Donald Roy MacDonald by David McDonald

Donald Roy, who was born in about 1708, was the third son of Ranald Macdonald, 1st of Baleshare, a small island to the west of North Uist. Ranald’s wife was Marion, daughter of Donald Macdonald, 18th of Clanranald. Virtually nothing is known of Donald Roy’s early life other than he was educated under the direction of Mr. John MacPherson, a noted schoolteacher in the Isle of Skye.

Donald Roy was of the Sleat branch of Clan Donald, his father being a natural son of Sir James Macdonald, 2nd Baronet of Sleat. He has the distinction of being one of only two gentlemen of the Sleat branch of the clan known to have risen in arms on behalf of the exiled King James in 1745. Donald Roy was at Monkstadt the home of Sir Alexander Macdonald of Sleat, in Trotternish, Skye, at the time of Prince Charles’ arrival on the mainland of Scotland. Sir Alexander detained Donald Roy for about a month at Monkstadt, he being uncertain whether or not to raise his men in support of the Prince. Donald Roy who made no secret of where his sympathies lay was anxious to join the Prince, but remained until it was clear that Sir Alexander would take no action. He then set off alone, Sir Alexander making no attempt to detain him.

While at the house of Donald Macdonell of Scotus, in Knoydart, Donald Roy received news of the victory at the battle of Prestonpans. He immediately resumed his journey meeting up with John MacKinnon of MacKinnon and his men five miles south of Crieff at the Bridge of Ardoch. The Prince’s army was at Edinburgh and on arrival there with MacKinnon, Donald Roy was given a Lieutenant’s commission in the Keppoch Regiment. With this regiment Donald Roy would have taken part in the march into England and subsequent retreat from Derby.

Donald Roy took part in the battle of Falkirk, and afterwards Ranald Macdonald, younger of Clanranald, having taken a liking to him, he was given a Captain’s commission in the Clanranald Regiment. Shortly afterwards Donald Roy was dispatched to Skye with a letter for Sir Alexander of Sleat signed by all the Highland chiefs in the Prince’s army urging that he raise his clan and join them forthwith. Donald Roy delivered the letter to Sir Alexander at i lie same time that other letters arrived from Lord Loudon, Forbes of Culloden and Macleod of Macleod. Sir Alexander believing from the contents of these letters that the Prince’s cause had little chance of success decided to do nothing. He wrote to Alexander Macdonell of Keppoch: “Seeing I look upon your affairs as in a desperate way I will not join you; but then I assure you I will as In tie rise against you. If any misfortune shall happen to yourself I desire you may leave your son, Ranald, to my care, etc.” Sir Alexander gave this letter to Donald Roy to deliver, but urged him not to be in any hurry as it was believed that there would soon be an engagement between the Prince’s army and that of Lord Loudon, and that it would be unwise for him to run the risk of killing or being killed by any of his own relations, he having several cousins in Loudon’s command.

Donald Roy, despite his chief’s advice, set off for Kyle from where the mainland ferry operated. At Kyle he found his eldest brother Hugh, 2nd of Baleshare, who was in command of a company of militia there. There was a great deal of sympathy for the Prince’s cause among the militia and Donald Roy remained with them for three days, drinking with his friends and eating King George’s beef, all the time wearing the white cockade in his bonnet. Before Donald Roy took his leave, his friends in the militia drank the health of the Prince.

By this time the Prince’s army had occupied Inverness and it was there that Donald Roy rejoined his regiment. Not long afterwards on the 16th April, 1746 Donald Roy took part in the battle of Culloden. In the retreat he twice saw Alexander of Keppoch fall to the ground wounded. After the second fall Keppoch looked up at Donald Roy and said: “O God, have mercy upon me. Donald do the best for yourself, for I am gone.” Donald Roy then left him and in leaving the field he received a musket wound which went in at the sole of the left foot and out at the buckle. Another of the wounded lying on the field, Ranald Macdonald of Belfinlay, a Captain of Clanranald’s, later recorded that Donald Roy paused by him to express his concern, but being wounded himself he was unable to assist him. Donald Roy managed to evade pursuit and walked five miles without stopping, his wounded foot badly swollen and without a shoe.

