Taken from
Issue Number 12 Autumn 1982


Flora Macdonald in America
Marjorie Taylor

Flora MacDonald was fifty-two years of age when she and her husband, Allan, accompanied by two of their sons, Alexander and James, arrived in North Carolina from the Isle of Skye in 1774. Her daughter, Anne, her husband, Alexander MacLeod, and their two small sons, also came to America and may have made the long six-weeks journey on the same ship. The other children in the family included Ranald in the Marines, Charles with the East India Company, John,15, a student in Edinburgh, and Fanny, 8, who remained in Scotland and did not see her mother until the latter's return to her homeland five years later.(1)

They had sailed from Campbeltown, Argyll, and landed near Campbeltown on the Cape Fear River. This settlement was later renamed Fayetteville, honoring General Lafayette who became very popular in America during the Revolution.

The depressed economic conditions in Scotland influenced many Scots to migrate, and no doubt Allan and Flora, had serious financial problems. With the increase in rent it was becoming more difficult to meet expenses. The price of cattle, the chief source of income for Allan and Flora, had been declining and they were badly in debt. Many of their cattle and horses had died as Flora noted in 1774 they had lost 327 head during the preceeding three years.(2)

There were relatives living in America including Hugh MacDonald, Flora's stepfather, her half-sister, Annabella, and her husband, Alexander MacDonald. On their arrival Flora and her family were guests for a time of Annabella at her home at Mt Pleasant, located more then 100 miles from the coast and near Barbecue Church where the Reverend James Campbell preached in both English and Gaelic. He had come to America from Campbeltown in Argyll in the 1730's, and had been licensed as a Presbyterian preacher in Pennsylvania in 1735, and had gone down to North Carolina in 1758.(3)

Alexander and Anne MacLeod soon established their home in Cumberland County. Flora and Allan settled in Anson (now Montgomery) County with their two sons, their furniture, silver and books, and their eight indentured servants. They were only five miles from her stepfather, Hugh MacDonald, and about twenty-five miles from Anne.

All these former residents of Skye were probably comfortably established by the spring of 1775 just as the "Troubles" which led to the American Revolution were becoming very serious.

There had been dissatisfaction in the Colonies especially since the Peace of Paris of 1763 and the Proclamation, also of 1763, which prohibited settlements beyond the mountains on the land they felt they had won from the French and the Indians. There was also resentment because of the trade regulations and taxes Parliament had enacted.

After the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in September 1774 the possibility of conflict was openly discussed. Flora, her husband, and her son-in-law were soon actively promoting the cause of the King.

A letter dated November 12, 1775, from Governor Martin of North Carolina to the Earl of Dartmouth stated

"the Scotch Highlanders here are generally and almost without exception staunch to Government."

He continued mentioning

"Captain Alex MacLeod, a Gentleman from the Highlands of Scotland, later as Officer in the Marines who had been settled in this Province about a year and is one of the Gentlemen I had the honor to recommend to your Lordship to be appointed a Captain in the Battalion of Highlanders .... his father-in-law, Mr. Allan MacDonald, proposed by me for Major of the intended Corps moved by my encouragements have each raised a company of Highlanders."(4)

The patriots were anxious as to the activities of the Highlanders and in July the Wilmington Committee of Safety resolved their chairman should "write Allan MacDonald, of Cumberland County" (he had moved to Anson County)"to know from himself the reports of his having an intention to raise Troops to support measures ...... against the Americans in this Colony and whether he had offered his services to Governor Martin."(5) There had been pressure for Allan to join the Whigs in their opposition to the King but he was never interested.

Meetings in private homes increased support for the cause of George III and according to tradition Flora made speeches which added to their enthusiasm. Because of her aid to Prince Charles Edward following his defeat at Culloden, she was well known on both sides of the Atlantic and her opinions carried a great deal of influence. There was discussion in the fall of 1775 regarding a campaign proposed for the following spring.

