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How Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald battled Patriots as a Nova Scotia Loyalist

I’m one day late remembering Flora MacDonald, who died on March 4, 1790, attended by the surgeon who had drawn up her marriage contract. The Jacobite heroine was buried at Kilmuir Cemetery on the north coast of Skye, less than two miles from where, in 1746, she had landed while escorting the Bonnie Prince Charlie to safety. That is the adventure for which she is known. But Flora MacDonald was also a United Empire Loyalist who, during the American Revolution, once again showed great courage in responding to those who meant her ill. In 1774, she and her husband had emigrated to North Carolina. In a book I am writing, I pick up the story . . . .  
Early in March 1776, in her newly occupied farmhouse in the interior of North Carolina, the celebrated Flora MacDonald took to her bed. The 54-year-old immigrant had just learned of the Loyalist defeat at Moore’s Creek Bridge. Years later, she published an account in which she wrote about herself in the third person, describing how “Flora” had plunged into misery and sickness on “being informed that her husband and friends were all killed or taken. [She] contracted a severe fever and was deeply oppressed with straggling parties of plunderers from their army, and night robbers, who more than once threatened her life, wanting a confession where her husband’s money was. Her servants deserted her, and such as stayed grew so very insolent that they were of no service or help to her.”
Weeks before, her husband, Allan MacDonald, had departed in his Highland finery from their home at Cheek Creek (Pekin), leading several hundred men in what they expected would be a march to the Atlantic Coast, where they were to meet up with a large army arriving from Ireland in four ships. Her 17-year-old son, James, had escaped after that battle and made it home to tell her what had happened and to comfort her.

Patriots set a trap

About twenty miles north of Wilmington, in the woods at Moore’s Creek Bridge, the patriot forces had set a trap. They had removed planks and greased the timbers that held up the bridge. On February 27, in the early morning light, eighty sword-wielding Scots had mounted a Highland charge, only to be cut down by withering fire or else to plunge into the black waters of the creek.
The Loyalists retreated and scattered, but about 850 were subsequently arrested. Most of those were released on parole, but the leaders – among them her husband and 20-year-old son, Alexander, were marched off to jail. Over the next 18 months, Flora MacDonald reported, with about 30 other gentlemen, these two “were dragged from goal to goal for 700 miles, till lodged in Philadelphia Goal, remaining in their hands for 18 months before exchanged.”
But in April 1776, one year after Revolutionary War began with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Flora could not foresee how long her nearest and dearest might be gone. With her son James, she stayed on at the homestead, though Loyalists were no longer safe from soldiers, civilian committees, or bands of robbers. When she recovered from the worst of her fever, Flora felt driven “to visit and comfort the other poor gentlewomen” whose kinfolk were in prison with her husband, because “they blamed him as being the author of their misery in raising the Highlanders.”
She set out to ride around the country, visiting Loyalist families. On one of these outings, she fell off her horse and broke her right arm, and so was confined to her home for months. She became more vulnerable than ever.  Thieves made off with books and family treasures, including an exquisite, four-piece set of silver, which comprised a tray (with the monogram F McD), a jug, a sauceboat, and a ladle. These had been given to her, according to an historical society document, “by admiring friends in London when, as the Prince’s Preserver, she was the centre of popular interest.” 
Early in 1778, in the dead of winter, Flora escapes to Nova Scotia and . . .  well, there is a great deal more than is commonly known to the story of Flora MacDonald. Coming next year to a bookstore near you.


Ken McGoogan
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Brian McConnell, UE said...

Kudos for bringing attention to Flora's part in American Revolution. Although she was on side of Loyalists in order to have been a United Empire Loyalist she would have to have settled afterwards in Canada. She did not as after one winter at Fort Edward, present day Windsor, Nova Scotia, with husband who was Officer stationed there in 84th Regiment, she left and returned to Scotland.

Brian McConnell, UE
Nova Scotia Branch
United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada

Ken McGoogan said...

Thanks, Brian. As you know, her husband stayed longer . . . and hoped she would return and settle permanently. She ran into health problems. In any case, Flora fought the Loyalist fight and retreated to Canada, where she spent some months. What if she had stayed three years? Seven? To my mind, she fought and suffered and deserves to be recognized as a United Empire Loyalist. Ken

Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.