Scottish Heroine Turned Loyalist
Tour: Tory War
Most of Lovin Hill Road is unpaved. Approach the coordinates from NC 731 to minimize travel on gravel. Park in the pullout just across and left of the bridge if coming from that direction.
The exact location of the Macdonald home is unproven, but the pullout is on the family’s former land near the best candidate for the site of their mill. The optional trail, though mostly flat, is unimproved, uneven, and in warmer months may be overgrown and hard to follow. Be prepared for backcountry conditions and hazards such as poison ivy, snakes, and insects.
A Global Celebrity
Many myths arose about Flora Macdonald in the centuries after her exploits. Some of the best-known are addressed on this page, with the evidence against them in footnotes, while the main text sticks to content verified in documents from her time and modern professional biographies.
Perhaps the most famous celebrity in Revolutionary North Carolina was not a military or political leader, nor a Patriot, nor a man! Flora Macdonald was known throughout the British realm when she landed in the province.
She was born in the Scottish Isles, probably in 1722, daughter of well-off farmer Ranald Macdonald, who died when she was two. Her widowed mother ran the family’s two farms until Marion married Hugh Macdonald four years later.
Many Scots had hoped for the return of the Stuart Dynasty to the British throne in the years after the 1701 death of King James II. In 1745 James’ grandson Charles, nicknamed “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” sneaked into Scotland from France to try to gain his father the crown. This resulted in the resounding defeat of Scottish Highlanders by British forces at the Battle of Culloden Moor the next year.
Charles went on the run, ending up on a small island west of the Scottish mainland. Flora happened to be there with her brother Milton, grazing the family’s cattle. Her stepfather Hugh concocted a plan to help Charles escape: Dress him up as a yarn-spinner, “Betty Burke,” and send him to his wife on the Isle of Skye to the east, accompanied by Flora. A man assisting the prince wakened Flora and Milton one midnight and passed along the plan. She hesitated, not only from the danger. She also “‘insisted upon the risk she would run of losing her character in a malicious and ill-natured world,’” according to the man.
But the prince stepped from the gloom and reassured her of her safety, in large part because Hugh was a commander in the militia looking for him! She eventually gave in, telling a British officer later “‘that she would have, in like manner, assisted me or anyone in distress.’”
In an adventure worthy of a spy novel, Macdonald then headed for the home of a Macdonald clan leader, known as Clanranald, only to be detained by militia soldiers overnight. Her stepfather arrived and wrote out a pass containing the Betty Burke story. Macdonald went on, and she and Clanranald’s wife sewed a women’s outfit for Charles, complete with apron and a large bonnet in which he could hide his face. Macdonald then walked across the island to where the prince and his companion were waiting on the east coast. They made an overnight trip in an open boat back to her home island of Skye, darkness and fog making navigation hard, but protecting them from British ships looking for the prince.
At their first stop, she learned the family was entertaining a militia lieutenant at breakfast! She calmly sat down to join them and fended off his questions. This was just one of several close calls with militia throughout the trip. They continued to the home of another Macdonald clan leader, Kingsburgh, where they spent the night. Charles stayed upstairs the whole time, and left in the dress to keep the servants guessing. But he changed back into his normal clothes in the woods. Despite questions from a nosy innkeeper the next night, they got away the day after and then separated. Macdonald returned to her home, while Charles headed for a boat to another island. Later he escaped back to the mainland and onto a ship sent to him from France, after five months on the lam.
As people began to tell what they knew, Macdonald was soon arrested and shipped to London with other prisoners. On the way, she so charmed the general and navy commodore responsible for catching and transporting her, they requested clemency. After two days on a notorious prison ship—not in the Tower of London, as one myth claims—she was allowed to live in town overseen by a “king’s messenger.” Macdonald spent most of the next two years under loose house arrest, before she was released as part of a general amnesty granted most of those who helped with the Scottish uprising or Charles’ escape.