Donald MacDonald who had fought at Bunker Hill had come south to recruit men was commissioned a Brigidier General in His Majesty's Forces by Governor Martin of North Carolina. He was placed in command of Loyalist land forces while Sir Henry Clinton, at sea with a small fleet and seven Corps of Irish Regulars had orders to meet the land forces at the mouth of the Cape Fear early in the year 1776. They were determined to defend the King's authority which was being rejected by the Americans.(6)

When they left home to join the Loyalist troops, Allan MacDonald, his sons, Alexander and James, and three servants carrried their "family arms" valued at over forty-two pounds. Allan had also purchased arms, shirts, blankets, and shoes, valued at eighteen pounds and arms costing forty-seven pounds for distribution to the Loyalists who did not have adequate equipment. His son-in-law, Alexander MacLeod, contributed guns, swords, and pistols valued at ninety-one pounds.(7)

When the Committee of Safety in both New Bern and Willington became aware of the activities of the Loyalists, American troops were ordered out to prevent their reaching the coast. As both the Tories and Whigs were manoeuving for any advantage Colonel Caswell, Commander of the American forces, arranged for the removal of one portion of the planks from the bridge over Moore's Creak and ordered the framework to be greased with soft soap and tallow.(8)

This slippery bridge was a very important factor when the Loyalists and Whigs met there in battle just before daylight February 27, 1776. Following a verbal exchange part of which was in Gaelic, the Highlanders, in tartans and kilts, who advanced with the battle cry "King George and the Broadswords", accompanied by pipes and drums were soundly defeated in less than five minutes. The victorious Whigs, 1100 in number, captured 850 troops, 350 guns, 150 swords, 1500 rifles, 13 wagons with horses, medical supplies and 1500 pounds sterling. At least seventy Loyalists lost their lives including some who fell into the creek as they attempted to cross the slippery bridge from which some of the planks had been removed.(9) The Americans reported two men wounded, one of whom died later.(10)

Allan MacDonald, the husband of Flora, Alexander, their son, Alexander MacDonald of Cuildreach, the husband of Flora's sister, Annabella, and two of his brothers were among the prisoners. Alexander MacLeod, Flora's son-in-law, had avoided capture by hiding in the woods and eventually rejoined the royalist forces.

This was surely one of the most difficult times in Flora's life. Her husband was a prisoner of war, and she was in a community which had been disrupted by the military defeat. Women whose husbands, fathers, and sons had been captured by the American forces resented the encouragement given by Flora and her husband prior to the battle and many considered them responsible for their troubles. A year later, in 1777, their plantation was confiscated when Flora refused to take the oath of allegiance to North Carolina. Her daughter, Anne, also fled from her home where property valued at 1500 pounds was stolen or destroyed. However in February 1778, two years after the action at Moore's Creek, Major Alexander MacLeod, serving with the British Army, was able to arrange with Sir Henry Clinton for a flag of truce for his family. His wife, Anne, their four children, her mother, Flora MacDonald, and their indentured servants sailed from North Carolina to New York, then under the control of the royalist forces.

As a captive of the Americans, Allan had walked the 700 miles from Moore's Creek to Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. He felt the severe hardship of this trip caused him to lose the use of his legs in later life. Following an exchange of prisoners he was allowed to go to New York where he met Flora and their daughter, in April 1778. Later that year Alexander MacLeod took his family to London, but he later returned to America and fought under Cornwallis in 1780.(12) Allan was assigned to Halifax in Canada where Flora spent a miserable, cold winter. She had injured her wrist, she was homesick, and she had not seen her two youngest children for five years. Then in October 1779 her husband arranged for her passage to London. But there was bad news, for on her arrival she learned of the death of her son, Alexander, at sea. He had been on leave because of his bad health which was probably due to a wound received at Moore's Creek in 1776.(13) Two years later her son, Ranald, of the Marines also died at sea.

Flora was reuinited with two of her children, Anne MacLeod, and Fanny, her youngest, whom she had not seen since she and Allan had left for America five years before. It is not known if she met, her son, John, before his departure for India where he was: to live for many years.(14) Allan remained in Canada when the war was over in 1783 and the 84th Regiment was disbanded. He hoped to develop the 3000 acre regimental grant in Nova Scotia which he had received, but abandoned the place because of lack of capital.

Six years after Flora had left America, Allan too decided to go to London where he hoped to be repaid for his losses suffered during the War. He filed claims for his two plantations, grist mill, furniture, books, plate , horses, saddles, baggage, and personal expenses which he valued at 1,341 pounds. It must have been a disappointment when he was awarded the sum of 440 pounds.(15)

Allan and Flora MacDonald, their surviving sons, Charles and James, and their daughters, Anne and Fanny, all returned home to Skye with stories and memories of exciting experiences. Flora died in 1790 and Allan in 1792. Both are buried on the Isle of Skye. (Kilmuir Cemetery)

We respect Flora MacDonald for her great courage and inspiration exhibited both in Scotland and in America.