At Bunchrew, two miles beyond Inverness, Donald Roy obtained a horse and rode a further eight miles that day, making his way towards Skye. His foot was now so swollen that he was unable to put it into the stirrup. On the following day, the 17th April, having travelled fifteen miles, Donald Roy arrived at the house of Mackenzie of Kirnag, where he found one Balfour who had been surgeon to the MacGregor Regiment in the Prince’s army. Balfour dressed Donald Roy’s foot and he continued on his way in the company of Malcolm MacLeod, his wife, and Murdoch MacLeod, Raasay’s third son, whom he had also found at Kirnag. At the ferry they parted company, Donald Roy crossing to Skye and the MacLeods to Raasay.

Donald Roy arrived on Skye on the 23rd April, and made his way to the home of John MacLean, surgeon in Trotternish, where his foot was dressed for the second time. He soon afterwards made a sham surrender of his arms to Lieutenant MacLeod, a friend in the militia, having first obtained some indifferent arms to surrender in place of his good arms which he had safely conveyed to his brother Hugh in North Uist.

On or about the 22nd June Donald Roy received two letters sent by his brother Hugh. One was to himself, and the other, written by the Prince, was to be handed to Sir Alexander’s wife, Lady Margaret. The letter to Donald Roy was to the effect that the Prince intended to leave South Uist where he had been hiding, and land on Fladda Chuain, a small island to the north of Trotternish. Donald Roy was to meet the Prince and provide him with necessaries, particularly shirts and blankets. He borrowed Dr. MacLean’s horse and rode to Monkstadt where he delivered the Prince’s letter to Lady Margaret. Sir Alexander was at this time on the mainland. Lady Margaret provided six of her husband’s best shirts, which she pretended were a gift to Donald Roy who had lost all his baggage at Culloden. She also gave him twenty guineas for the Prince’s use. Donald Roy made his way to the island but found it deserted. He therefore returned the shirts and money to Lady Margaret and rode back to the surgeon’s house four miles away.

On the 29th June, Donald Roy received a letter from Lady Margaret requesting that he return to Monkstadt as soon as possible as she had something very important to communicate to him. He set off immediately, and on arrival found Lady Margaret and Alexander Macdonald of Kingsburgh walking together. She informed him that the Prince had landed on Skye only a short distance away, but that as Lieutenant MacLeod was in the house with Flora Macdonald, who had brought the Prince from South Uist, this would put them in some danger. Donald Roy promised to do whatever he could for the safety of the Prince even at the hazard of his own life. It was proposed by Kingsburgh that the Prince should go to the island of Raasay, it being too dangerous to remain on Skye with the militia searching the island. It was eventually agreed that the Prince should travel overland to Portree and then to Raasay. It was further agreed that Malcolm MacLeod of Raasay should be sought in order that he should undertake the Prince’s protection, and that Donald Roy should go to John, younger of Raasay in order to find out his father’s whereabouts. Donald Roy was then to go to Portree and await the Prince who would then travel to Raasay and from there with Malcolm of Raasay to the Earl of Seaforth’s country on the mainland where it was felt that the Prince would be safer.

Donald Roy set out to find Young Raasay, whom it was believed was at Tottrome. When within two miles of Tottrome he was informed that Young Raasay was in fact at Tote. Donald Roy decided to go to Tote, but in case he missed him there, he gave his informant a note to take to Tottrome, asking Young Raasay to meet him at Portree. Young Raasay returned to Tottrome, having left Tote before Donald Roy’s arrival, but having read the note, he made his way to Portree. The two met at the Inn there, Young Raasay at first denying any knowledge of his father’s whereabouts. It was only when Donald Roy informed him of the Prince’s presence on Skye that Young Raasay admitted that his father was in hiding in Knoydart and that he would get word to him. Young Raasay then left having undertaken to provide a boat to transport the Prince to Raasay.