By then she had charmed the nobles of London. They paid to have her portrait painted by famous artists, like the one on this page. Her story and image were spread across Europe and the British Empire by newspapers, novels, songs, poems, and prints. A rich woman became her patron, giving her a large amount of money, and sending Macdonald home to Scotland with another former prisoner in a four-horse carriage! Flora-mania would grow for more than a century. Based on a swatch of the prince’s dress, showing lilac flowers on a white background, a linen merchant began selling “‘Betty Burke’ dresses.’” Various collectibles were produced, like painted hand fans, sewing needle sets, dolls, and a perfume holder. Nearly 150 years after Macdonald’s exploits, a London exhibition gave a favored place to her personal possessions.
In 1750, Flora married Allan, son of the Macdonalds of Kingsburgh, so she kept the same last name. They leased a farm on Skye, but Allan turned out to be a terrible businessman. Fifteen years later notices were being posted not to give him any cattle on credit. They eventually moved to Kingsburgh to support his ailing father, living in the same house she and Prince Charles occupied during their flight.
The celebrated English author Samuel Johnson visited the Macdonalds in 1773 with his now equally famous biographer James Boswell, spending the night in the bed Charles had used. Allan, he wrote, had “‘jet black hair tied behind, and was a large stately man, with a steady sensible countenance.’” He described Flora as “‘a little woman of genteel appearance, and uncommonly mild and well-bred…’”
Gone to Carolina
Their financial problems drove Flora and Allan to join the growing Scottish presence in North Carolina. She explained in a letter two years before that “‘we lost almost our whole Stock of cattle and horses; we lost within these three years, three hundred and seventy heads, so that we have hardly what will pay our Creditors…’” In another letter seeking help for older sons she planned to leave behind, she signed off with “‘the prayers of an old distressed woman (once known to the world)…’”
Flora and Allan’s ship checked in at Brunswick Town near the mouth of the Cape Fear River in August 1774. A number of modern sources claim they continued to Wilmington, which is likely, but there is no evidence to prove this or much later claims of a ball held for her. No one knows for sure how they got to Cross Creek (now Fayetteville). They apparently lived there briefly.
Someone who met Flora at the time later described her as “‘not very tall, but a very handsome and very dignified woman, with fair complexion, sparkling blue eyes, the finest teeth I ever saw, and hair nearly covered with a lace cap and slightly streaked with white.’” The Macdonalds then went to live with Flora’s half-sister Annabella, north of Fort Liberty, for at least a year as they looked for land of their own. While there, they probably worshiped at Barbecue Presbyterian Church, a congregation that still exists.
Scots had been coming to America in large numbers since the establishment of the Argyll Colony around Cross Creek in 1739. By the time Allan and Flora arrived, the good land there was taken, so they and other late arrivals bought up plantations to the west. Around a dozen families ended up west of today’s Pinehurst. Among the settlers was Flora’s stepfather Hugh. It’s unclear whether her mother Marion immigrated with him, or perhaps had died before he left. Their daughter Anna and her husband were in the area as well.
By Spring 1775, Allan and Flora had bought two tracts along Cheek’s Creek, which flows here under the bridge. These were 475 and 50 acres, and already had a working plantation, which they renamed Kingsburgh for their home in Scotland. In a letter, Allan “refers to a (grain)-mill, and to buildings on both tracts, as well as to peach and apple orchards…” Their home was on the larger tract, roughly three-quarters of a mile per side, which you are on now.
Their hopes for a peaceful new life were dashed by bad timing: Rebellion was brewing in the colonies. In N.C., Royal Gov. Josiah Martin had fled the capital in New Bern under pressure from Patriots. Allan wrote that he fought on the side of the British king at Culloden, as did Hugh and some other Highlander clans, which may be why he joined the Loyalist or “Tory” cause here. In July 1775, Allan went to Fort Johnston in modern Southport, “in disguise” according to Flora, to meet with the royal governor. Allan was gone two weeks. When he returned, he set to work recruiting others to help a British army take back the province. In the fall the governor made plans to move to the new Kingsburgh, even calling for colonial documents to be sent here while he was at Fort Johnston. An attack on the fort ended that plan, driving Martin onto a British gunship in the river.