  • 1. Vining, Elizabeth Grey, Flora A Biography. J.B.Lippincott, Philadelphia and New York, 1966, p. 129
  • 2. Vining, Ibid., p. 118
  • 3. Weis, Frederick Lewis, The Colonial Clergy of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Geneological Publishing Company, Inc., Baltimore, 1976,p. 60.
  • 4. Colonial Records of North Carolina. William L. Saunders, Secretary of State, Raleigh, North Carolina, 1890, Vol.X.p.325.
  • 5. Colonial Records of North Carolina, Ibid., p. 65.
  • 6. MacLean, J.P., An Historical Accounts of the Settlements of Scotch Highlanders in America Prior to the Peace of 1783. Hickman Taylor Co., Cleveland & Glasgow, 1900, p. 125.
  • 7. Vining, Ibid.,p. 162.
  • 8. Rankin, Hugh, "The Moore's Creek Bridge Campaign," North Carolina Historical Review, Vol.XXX. p.50.
  • 9. (No information here, HAR)
  • 10. Commager, Henry Steele, Morris, Richard B., The Spirit of Seventy-Six. Harper & Row, New York, 1967, p. 115.
  • 11. Vining, Ibid.,p.171.
  • 12. Vining. Ibid., p. 182.
  • 13. Vining, Ibid., p. 185.
  • 14. Dictionary of National Biography, Edited by Sidney Lee, MacMillan & Co., New York, Smith Elder & Co., London, 1892 Vol.XXXV, pp. 40, 41.
  • 15. Vining, Ibid., p.190.
  • 16. Vining, Ibid.,p. 192.
To top of page
John Paul Jones & Others
A. I. B. Stewart

The war For American Independence broke out in April 1775 when local levies fired on British troops at Lexington. It was not till three years later that it began directly to affect the citizens of Campbeltown.

On 22nd April 1778 John Paul Jones landed at St. Mary's Isle and raided Lord Selkirk's house, stealing the family silver. He was on familiar ground. He had been brought up on the Selkirk's estates where his father was a gardener. Two days later, off Carrickftergus, he captured H.M.S. Drake, a sloop of 20 guns.

On 27th April 1778, the Magistrates and Councillors with the other inhabitants of Campbeltown met to consider a letter received from Collector Logy at Stranraer along with another letter from Captain Jas. Crawford of Cumbra' s wherry, informng them that American privateers were doing a great deal of mischief upon the neighboring coasts of Galloway, Stranraer, etc., burning vessels and houses upon these coasts. The following extract from the Council Minutes is witness of their resolution.

"The Magistrates and Councillors have therefore resolved that a good going vessel shall be immediately fitted up and manned in a proper manner and thereafter to cruise upon this coast off the Island of Sanda to observe the motions of any of the said privateers that may happen to direct their course towards the Town or Harbour and to give immediate intelligence thereof to the other Sentrys that be appointed for the safety of the place by signalls to be hereafter condescended on by a committee of the Councill and they also Resolve to appoint a sentry of three men to be stationed upon the Island of Sanda another upon Corphin and a third upon Island Davaar to observe the signals from the said vessell or from one another so as to alarm the town with the soonest in case of any approaching danger. It is further resolved upon that the Town and Harbour shall be watched every night by a Guard of Twenty men to be stationed as the Magistrates appoint and such of the Inhabitants as have Guns, Swords or Cutlasses are hereby ordered to produce them in the Council Room this day and appoint this order to be intimated by Tuck of Drum immediately and the expense necessarily incurred by all those steps already mentioned for the safety of the place to be in the meantime defrayed from the Revenue of the Burrow till the Magistrates and Councill have an opportunity of settling how the Burrow afterwards is to be indemnified of this expense and for regulating the proper execution of all these appointments the Magistrates are appointed a Committee with such of the Councillors as they may choose to call to their assistance, the said Committee are also appointed to enroll two hundred men of the Inhabitants such as they may think proper for answering the Defence of the Place in the event it may hereafter be found necessary to call them together and appoint the Committee to Buy up fifty pound weight of Powder or what quantity they can find in the shops as far as necessary and also a necessary quantity of lead to be run into Bullets of different sizes for the use of the Guards or other purposes above-mentioned."