Flora Macdonald arrived at Portree from Kingsburgh on the 30th June, and informed Donald Roy that the Prince was on his way. Later that evening a boy named MacQueen, who was acting as guide to the Prince, arrived at the Inn and asked for Donald Roy. Donald left the Inn with the boy who informed him that the Prince was nearby with Neil Maceachen. Leaving the boy at the Inn Donald Roy went to the Prince who “…no sooner saw him than he took him in his arms, and by way of salutation put his head over one shoulder of the Captain, and then over the other, expressly forbidding the Captain to use any ceremony, they not knowing who (under cover of night) might be near them to make observations.” The Prince, Donald Roy and Neil Maceachen then went into the Inn where the Prince changed his shirt and had a meal. The three between them also consumed a bottle of whisky.

The Prince pressed Donald Roy to go to Raasay with him saying that Kingsburgh had assured him that he would do so. To this Donald Roy replied that he would be of little use to the Prince in view of the open wound to his foot, and would only prove a burden. The Prince then said that “…he had always found himself safe in the hands of the MacDonalds, and so long as he could have a MacDonald along with him he still would think himself safe enough.” The Prince persisted and so Donald Roy informed him of the plan to go to Seaforth’s country and that if the Prince agreed to this scheme he would accompany him. The Prince appeared to be pleased with the plan but still wished Donald Roy to accompany him to Raasay. It was finally agreed that Donald Roy would remain on Skye in order to find out if the Prince’s crossing to Raasay had become known to the militia, and would follow later.

Soon after the Prince’s arrival at the Inn, Young Raasay, his brother Murdoch, and Malcolm MacLeod, landed their boat near Portree. Malcolm went to the Inn and sent in a message asking Donald Roy to come out and speak with a friend. Donald Roy went out and informed Malcolm that the Prince was at the Inn. Malcolm urged that the Prince should leave as soon as possible and so Donald Roy returned to the Inn promising all possible speed. The Prince bid his farewells to Flora Macdonald and Neil Maceachen and then made his way with Donald Roy to the boat. The Prince took his leave at dawn on the 1st July, having insisted that Young Raasay should return to Skye on the 3rd, meet Donald Roy at Tottrome, and take him over to Raasay on the following day.

Donald Roy returning to the Inn found the landlord, Charles MacNab, asking questions about the identity of the Prince. Donald Roy explained that he was only a fellow rebel, an Irish gentleman, Sir John Macdonald, who had been hiding on Skye and had now crossed to the mainland. After sleeping at the Inn for part of the day Donald Roy went to Kingsburgh to inform Alexander that the Prince was safely away. He then made his way to Monkstadt to see Lady Margaret, and there he met his friend Lieutenant MacLeod. MacLeod insisted that Donald Roy return with him to his quarters just over a mile from Monkstadt. Here he spent the night and was pleased to note that MacLeod had no suspicion that the Prince had been on Skye.

From the Lieutenant’s quarters, Donald Roy returned to Dr MacLean’s house, where he settled his account, before setting dim on foot the following day for Monkstadt. Here he provided himself with a pistol and dirk, and was given a letter for the Prince by Lady Margaret. Donald Roy then travelled by horse to Kingsburgh where he arranged for a boy to go to Tottrome with him in order to return with the borrowed horse. At Tottrome on the 3rd July he met Young Raasay who informed him that he had left the Prince with Malcolm and Murdoch MacLeod in a byre near Scorrybreck. The Prince had decided to return to Skye and wished to see Donald Roy. However it was now evening and Donald Roy was very tired after his journeying and was in pain; he therefore agreed to go to the Prince at daylight after he had rested. When he reached the byre on the following morning it was to find that the Prince and Malcolm MacLeod had gone, leaving Murdoch to tell Donald Roy that they would meet him at Camastianavaig, south of Portree, on the evening of the 6th or morning of the 7th at the latest.