In early February 1776, Allan and two sons headed off to join a Tory force gathering in Cross Creek to march for the coast, as did most of the males in the area. Flora supposedly wrote a friend there, “Allan leaves tomorrow to join Donald (Macdonald)’s standard at Cross Creek, an’ I shall be alone wi’ my three bairns. Canna ye com’ an’ stay wi’ me awhile?” The word “bairns” means “children,” but Flora was a 54-year-old grandmother when she moved to N.C.; despite a later myth, she neither brought nor had young children here. So if the letter is genuine, she must have meant Anna’s three children. Because of them, and having to run the plantation on her own, a story that she rode 140 miles round trip to address the Tory force before it left is highly unlikely.
The Macdonald men joined the ill-fated march from Cross Creek that led to the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, an overwhelming Patriot (“Whig”) victory that killed many Loyalists, as well as the British invasion plans. Flora’s husband and one son were imprisoned, first in Halifax. While they were being moved to Philadelphia, Allan’s horse went lame in Petersburg, Va., and he apparently had to walk the rest of the way.
Flora wrote years later about her time here, using the third person (spellings in all of her quotations are original): “being all this time in misery and sickness at home, being informed that her husband and friends were all killed or taken, (she) contracted a severe fever, (and) was dayly oppressed with stragling partys of plunderers from (the Whig) Army, and night robbers who more than once threatened her life, wanting a confession where her husbands money was… Her servants deserted her, and such as stayed grew so very insolent that they were of no service to her.” The plunderers made off with all of their horses and cattle, perhaps 10 and 50 each, and various items from the house including books, furniture, and tableware. The servants were not slaves but “indentured servants,” whose passage the Macdonalds had paid in exchange for a number of years of service (typically four).
After recovering, she wrote, “she went to visit & comfort the other poor Gentlewomen whose husbands were prisoners, despite their blaming her husband as being the author of their misery…” But “in one of these charitable visits, (she) fell from her horse and brock (sic) her right arm, which confined her for months.” The only doctor normally in the area was imprisoned with Allan, by then in Philadelphia, within view of what now is called Independence Hall.
Macdonald said she “remained in this deplorable condition for two years.” She may have traveled some among various friends and family members, including one of the farms of Kenneth Black, where her daughter and son-in-law lived. Black was active in the Tory militia, and his murder in 1781 led to a raid on the House in the Horseshoe.
In the Summer of 1777, Macdonald was called to appear before the Anson County court in Mount Pleasant, to swear an oath of allegiance required by the state legislature of all suspected Loyalists. Otherwise they were subject to losing their properties and having to leave the state. She appeared, but refused the oath, and the plantations were eventually confiscated.
In August of that year Allan, now paroled, obtained permission to go to New York and arrange an exchange for a Patriot prisoner. This committed him to a British regiment in Nova Scotia, Canada. Alexander MacLeod, Flora’s son-in-law, eventually hired a sloop called the Sukey and Pokey to travel to N.C. under a flag of truce provided by British commanders. He landed at Brunswick, and was placed under guard on the ship as the local militia asked the state government what to do. The governor allowed MacLeod to send messengers for MacLeod’s wife Anna and family members, including Flora. They boarded in April 1778, after Flora supposedly gave a pair of rhinestone-and-glass-decorated shoe buckles to three sisters in Wilmington. The voyage to New York was so rough, she said, she nearly died. After reuniting with Allan, they shipped out to Halifax on another bad trip.
“There we continued all winter and spring, covered with frost and snow, and almost starved with cold to death,” she wrote. The following summer she fell again, dislocating her wrist and snapping the tendons of her good arm, which kept her at home another two months. She decided it was time to go back to Scotland, though Allan had to stay behind.
Flora’s adventures were not yet over. Her ship was a 24-cannon “privateer,” authorized by Britain to act as a pirate, and it spotted a possible quarry. The crew, she wrote, “in our passage spying a sail, made ready for action, and in hurreying the ladys below to a place of safety… (she) fell and brock the dislockated arm in two.” Contrary to later myth, the ship did not enter combat. She was stuck in bed again, for the rest of the trip.
Back in Scotland, Macdonald learned two of her eldest sons were lost at sea in separate incidents. She shuttled between friends and family until Allan returned four years later, when they leased a different farm on Skye with help from another son.
