The Two Lives of Flora MacDonald: The Life of Flora Macdonald, and Her Adventures with Prince Charles by Alexander Macgregor & Flora Macdonald in America by J. P. Maclean with a Copy of the Declaration of Miss MacDonald Apple Cross Bay, July 12th 1746
The astonishing life of one of Scotland’s most famous daughters
Anyone who knows about the abortive 1745 Jacobite Rising in Scotland, knows the romantic tale of how, after the catastrophic defeat at Culloden, the pretender, ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie fled for his life through the heather, eventually arriving at the island of Benbecula. There lived the MacDonald’s who were secretly Jacobite sympathisers. Among their number was young Flora MacDonald, aged just 24, who as a simple act of charity, agreed to assist the prince to elude capture by the redcoats and effect an escape to the Continent. There followed a fascinating adventure that has become immortalised in song and which has endured undimmed in its poignancy to the present day. The first part of this book covers these famous events which would have been sufficient adventure for the lives of most young women. Most people do not know that Flora MacDonald was far from done with adventures, for she married an officer of the 87th Regiment of Foot—the Royal Highland Emigrants—and sailed to America. While serving the Crown in the American War of Independence, Flora’s husband, Allen, was captured at Moore’s Creek Bridge in 1777 and Flora had to go into hiding from rampaging American patriot forces. After the war the couple were reunited and sailed home to Scotland. Their ship was attacked by pirates and Flora was wounded in the action. Flora MacDonald’s incredible life is chronicled in detail in the pages of this book which contains two works each concentrating on one of her ‘two lives’.
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General MacDonald was forced to exercise all his wisdom and patience in tracing back their family standing and inquiring into their respective qualifications before making a decision. To give entire satisfaction was an impossible task. Some were so highly offended, at what they considered an injustice, and others failing to see such necessary discipline as would be conducive to success, that they withdrew and soon after joined the provincials. Nor was this the only disturbing element, for it had been given out that the governor was at Campbelton with a thousand British regulars to receive them, and this report had accelerated their movements. On approaching their encampment, they saw the statement was without foundation, and large numbers turned their faces homeward. Having thus been deceived, the Regulators lost confidence in all other representations made by their leaders, and in consequence hundreds retired.
Amidst the dissensions and discouragements, Flora MacDonald arose equal to the emergency, and threw the weight of her character, influence, and oratory into the scale. On the public square, near the royal standard, in Gaelic, she made a powerful address, with all her power, exhibiting her genius she dwelt at length upon the loyalty of the Scotch, their bravery, and the sacrifices her people had made. She urged them to duty, and was successful in exciting all to a high military pitch. When she had concluded, the piper asked her what tune he should play. Like a flash she replied, “Give them leather breeches,” which was probably suggested by the Scots wearing buckskin breeches, rolled up at the bottoms.
The movements of the Highlanders and Regulators were carefully watched by the patriots, though much had been done in great secrecy; but the passing of armed men could not well be effectually concealed.
Cross Creek had been greatly disturbed for months. In the midst of the loyalists there were a few sterling patriots. Robert Rowan, in the early stages of the movement, had formed an independent company, and determined to find out the action of the community. He was thus early prepared to give notice of what was in motion.
When the hosts began to move to their standards, swift messengers were immediately despatched to give warning to the patriot leaders. At Salisbury the district Committee of Safety met on February 6 and gave orders to the county committees to embody the militia and minute men and send them forward. Three days later the Tryon committee directed that each captain should detail one-third of the effective men in his district and march to suppress the insurrection. Everywhere the country was alarmed and thoroughly aroused. At the west, the forces were collected at Charlotte, Salisbury, and Hillsboro. On the tenth the committee at New Bern directed Colonel Richard Caswell to march immediately, and the colonels of Dobbs, Johnston, Pitt, and Craven counties were ordered to join Caswell with their troops. The patriot forces in Mecklenberg, Rowan, Granville, Bute, Surry, Guilford, Orange, and Chatham were hurried to the scene of action.
A messenger reached Wilmington on the ninth. Colonel James Moore at once issued orders to prepare to march against the insurgents. For eighty hours there was severe, unremitting labour in making preparations. Colonel Moore moved toward Cross Creek, being joined en route by the Bladen militia. Colonel Alexander Lillington and Colonel John Ashe were soon in the field. Nearly nine thousand men were in motion, and all the rest were ready to turn out at a moment’s notice. It was determined to crush out the rebellion without delay.
