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Scotland Magazine Issue 22
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What Flora did next
Whatever happened to Flora Macdonald, the woman who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape from the British? Jackie Cosh reports
The name Flora Macdonald is famous the world over as the woman who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape from the soldiers of the Hanovarian army. With the Prince disguised as an Irish maid, Betty Bourke, they sailed from the island of Benbecula to Skye where they parted and Prince Charlie fled to France.
They were only in each other's company for less than a week, yet their names are synonymous.
While the Prince’s hopes that, ‘we may meet in St James's yet’, came to nothing, Flora’s adventures did not end there.
Inevitably word got out about the true identity of Berry Bourke and soon after returning home, Flora was taken in for questioning. At first she denied all knowledge of the plan, but it soon became evident that this was a waste of time. Others had spoken, and Flora eventually provided her captors with the details of the part she played.
Flora began her imprisonment on board the HMS Furnace on 11th July 1746, and they set sail for London. When the boat they were on was changed for a larger one, they stopped near Oban for 10 days, and Flora was held prisoner in the huge 13th century castle of Dunstaffnage.
News had spread of Flora’s part in the Prince’s escape, and when the boat later docked in Leith, Jacobite ladies from far and wide made their way to the ship to pay their respects.
Even in London, Flora proved to be a popular lady and there was no shortage of visitors. When King George II declared a general amnesty in July 1747 Flora went to stay with a leading Jacobite lady in the city.
Many were willing to show their support by donating funds, and when she left London for the long journey home, a large sum of money accompanied her.
Rather than head straight to Skye, it was a further 12 months before she returned. York, Edinburgh, Argyll, – there were Jacobites to be visited in many places en route. A brief spell at home was followed by more travelling to visit her many new found friends, until she eventually settled down in Skye and on 6th November 1750 she married Allan Macdonald of Kingsburgh at her mother’s house in Armadale.
Flora brought a dowry of £700, a vast sum of money at the time, and the couple set up home together at Flodigarry, where Alan later became factor of the estate. The future looked good for them.
Flora went on to receive more money from Jacobite supporters, and Allan’s position at Flodigarry provided an excellent opportunity for them to prosper financially.
But at a time when farming in the Highlands was in decline and rents on the increase, it became hard to make ends meet.
When Allan lost money in a cattle deal, they were ruined financially. Flora had given birth to six children in eight years, making money even tighter, and so in May 1764 the family moved back to Kingsburgh, Allan’s father’s house on the Isle of Skye.
This house was the same one the Prince had stayed in while on the run. Luckily for Flora and Allan, it was a larger house than the one at Flodigarry, and more capable of housing their expanding family.
They stayed in Kingsburgh for 10 years, but their situation did not improve. By May 1774, they decided to give up trying to make a living on Skye and to move to America.
Flora and Allan were not the only ones finding it tough on Skye and many of their friends had already crossed the Atlantic. Their children, now numbering seven were mostly grown up, but their youngest daughter Fanny was only eight. She went to stay with the Macleods of Raasay. Two of their sons along with their daughter Ann, her husband and two children, accompanied Allan and Flora to North Carolina.
They paid their creditors, leaving them with very little funds, and sailed from Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula to Wilmington, North Carolina.
Which ship they sailed on is not known, but it is thought to have been The Cato.
Once settled, they purchased a plantation in Anson, now Montgomery County, surrounded by their family and friends. But there was hardly time for them to settle before the American War of Independence broke out.
While in Scotland, Flora had supported the Jacobite cause. When war broke out in America, however, Flora and Allan’s allegiances were to the British King, and Flora actively helped muster support from the many Highlanders who had settled in the Carolinas.
Allan fought alongside several other of the men in their family, but when the Loyalists were defeated at Moore’s Creek, he was captured and made prisoner at Smith’s Ferry.
Their plantation was wrecked, and many of their friends turned against them. For two years Flora continued to live there alone amongst what she described as ‘robbers and faithless servants’, until their estate was confiscated by the Act of November 1777 when Flora refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to North Carolina.
By this time Allan had been released, and in 1778 they were reunited in New York. From there they moved to live in Nova Scotia, but by the following year, weakened by illness, and depressed by the thought of another winter in Nova Scotia, Flora returned home to Skye.
Allan remained in Canada with the 84th Regiment partly for the money and partly out of a sense of duty. He expected Flora’s return to Skye to be a temporary one, but Flora had already decided not to return. Life had not been good to them in North America. Two of her sons, Alxander and Ranald, had died in the war, and her husband had been kept prisoner for much of their time there.
Returning to Skye she picked up her youngest daughter Fanny on the way. She had not seen her in eight years. Her surviving sons Charles and James, and her daughter Anne also returned to Scotland.
Allan left Nova Scotia five years after Flora. By this time he was in his 60s and was beginning to suffer from pains in his legs. Sadly, they returned with less money and belongings than they had left with.
Before her husband returned Flora lived with her daughter as a guest at Dunvegan Castle, but by 1790 she was living in Leabost, and it was here that she died on 4th March 1790. Life had not been easy for Flora, but it had certainly been adventurous.
More than 200 years after her death, she is one of the most famous Scottish women in history.
PLACES TO VISIT
The house where Flora Macdonald wasborn, in Milton, South Uist is now a ruin, but a memorial cairn stands close to the site.
Flodigarry, the cottage where Flora and Allan spent the first few years of their married life still stands, and is now in the grounds of the Flodigarry Country House Hotel. It was renovated a few years ago and now provides holiday accommodation.
Flodigarry Country House Hotel, Staffin,
Isle of Skye, IV51 9HZ
Tel: +44 (0)1470 552 203
Fax: +44 (0)1470 552 301
Dunstaffnage Castle, where Flora was imprisoned, is three miles north of Oban off the A85. It is now owned by Historic Scotland and is open all year round.
Tel: +44 (0)1631 562 465
An Iona Cross a memorial plaque now marks the place where Flora was buried in the graveyard at Kilmuir. Nearby, the Skye Museum of Life houses items used by Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald. The Skye Museum of Island Life, Kilmuir, Isle of Skye,
Tel: +44 (0)1470 552 206