less than three thousand persons followed the corpse to the brave in the cemetery of Kilrnuir, in the Isle of Skye. According to a request long previously expressed, her shroud was made of the identical sheets in which the Prince reposed the night he slept at Kingsburg,—thus carrying to her grave the romantic spirit of her youth.

A writer who visited the cemetery in September, 1841, says "There is not so much as one of that family in the land of the living. At the end of two years the body of her husband was deposited in a grave by her side,—where, alas, all her offspring now silently slumber. Thus is Flora McDonald, she who once was beautiful as the flower of the morning, now reposing beneath a green Hillock; and no monument, as yet, has been erected to perpetuate the memory of her faithfulness or her achievements
Thus the beauty of the world shall pass away!"

Though no monument be erected in England or in Scotland to her memory; though no page of English history shall inscribe her worth, because displayed in an unpopular cause; though from the time of that ill-planned and ill-fated rebellion, the whole policy of England towards her native country has been to annihilate the habits, and the very language and dress of the Highlands, and of her youth, her memory will live in North Carolina while nobleness has admirers, and romantic self-devotion to the welfare of the distressed can charm the heart. And will not that be for ever? Will not posterity admire her more than Prince Charles who led his followers to slaughter? or George II., who envied the popularity of leis own son? and draw more instruction from her romance and affection, and boldness, and devotion, and womanly graces, and feminine loveliness, than from all the court of England that fill the histories of that by-gone period?

Massachusetts has her Lady Arabella; Virginia her Pocahontas and North Carolina her Flora McDonald.


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