Their financial struggles continued. Allan grew unable to walk due to problems from his wartime imprisonment, and Flora’s arms continued to plague her. She died in 1790 around age 68, and he probably passed two years later. A witness said that, “Flora’s funeral was the greatest that had ever been on the island, that the cortege which wound over the hills to Kilmuir was more than a mile long, that a dozen pipers played the coronach (a Scottish dirge) and that 300 gallons of whiskey were drunk at the feasting afterwards.” Despite a later claim, Flora was not buried in one of the sheets Bonnie Prince Charlie slept on at the Scottish Kingsburgh. She wrote that both had served as the shroud of her mother-in-law.
Samuel Johnson wrote Flora’s epitaph: “Her name will be mentioned in history and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.”
What to See
The best candidate for the site of Flora and Allan’s mill is roughly 300 yards—three American football fields—downstream of the bridge (the same side as the pullout). This has not been confirmed by archaeologists. If correct, their home was on an adjacent low ridge above the creek. In that case, Allan surely rode past this spot along the left side of the creek toward the defeat at Moore’s Creek, and Flora as she went to visit family and friends in the area. The orchards, farm fields, and pastures would have been on the flatter ground along the way and across the road.
Walking the trail along the right side of the creek on U.S. Forest Service land will give you an extended view of the terrain owned, and sights likely seen daily, by the world-famous Flora Macdonald. After minor ups and downs, just before the trail makes a significant rise and curves right away from the creek, you are in the vicinity of the likely mill and homesite on the far side.
These events will sound familiar to fans of the Outlander books and TV series. The series theme is a version of the 1870s “Skye Boat Song” about the overnight journey of Flora and Prince Charles.
You can see artifacts owned by Flora at the Scottish Heritage Center in Laurinburg, and the shoe buckles and a silver tray believed to be hers at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh (see Footnote 22).
- More myths about Flora persist. There is no evidence she received a formal education, other than a few months of tutoring on writing as an adult. A monument claiming to mark the Macdonald homesite is farther up the road on the left, placed there incorrectly based on a misunderstanding by the family that owned the land. One 1854 source placed Flora and a daughter on the Black Plantation in 1781—three years after they left N.C. That same year a speaker mistakenly identified a plantation called Killegray about five miles south of here as Flora’s. This led the trustees of Flora MacDonald College (now Highlander Academy) in Red Springs to move two small graves there to a crypt at the college, which they marked as the resting place of her children. A descendant in Scotland debunked the idea these were her children using multiple documents in 1938, reinforced by modern publications showing the Macdonalds had no young children here. But that myth was repeated to AmRevNC as recently as 2020!
- In 1953, a group including local historians and a University of North Carolina journalism professor searched for and thought they had found the mill and home sites further back along the road. Also among them was famous N.C. writer Paul Green, playwright of the outdoor historical drama The Lost Colony which is still performed in Manteo. Green had written a musical drama that featured Flora, which premiered in Fayetteville in 1939.
- Bridges, Myrtle, ed., ‘The Life and Character of Flora MacDonald, By James Banks, Esq. – 1857… With Refutations’, NCGenWeb, 2015 <https://www.ncgenweb.us/richmond/criticismbanks.html> [accessed 25 April 2023]
- Caudill, William, Director, Scottish Heritage Center, Interview with tour, 2020, and E-mail, 17 June 2022.
