Scottish Heroine Turned Loyalist
Tour: Tory War
The last 3/10th of a mile to the coordinates on Lovin Hill Road is gravel.
Although the land containing the homesite is owned by the Forest Service, it apparently is not part of Uwharrie National Forest nor are there trails to the vicinity. The property between this Stop and the homesite is privately owned, so for now this is as close as the public can get.
Perhaps the most famous celebrity in Revolutionary North Carolina was not a military or political leader, nor a Patriot. Flora MacDonald was known throughout the British realm when she landed in Wilmington in 1774. Many Scots had hoped for the return of a Scottish King to the British throne years after the death of King James II in 1701. In 1745 James’ grandson Charles, called “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” arrived in Scotland from exile in France to try. This resulted in the resounding defeat of the Scottish Highlanders at the Battle of Culloden Moor the next year. (These events will sound familiar to fans of the Outlander books and TV series.)
MacDonald helped Charles escape by dressing him up as her servant “Betty Burke” and traveling to the Isle of Skye, where he took a boat back to France. MacDonald was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, but she had so charmed the soldiers transporting her, they requested clemency. She spent most of two years under house arrest before being released without trial.
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. He described her as “‘a little woman of genteel appearance, and uncommonly mild and well-bred…’”
Financial problems drove Flora and her husband, Allan, to immigrate, landing in Wilmington in August 1774 to join family west of the Cross Creek (now Fayetteville) region. 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)…”
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 southwest of today’s Pinehurst. Among the settlers was Flora’s stepfather Hugh. It’s unclear whether her mother Marion immigrated with him. Hugh’s daughter, Flora’s half-sister Annabella, lived closer to Cross Creek, but had land in the same area. Flora and Allan passed through Cross Creek, and went to live with Annabella near modern Spring Lake (northeast of Ft. Bragg) at least a year while looking for land of their own. While there they worshiped at Barbecue Presbyterian Church, which still exists.
Probably in the fall of 1775, Allan and Flora 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. In a letter, Allan “refers to a grist-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 standing on. The mill was out of sight to your right between here and today’s NC 731, on the other side of the creek.
Like many Highlanders, Allan had sworn loyalty to the British king after the Culloden uprising, and thus joined the Loyalist cause here. Most of the males in the area joined the ill-fated march that led to the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, an overwhelming Patriot (“Whig”) victory. Flora’s husband and son were imprisoned, and their property here was eventually confiscated by the state. She only lived here a few months more due to Patriot harassment. “Their families, left without defense in a Whig neighborhood, were repeatedly robbed, and say their homes were plundered by marauding bands from the strong Whig territory to the north, who were encouraged in their thievery by the disorganized state of the government and the hands-off attitude of the older settlers.” The battle took place in a time of near anarchy, when the royal governor was hiding on a ship off the Cape Fear River and months before the Provincial Assembly declared North Carolina an independent state.
For two years, Flora apparently moved among various friends and family members, primarily Kenneth Black, before the state allowed her to move to New York. (Black was active in the Tory militia, and his murder in 1781 led to a raid on the House in the Horseshoe.) Her husband was held until the end of the war, after which they migrated to Nova Scotia. Flora moved back to Skye the next year, followed by Allan four years later. She died there in her late 70s. Samuel Johnson wrote her epitaph: “Her name will be mentioned in history and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.”
What to See
Flora’s home was about a half-mile to the left, on a low ridge above the creek. Use the “Location” map to zoom in until you can see where the creek curves sharply to the right. The homesite is on the left (west) side of the creek just below the curve. She surely walked past this spot regularly going to and from the mill.
The state historical marker for Flora is on NC 731. To see it, return the way you came on Lovin Hill Road to the highway and turn left.
The marker is on the left near the creek, a couple hundred yards south of the mill site, which was on the right side of the creek from there.
You can see artifacts owned by Flora and learn more at the Scottish Heritage Center in Laurinburg.
- Misinformation about the MacDonald plantation was introduced by an 1854 writer, who mistakenly identified it as one called Killegray about five miles south of here. This led the trustees of Flora MacDonald College (now Highlander Academy) in Red Springs to move some earth from two small graves there to a crypt at the college, which they marked as the graves of her children. Another local legend held that Flora sent Allan and his troops off with a rousing speech in Cross Creek, but there is no contemporary evidence, and the family no longer lived there. That story probably arose with a local businessman 50 years after the war.
- In 1953, a group including local historians and a University of North Carolina journalism professor searched for and found the mill and home sites. Also among them was famous N.C. writer Paul Green, playwright of the outdoor historical drama The Lost Colony still performed today in Manteo.
Caudill, William, Director, Scottish Heritage Center, Interview with tour, 2020
- Caudill, William, ‘Flora MacDonald Homesite’, NCpedia, 2006 <https://www.ncpedia.org/flora-macdonald-homesite> [accessed 29 April 2020]
- 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]
- ‘Marker: K-38’, North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program <http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=K-38> [accessed 29 April 2020]
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
- ‘The Legendary Flora MacDonald’, NC Museum of History <https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/legendary-flora-macdonald> [accessed 29 April 2020]
- Wicker, R.E., The Home of Flora MacDonald in North Carolina, 1953, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina Collection