Whether John Paul Jones learned of the reception he might expect we do not know, but by 8th May he had returned to Brest without making any attempt to attack Campbeltown. There is little doubt that he had it in mind, because in his plan written in Passy, now part of Paris, on 5th June 1778 he advised the American Plenipotentiaries and the French Ministry of Marine that "The Fishery at Campbeltown is an object worthy of attention."

The alarm was renewed when the Council met again on 24th August 1778.
"Colonel Campbell at the same time communicated a letter from Lord Frederick Campbell mentioning that four French and American privateers either had or were immediately to sail from France with an intention, it's thought to infest the Western Coasts which he now communicated that the Magistrates might take any steps they and the councill might think proper for the Safety of the Town. The Magistrates upon considering this information are of the opinion that since there are one hundred stand of arms belonging to the Duke of Argyll lately come to Campbeltown Burgesses ought to be requested to form themselves into a company of volunteers to assist the military now stationed here if their assistance at any time hereafter becomes necessary and the Magistrates and Councill considering the Chamberlain of Kintyre a proper experienced person in matters of this kind they request he may take command of the volunteers and the Magistrates at the same time request that Mr. Archibald Campbell, James Maxwell and Duncan Campbell, writers, James Ballantine, Alexander and William Campbell, Merchants in Town may act as Lieutenants under the Chamberlain and it is further requested that those gentlemen shall immediately set about collecting the volunteers to co-operate with the military in any measure that may lead to the safety of the Town."

The Council met again on 5th September when the Minute reads as follows:-

"The Magistrates informed the Council that in consequence of an application from the Provost and Magistrates of Campbeltown for Arms and Ammunition to defend the Inhabitants and the Burrow from any invasion the French and American Privateers might attempt upon this coast Eight boxes containing Two hundred stand of arms with Cartouch Boxes and Straps compleat, six hundred flints and six thousand loaded cartridges all forwarded here from his Excellency Sir Adolphus Oughton by Lord Frederick Campbell are now arrived and lodged in proper stores the Councill considering the frequent and late informations received of intended invasions upon this coast by French and American Privateers Have Resolved to put the said arms in the hands of such of the Inhabitants as are able and active, fitt for service and Recommend to the Magistrates to Enroll two hundred of the Inhabitants for the purposes above mentioned to act under the command of the gentlemen mentioned in the Act of Councill of the 24th ultimo joined with Captain Scipio Campbell who it is requested will act as Captain Lieutenent. The Council are requested to forward a receipt to Sir Adolphus Oughton for the Arms with thanks to his Excellency for his confidence in the fidelity and activity of the people of Campbeltown and an assurance that everything in their power shall be done to repell any attack that may be attempted by our enemies."

These precautions were doubtless well worth while. There was at least, one American Privateer operating out of Dunkirk and the Breton Ports the Black Prince - and she might have struck at any time. There were, no doubt, French Privateers too.

A year passed before the Council minuted anything further but on 6th September 1779 there was real cause for excitement. The cause of the Council's concern was letters sent on by the Duke of Argyll, containing information as to the movements and intentions of John Paul Jones.

The first letter was from the Secretary's office in Dublin and was dated 27th August 1779. It read:

"Certain intelligence being this day received that on the 24th instant at one o'clock seven men landed at Ballinshillix in the County of Kerry from a Frigate mounting Forty Guns commanded by Paul Jones having in Company another Frigate mounting 36 guns, another mounting 32 guns and a Brigg mounting 12 guns, another vessell mounting 14 guns and a large Cutter mounting 18 guns having on Board in all about 2,000 men whose intention is to scour the Coast and Burn some particular Towns having a number of Combustibles shipped on Board the Vessells in France. The above information has been sent from this office by this post to every Port on the Coast to warn the People to be on their Guard and I communicate to you that you may take such steps as you shall judge most prudent for your and the Town's safety and to make it as publick as possible along the Coasts. I shall likewise acquaint you of the Transactions of these vessells as soon as they arrive here and if in this or any other matter I can make my intentions agreeable to you that satisfaction is all I wish for. P.S. On finding the above seven men had escaped from the Frigate Paul Jones dispatched after them 16 men armed as is supposed to endeavour to seize them that the coasts might not be alarmed." (sgd.) E. Goldie.