- Caudill, William, ‘Flora MacDonald Homesite’, NCpedia, 2006 <https://www.ncpedia.org/flora-macdonald-homesite> [accessed 29 April 2020]
- Dunkerly, Robert, Women of the Revolution: Bravery and Sacrifice on the Southern Battlefields (Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2007) <https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/12305023> [accessed 1 April 2022]
- Fraser, Flora, Flora Macdonald: ‘Pretty Young Rebel’: Her Life and Story, First edition (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2022)
- Huneycutt, James, and Ida Huneycutt, ‘Flora MacDonald—Facts and Fiction’, in A History of Richmond County (Rockingham, N.C., 1976)
- Johnson, Ben, ‘Flora MacDonald’, Historic UK <https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/Flora-Macdonald/> [accessed 29 April 2020]
- Kerrigan, Deanna, ‘MacDonald, Flora’, NCpedia, 2000 <https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/macdonald-flora> [accessed 29 April 2020]
- Lossing, Benson John, Reflections of Rebellion: Hours with the Living Men and Women of the Revolution (Charleston [SC]: History Press, 2005)
- MacDonald, Allan, The Truth about Flora MacDonald, ed. by Donald Mackinnon (Inverness, Scotland: The Northern Chronicle Office, 1938)
- Macdonald, Flora, ‘The Memorial of Flora MacDonald’, in A Jacobite Miscellany; Eight Original Papers on the Rising of 1745-1746, ed. by Henrietta Tayler (Oxford, England: Printed for the Roxburghe Club by C. Batey at the University Press, 1948)
- MacDonald, Jonathan, Flora MacDonald: Heroine of the Jacobite Cause (Duntulm, Skye, Scotland: J. MacDonald; Printed by Northern Printers, Thurso, 1989)
- MacLean, J. P., Flora MacDonald in America (Lumberton, N.C.: A. W. McLean, 1909)
- ‘Marker: K-38’, North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program <http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=K-38> [accessed 29 April 2020]
- MacLeod, Ruairidh H., Flora Macdonald: The Jacobite Heroine in Scotland and North America (London : Shepheard-Walwyn, 1995) <http://archive.org/details/floramacdonaldja0000macl> [accessed 7 June 2022]
- Macqueen, Edith, ‘A Highland Tragedy: The Story of Flora MacDonald in North Carolina’, The Scots Magazine, Vol. XVII, Issues 4 & 5 (1932)
- Meyer, Duane, The Highland Scots of North Carolina 1732-1776 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961)
- Quynn, Dorothy Mackay, ‘Flora Macdonald in History’, The North Carolina Historical Review, 18.3 (1941), 236–58
- Robinson, Blackwell, A History of Moore County, North Carolina, 1747-1847 (Southern Pines, N.C.: Moore County Historical Association, 1956)
- Scottish Society of America, Flora MacDonald: A History (Washington, D.C.: James William Bryan Press, 1916)
- ‘The Legendary Flora MacDonald’, NC Museum of History <https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/legendary-flora-macdonald> [accessed 29 April 2020]
- Toffey, John J., A Woman Nobly Planned: Fact and Myth in the Legacy of Flora Macdonald (Durham, N.C. : Carolina Academic Press, 1997) <http://archive.org/details/womannoblyplanne0000toff> [accessed 23 May 2023]
- Vining, Elizabeth, Flora: A Biography (Philadelphia, Pa.: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1966)
- Wicker, R.E., The Home of Flora MacDonald in North Carolina, 1953, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina Collection
- Wylde, Flora MacDonald, The Autobiography of Flora MacDonald Being the Home Life of a Heroine, Vols. I & II (Edinburgh, Scotland: William P. Nimmo, 1870)
 Though most sources spell her name with a capital “D,” and she did on occasion, she usually spelled it as shown here, as do most Scottish sources. See for example her 1789 “Memorial of Flora Macdonald” (transcribed in 1948 using the original spellings).
 MacLeod. Technically, the Scottish farms mentioned on this page were “tacks.” An historian explains, “The all-powerful clan chieftan leased the major portion of his holdings to tacksmen, who were usually… near relatives of the chief and who held their land under favorable terms from the chief,” but paid rent. “The tacksmen, in turn, (often) rented out their land to under-tenants on far less favorable terms” (Robinson 1956).
 Quoted in Fraser 2022.
 Macdonald 1948.
 Quoted in Fraser.
 Fraser cites an order now in London archives for Flora’s placement on the Royal Sovereign, a known prison ship, and then another brought by the messenger for her removal two days later. King’s messengers were people authorized to keep paroled prisoners in their own homes for pay. Contrary to a claim that her charmed captors influenced her release two years later, it was not unusual: Toffey (1979) cites a study finding that none of 74 women held captive for a time due to the Stuart rising were put on trial.
 Allan quote taken from Toffey; Flora’s description from Quynn 1941.