Donald Roy went to Camastianavaig and went to the house of Peter MacQueen. In the evening a stranger came to the house and gave Donald Roy a letter which it transpired had been written by the Prince and sent by Malcolm MacLeod:

“SIR, —I have parted (I thank God) as intended. Make my compliments to all those to whom I have given trouble. — I am, Sir, your humble servant, JAMES THOMSON.”

By the contents of this letter Donald Roy knew that the Prince had left Skye. He borrowed another horse and rode to Armadale in Sleat where Flora Macdonald’s mother lived with her second husband Hugh Macdonald of Armadale. Hugh, a Captain of militia had provided the pass for Flora and the Prince to leave South Uist for Skye. Flora herself had arrived at Armadale sometime previously.

On the 9th or 10th July a message arrived at Armadale from Donald Macdonald of Castleton, a captain in one of the MacLeod militia companies, inviting Flora to his house. Donald Roy was suspicious and advised her not to go. When it became clear that Flora intended to accept the invitation, Donald Roy asked her to leave with him the letter which Armadale had written as a pass for her and the Prince. Flora seeing the wisdom of this gave the letter to Donald Roy. It was fortunate that she did so, because on her way to see Castleton, Flora was arrested by a party of soldiers who took her aboard the sloop ‘Furnace’. Donald Roy on hearing of this destroyed the letter from Lady Margaret to the Prince and the letter to himself from “James Thomson”. On the following day he delivered Flora’s letter to Armadale, who immediately burnt it.

On discovering that information had been given against him to the authorities, Donald Roy was forced to go into hiding. During the next eight weeks he hid in caves, being supplied with provisions and necessaries by Lady Margaret, and with dressings for his wound by Doctor MacLean. His main danger at this time was from marines landed from naval vessels. Major-General Campbell, while on Skye, also made enquiries about him. During his period of hiding, Donald Roy composed poems in Latin to occupy his time, including a lament on Culloden and an ode to his wounded foot. Having received information that the independent militia companies were to be disbanded Donald Roy wrote to Sir Alexander of Sleat asking what he should do. He was advised that it should be safe for him to start appearing in public, but to avoid the militia if possible until they should be broken up. Donald Roy was not exempted from the Act of Indemnity in 1747 and so was able to resume his normal life.

In January 1748, Donald Roy made several visits to Rev. Robert Forbes, later Bishop of Ross and Caithness, at Leith. Forbes was collecting information in relation to the late Jacobite uprising and Donald Roy gave him an account of his own participation. These papers were eventually published under the title “The Lyon in Mourning”. Forbes described Donald Roy as being “….a tall, sturdy man about six foot high, exceedingly well shaped, and about forty years of age.”

Following the Act of Indemnity Donald Roy had returned to North Uist, where he taught the children of the local gentry. Some time before 1764 he received a tack of the lands of Kyles Bernera, at the North end of North Uist, from the tutors of Sir James Macdonald of Sleat, where he combined farming with schoolteaching. Donald Roy later retired to live at Shulista, where he is known to have read the Greek classics including Homer’s “Iliad”. His name is prominently mentioned in a lawsuit between Macdonald of Sleat and MacLeod of MacLeod concerning seaweed rights in the Sound of Bernera. It is in this connection that the last reference to Donald Roy is found in a letter on the subject of the lawsuit written by Donald Macdonald of Balranald on the 2nd June, 1770. Donald Roy’s death probably took place within a few years of this letter. There is no record of the name of Donald Roy’s wife, but it is known that he had a son called Hugh who lived at Port Clair in the Parish of Boleskine. He married Janet Fraser and had a son, Alexander.