This letter had been forwarded to the Duke from Glasgow on 2nd September with a covering note as follows:

'"My Lord Duke, Inclosed I have the honour of transmitting to your Grace a copy of a Letter received this morning by the Magistrates of this city from the Provost of Air. This intelligence is alarming to this Coast but I imagine Ireland is in greater danger than Scotland. An express has just been sent to the Commander in Chieff. I have the honour to be etc. Jas. Buchanan, Glasgow 2nd September 1779."

The Magistrates of Campbeltown reacted immediately and the report of the emergency meeting held on 6th September 1779 is as follows:

"The Provost having laid before the Councill letters from His Grace the Duke of Argyll mentioning that Paul Jones with six vessells of war of different sizes is upon the West Coast of Ireland with an intention to Burn and Destroy the Towns upon the Coasts, the Magistrates and Councill request in the most particular manner the volunteers of Campbeltown may give proper attention to acquiring their manual excercise and to the safety of the Burrow in case any attack should be appempted upon it and when necessary to form themselves into guards and Picquetts for the Protection of the Place."

This in fact appears to be the only occasion when John Paul Jones himself could have threatened Campbeltown. There is a delightful story told by Colonel Charles Mactaggart in his lecture to the Society given on 25th October 1922 which he entitled "A Ramble through Old Kilkerran Graveyard."

The story goes that John Paul Jones appeared in the Loading one Sunday morning when the good folk were at church. The ladies of this time wore red cloaks rather like Red Riding Hood and when the alarm was raised the men dressed in their ladies' cloaks and emerged from church marching up and down in military formation thus frightening off the invader. Colonel Mactaggart thought it more likely, as I do, that Jones had foreknowledge of the military preparations and for this reason made no attempt to attack the town.

On this voyage Jones took a prize, "The Betsy," off the coast of Islay and sent her to Bergen. He later rendezvoued with Captain Landais and having abandoned his idea of attacking Leith sailed down the East Coast of England where on 23rd September off Flamborough Head he engaged a British Squadron causing the Serapis of 44 guns and the Countess of Scarborough of 24 guns to surrender though he lost his own command the "Bonhomme Richard" in the fight.

Following the Battle Jones went to the Texel with his captures and 500 Prisoners. Thereafter he seems to have infested our coasts no more.

The danger from Jones was past but not the danger from the French and American privateers.(U S Naval Academy burial site.)

In the Spring of 1779 a notorious Irish smuggler "The Favourite" had been taken prisoner and lay guarded by a crew of Revenue men in Dublin Harbour. Her part owner Luke Ryan had not been captured and he helped the rest of the crew led by his mate Edward McCatter (or McCarter or perhaps McArthur) to break out of prison, retake the vessel and sail her to France, where her Irish crew offered to sail her in the American Service. Her name was changed to the Black Prince and she had a most successful career as an American Privateer, under the ostensible captaincy of an American citizen, but in reality run by Ryan and McCatter. McCatter and most of his crew hailed from the Port of Rush, north of Dublin - not to be confused with Portrush. It was a notorious haunt of smugglers. What is interesting is that both before and after the events we are considering fishermen from Rush were invited to Campbeltown to educate the locals in the art of lining for cod and ling. No doubt the American privateers, who were largely crewed by Irishmen, numbering among their crews fishermen who were very familiar with the waters round Kintyre, and no doubt with Campbeltown itself.

The Black Prince on her fourth voyage between September 4th and 24th after successful adventures in the Irish Sea came to the West Coast of Kintyre and the Argyllshire Islands where some damage was done to herring busses.

Long afterwards, the American Captain Marchant described one of his exploits as follows:

"Being once in want of water and some refreshments on the Coast of Scotland he sent his boat to a small town and demanded a supply, promising security to the inhabitants and their property in case his demands were complied with. It was refused. Upon which he approached the town with his ships and saluted it with a broadside. A white flag was immediately displayed by the inhabitants and the Black Prince was not only supplied with water but with cattle, sheep, poultry and every refreshment the place could afford and the Commander chose to receive."

I have been unable to trace where this place may have been, but suspect it might have been in Islay, though it is not apparently mentioned in the Custom House records.

A letter from Port Glasgow dated 25th September stated that the Black Prince had taken and destroyed several herring busses.

So successful was the Black Prince that eventually Benjamin Franklin granted an American Commission for another ship, the Black Princess, to be commanded by Edward McCatter who, although fond of describing himself as a Bostonian, was a native of County Cork and, so far as is known, had never been in the States.

