Macdonald, Flora (DNB00)

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MACDONALD, FLORA (1722–1790), Jacobite heroine, born in 1722, was daughter of Ranald Macdonald, tacksman, or farmer, of Milton in South Uist, an island of the Hebrides, by Marion, daughter of the Rev. Angus Macdonald, minister first of the island of Gigha, and afterwards of South Uist. She lost her father in early infancy, and when only six years old she was deprived of the care of her mother, who was abducted and married by Hugh Macdonald of Armadale, Skye. The child remained at Milton with her brother Angus till her thirteenth year, when, in order to receive some instruction from the family governess, she was taken into the mansion of the Clanranalds, of whom her own family were cadets not very distantly related. She manifested special muaical tastes, becoming an accomplished player on the spinet, and delighting in singing Gaelic Bongs. In 1739 she wbb invited by Margaret, wife of Sir Alexander Macdonald of the Isles, to Monkstadt in Skye, and shortly afterwards it was arranged that she should accompany the family to Edinburgh to finish her education there. She spent some time at a boarding-school in the Old Stamp office, close to High Street, and on completing her studies she continued chiefly to reside until 1746 with Sir Alexander and Lady Macdonald in Edinburgh. In the summer of 1745 they returned to Skye.

While Flora was on a visit to the Clanranalds in Benbecula, the Hebridean island, Captain O'Niel, his companion, proposed to Flora to help in enabling the prince to escape to Skre, and she consented with some reluctance on learning that the prince would disguise himself in woman's dress (Letter of the Duke of Argyll in Hist. MSS. Commission, 11th Rep. pt. iv. p. 362). She afterwards informed Argyll that her sole motive was to succour one in distress, and told Frederick, prince of Wales, that she would have similarly befriended him had he been in the same plight, but it cannot be doubted that her political sympathies were with the Pretender. No one was permitted to leave the island except by especial permission. Flora, therefore, on pretence of going to visit her mother, obtained from her stepfather. Captain Hugh Macdonald, who was in charge of the militia, a passport for herself, her man-servant, 'an Irish spinning maid, Betty Burke,' and a crew of six men. Betty Burke was the Pretender, and it is clear that Captain Macdonald was aware of the fact (Alexander Macgregor, Life of Flora Macdonald; p. 77). At ten o'clock on the evening of 27 June the party set sail across the Minch to Skye. The presence of a large party of the Macleod militia on the beach near Waternish prevented their landing there, and amid a shower of bullets they held at to sea, disembarking early in the forenoon at Kilbride, near Monkstadt. Leaving the prince and her servant to take shelter in a small cave, she proceeded to Monkstadt. Sir Alexander Macdonald was with the Duke of Cumberland at Fort Augustus, but Lady Macdonald was at home, and among her guesys was Captain John Macleod, in command of the militia. Macleod closely questioned Flora regarding the cause of her visit to Skye, and her knowledge of the prince's movements, but her self-possession completely diverted his suspicions. To Lady Macdonald, whom she knew to sympathise with the Jacobite cause, she confided her secret. Lady Macdonald agreed to aid is the prince's escape. He was sent for the night to the factor's house at Kingaburgh, Flora and her man-servant accompanying him. Next day they set out for Portree, whence a boat conveyed him to Raasay. On parting with her at Portree, the prince presented her with his portrait in a golden locket.

Unluckily the boatmen were permitted to return to Benbecula, and being arrested there, they divulged the secret of the prince's escape. As soon as she returned to her brother's house at Milton, Flora consequently received a summons to appenr before Captain Macleod, and obeyed it. She declined the advice of friends to disregard the message, and take refuge tn the mountain fastnesses. After being permitted to pay a parting visit to her mother in Skye, she was conveyed to London, where after a short imprisonment in the Tower she was handed over to the custody of a messenger. At the time she was thus described: 'She is a young lady about twenty, a graceful person, agood complexion, and regular features. She has a peculiar sweetness mixed with majesty in her countenance ; her deportment is rather graver than is becoming her years; even under her confinement she betrays nothing of sullenness or discontent, and all her actions bespeak a mind full of conscious innocence, and incapable of being ruffled by the common accidents of life' (Some Partculars of the Life, Family, and Character of Miss Florence M'Donald, now in Custody of one of his Majesty's Messengers in London, 1747). On receiving her liberty by the Act of Indemnity in 1747, she stayed for some time in the house of Lady Primrose, where she was visited by many persons of distinction. Before leaving London she was also presented with 1,500l. (printed copies of letters and receipts in a volume of phamphlets in the library of the British Museum), in her return to Scotland she was entertained at Monkstadt at a banquet, to which the principal families in Skye were invited. On 6 Nov. 1750 Flora married Allan Macdonald the younger of Kingsburgh. At first they resided at the farm of Flodigarry ; but on the death of her father-in-law they went in 1772 to Kingsburgh. Here she was visited in 1773 by Dr. Johnson, who describes her as 'a woman of soft features, gentle manners, and elegant presence.' In August of the following year she and her family emigrated to North Carolina. On the outbreak of the civil war her husband was appointed brigadier-general by the governor, and she accompanied him in his campaigns till his capture at Morres Creek. He was retained a prisoner in Halifax, Virginia, and by his advice she in 1779 returned to Scotland. The ship was unsuccessfully attacked by a French privateer. During the encounter she bravely remained on deck, and had an arm broken. For some time she resided at Milton, where her brother built her a cottage; but on the return of her husband they again settled at Kingsburgh, where she died on 5 March 1790. She was wrapped in the sheet in which the prince and Dr. Johnson had slept at Kingsburgh, and was buried in the churchyard of Kilmuir. The original marble slab erected on her grave was chipped to pieces and carried off, but subsequently an obelisk was erected by subscription to her memory. She had five sons; Charles, captain of the queen's rangers; Alexander and Ranald, naval officers, who went down with the Ville de Paris, De Grasse's flagship, which foundered on its way home to England on 12 April 1782; James of Flodigarry, and John (1759–1831) [q.v.] Of her daughters, Anne married Alexander Macleod of Lochbay, Skye, and Frances, Lord Donald Macleod. Two children died young.

A portrait of Flora Macdonald by Allan Ramsay is in the Bodleian Library of Oxford, and was engraved by MacArdell; another painting by W. Robertson is in the possession of Lord Donington; a third is in the town-hall at Inverness.

[Particulars of Flora Macdonald's adventures with Prince Charles Edward were given to Dr. Johnson, and written down by Boswell. The account of the Wanderings of Prince Charles Edward and Flora Macdonald, from the original manuscript of one of their attendants, 1839, is grandiloquent and affected. Another account was published in the New Monthly Mag. 1840. The so-called autobiography by her granddaughter, 1870, is of little value. An Account of the Young Pretender's Escape is also printed in Appendix to Lockhart Papers, ii. 544-7. A Life by Alexander Macgregor (afterwards Mackenzie) appeared in 1882, and Flora Macdonald in Uist by W. Jolly in 1886. See also Ewald's Life and Times of Charles Edward, 1886, and Cat. Stuart Exhibition, 1889, pp. 107, 113-15.]

T. F. H.