The loyalists of Surry were speedily dispersed. In Guilford, Colonel James Martin assembled the patriots at the “Cross Roads,” but the loyalists passed on. A company of which Samuel Devinny, one of the former Regulators, was the head, being opposed by Captain Dent, killed him. It thus appears that Captain Dent was the first in North Carolina to fall in the contest.
The rising of the Highlanders at the time appointed was ill-advised, and showed a want of judgment on the part of Governor Martin. The object of marching the Highlanders to Wilmington was to act in conjunction with a British fleet. At the very moment of the assembling of the Highlanders the fleet was still in Cork, Ireland, and remained there until February 12, and did not arrive at the Cape Fear until May 3. Even if the Highland Army, under the circumstances, had reached Wilmington, it would have fared more disastrously than its defeat at the Widow Moore’s Creek Bridge.
Deserted by the Regulators, and the Americans swarming around him. General MacDonald found it to be necessary to take his departure before the time appointed. Stedman, in his History of the American War, has pointed out that MacDonald had decided to avoid all conflict, and to gain the sea coast with the least possible cost. That he did not intend to act offensively is proved from the fact that at Rockfish the Americans occupied an unsoldierly position and one that would provoke an attack. On their left was a morass with a deep swamp, the northwest of the river on the right, and the deep creek of the Rockfish to the rear—all of which invited annihilation. This position must have been known to many in MacDonald’s army. Then, again, the original position of the Americans at Moore’s Creek Bridge was almost equally as dangerous, and if MacDonald had charged on his arrival there, victory would have been easily won.
Fortunately, however, the insecurity of the position did not escape the vigilance of Colonel Caswell, and as soon as night came he retreated over the bridge. The Highland Army at Cross Creek was neither prepared for battle nor for the march, despite all the exertions General MacDonald had put forth. The armament was as good as could be desired under the circumstances and did not lack in baggage and magazine wagons.
On February 18, the Highland Army took up its line of march for Wilmington, and as the regiments filed out of Cross Creek, Flora MacDonald reviewed them from under an oak tree, still standing on Cool Spring Street. Then mounting her snow-white charger, she rode up and down the marching columns, and animated them in the most cheerful manner. She had staked much on that army. There was her husband, Allen, with the rank of major; her son, Alexander, a captain, and her son-in-law, Alexander MacLeod, a colonel. The soldiers were in high glee, and as they passed along, with drums beating, pipes playing, and flags flying, they sang their old Scotch songs and rehearsed the stories of their native land.
South of Cross Creek is a small stream called Rockfish, which flows into Cape Fear River. Two roads lead from Cross Creek to Wilmington, one called the Brunswick road, the other the Negro Head Point Road. The Brunswick Road crosses Rockfish Creek, which was selected by General MacDonald for his route to Wilmington. After marching four miles, General MacDonald went into camp, on account of the American forces in his front.
Flora MacDonald continued with the army until it reached the brow of Haymount, near the site of the old United States Arsenal, where it encamped for one night. In the morning when the army took up the line of march midst banners streaming in the breeze and martial music floating in the air, Flora took her departure.
It was with great difficulty that her husband obtained her consent to return, reasoning that his life was enough to put in jeopardy. Having consented, she embraced her husband, her eyes dimmed with tears, she uttered a fervent prayer for his safety and speedy return to Killiegrey; she mounted her snow-white horse, rode along the columns of the army, encouraging the men, then retraced, and was soon in Cross Creek, accompanied by Malcolm MacKay, aged sixteen. The first night she spent with Mrs. MacKay, Malcolm’s mother, near Longstreet. From there she went to Killiegrey, in Anson County, where she remained until the estate was confiscated by the Americans, when she removed to a plantation on Little River belonging to Kenneth Black. This continued to be her residence until she left America. She made frequent visits to Cross Creek until her final removal.
General James Moore, anticipating the movements of the Highland Army, with great celerity moved up the Cape Fear, and took possession of Rockfish bridge, on the fifteenth, and then held the pass and fortified his camp. There he was immediately joined by Robert Rowan with sixty men from Cross Creek, and later by Lillington, Ashe, and Kenan with the Duplin militia, increasing the whole number to fifteen hundred. In the meanwhile, Colonel Thackston and Colonel Alexander Martin were rapidly approaching from the west with still larger re-enforcements.
On the nineteenth the royalists were paraded with a view to assail General Moore on the following night. A bare suspicion that such a prospect was contemplated was a sufficient cause for some of Colton’s men to run off with their arms. This condition of affairs alarmed General MacDonald.