 Wicker 1953.
 MacCleod 1995.
 Bridges 2015. Fraser claims the ship went directly to Wilmington. But a ship large enough for the 400 passengers she says were on board could not navigate the Cape Fear River that far north, due to a large island and shoal above Brunswick Town, where all ships were required to register their arrival. Toffey says it is unclear which ship Flora was on, of 10 that arrived from Scotland that month. The Macdonalds may have changed to a smaller boat to go to Wilmington, and from there gone up the Cape Fear, the more typical route. Or they could have gone by land either from Brunswick or from Wilmington.
 Early historian Benson Lossing met with a “Mrs. McL–” in 1849 (reprinted in Lossing 2005). McL told him Flora often visited her mother at their house, near the marketplace and courthouse, when she was first in Cross Creek.
 Wicker. Regarding the date of purchase, many sources place the Macdonalds on Cheek’s Creek as late as autumn. Macdonald (1948) wrote that her family “lived comfortably for near a year” before the events of February 1776, described below in the text, which suggests they had moved by March or April 1775. See also Footnote 17.
 Caudill 2017.
 Allan is quoted in Toffey about Culloden. Flora is said to have spoken at balls staged at various houses in this region to raise interest, but there is no evidence of this from the time (MacCleod), and she says nothing of it in her own writing (Macdonald).
 Josiah Martin letter dated 7/10/1775, quoted in Fraser. This confirms the Macdonalds were already settled on Cheek’s Creek before July.
 Lossing’s “Mrs. McL–” (see Footnote 12) showed him the letter, addressed to McL’s sister. Lossing says the letter seemed old, and it was signed “Flory,” as she had on her marriage contract according to the famous English author Sir Walter Scott. So Lossing thought it legitimate. But modern historians have questioned its use of Scottish dialect, which does not appear in any of her confirmed writings. McL is the sole source for the story of Flora seeing off the troops, popularized in a speech and pamphlet a few years later by a local lawyer (see Bridges), and says the sister went home with Flora. Flora says nothing about this in her Memorial (Macdonald). McL was 14 in 1776, and thus was 87 by this point. She also thought Flora was still at Annabella’s much-closer home in 1776, and Lossing says her attempt to describe the Betty Burke story was “mixed and meager.” Also, it seems certain Flora would have gone with her husband if she intended to go to Cross Creek. But the letter indicates she didn’t, and neither of two eyewitness accounts record her being at his first stop, Cross Hill near modern Carthage (per Robinson).
 Exhibit, “The Highland Scots” in “The Story of North Carolina,” North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, N.C., Item 1.
 The myth of the ship being attacked, which says Flora went on deck during the fight to rally the sailors, came from a book written and titled as an autobiography. It was actually authored with heavy embellishment by Macdonald’s granddaughter (Wylde 1870), who never met her. For example, it places Allan on board, despite numerous records showing he remained in Canada, and of course ignores Flora’s actual account.
 Allan’s death date from Toffey, who says most writers agree Allan died in 1792, though other dates are given before and after hers; funeral description quoted in Vining 1966; Flora writes about the sheets in her memorial (Macdonald), and Boswell confirmed both were used for her mother-in-law (quoted in Toffey).
 Caudill 2017. Caudill, director of the Scottish Heritage Center, had visited the location. Macdonald (1789) specified that their property was on Cheek’s Creek. AmRevNC found physical evidence of an old mill where Caudill indicated it would be, but is not revealing details or the exact location to protect the site. A detailed historical map of the county shows no other mills from the 18th or 19th centuries on this part of the creek (Hughes, Fred, ‘Montgomery County, North Carolina, Historical Documentation’ [Jamestown, N.C.: Custom House, Undated]).
 Black Plantation story from Caruthers, E. W., Revolutionary Incidents and Sketches of Character, Chiefly in the ‘Old North State’ (Philadelphia, Hayes & Zell, 1854) <http://archive.org/details/revolutionaryinc00caru>; Killegray source from Bridges.
 MacDonald 1938; Fraser, MacLeod, Toffey.
 Wicker. Green drama about Flora is from Toffey.