The Black Princess was a cutter of 60 feet keel and 20 feet beam, mounting 16 3 pounders, 24 swivels and small arms. She was to carry a crew of 65, all American and Irish, and on 21 December 1779 both Privateers put to sea in company.

The vessels had two successful cruises together in the Channel and the Irish Sea, but came nowhere near Kintyre. On 10th April 1780 the Black Prince was intercepted by a British Frigate and driven on the French Channel coast. Just about this time a new Black Princess was commissioned for McCatter in Cherbourg. She carried 18 6-pounders, 2 stern chase 9-pounders and 30 swivels and it was intended to man her with a crew of ninety. On 23rd May she put to sea for a short trial cruise in the English Channel.

Meantime, nothing much had happened in Campbeltown since September 1779 to cause alarm and apparently the defensive preparations had been allowed to lapse. On 10th February 1780 the Councillors felt fit to bestir themselves and a Minute of Meeting held on that date reads as follows:-

"Having taken under consideration that at present the Town of Campbeltown is in a defenceless situation should any of the French or American Privateers that so frequently cruise in the neighbouring creeks and channells make any attempt to plunder or impose contributions upon the town and that from the local situation of the Burrow it is very liable to be insulted by those Privateers and therefore the more necessary to make application for a proper Military Force to defend such dangerous designs should they be attempted, it is therefore the unanimous resolution of the Magistrates and Council to Represent this matter to his Grace the Duke of Argyll and Request that he may be pleased to apply to Government for a sufficient Military Force and Liberty to erect Batterys sufficient for the protection of the Burrow as well as a sufficient number of Cannon and quantity of ammunition for those Batterys. For this purpose the Magistrates are hereby appointed a Committee with power to them to inform his Grace that the Burrow shall be at the Expense of building the necessary Batterys for such Guns as shall be sent them which they hereby bind and oblige themselves in the name of the Community to defray the said Committee being also full authorised to Explain to his Grace every other particular relative to this application and the Force necessary to protect the Burrow."

The request was favourably received and on 8th May 1780 it was reported:

"The Magistrates and Councillors having presented to this meeting of Councill a letter from his Grace the Duke of Argyle reporting that the Board of Ordnance have agreed at his Graces request to allow Six Twelve or Eighteen Pounders for the Defence of Campbeltown and that the Conditions upon which Guns and Stores have been hitherto sent by His Majesty's Orders for the Defence of Places on the Sea Coast are that the Inhabitants shall erect Batterys or Platforms upon which the Guns are to be placed, Provide the Houses for the safekeeping of the Stores which are sent with the Guns and furnish a proper proportion of Powder all at their own expense and the Board observe another customary stipulation which is that the Guns and Stores cannot be sent till information is given that these conditions are complied with and the Battery and Platforms are ready to receive the Guns.
The Magistrates and Council of Campbeltown actuated by a lively feeling of His Graces Extensive Pattronage of the Community beg leave to present to His Grace their most grateful return of thanks for his benevolent attention through the various negociations of procuring aid from Government for the safety and protection of the town....In pursuance of these considerations and in order to relieve his Grace of his engagements for the town and to convey information to the Ordnance Board of their readiness to submit to the above conditions prescribed to them the Magistrates and Councill have unanimously agreed for themselves and in behalf of the community to erect and make fit for receiving six twelve or eighteen pounders Batterys or platforms sufficient for the Temporary Defence of the Town and Harbour against the predatory insults of the Enemy's Privateers.

We know the Batteries were completed. One known as the South Battery was placed above the Red Quarry and another at the foot of Limecraigs Avenue. There is a plan in the Society's collection dated 1795 which shows their disposition.

Colonel Mactaggart suggests that the Trench and Fort Argyll got their names from the erection of a third battery but these names arose from the installation of fortifications 140 years earlier when the Marquis of Argyll prepared to defend his Kintyre lands against an invasion by the Earl of Antrim during the Bishops Wars. Colonel Mactaggart tells us that the guns remained in Campbeltown till 1828 when they were returned to Leith Fort.

The guns had not been positioned when, on 29th June, 1780, the Black Princess set off on her most audacious voyage. In fact, in January 1781 the Duke was told the completion date would be 1st March and a year later, extensive repairs were required.

McCatter's enterprise had been delayed. The Black Princess had difficulty in picking up a crew in Cherbourg, which, unlike Dunkirk was not a nest of renegades and smugglers. She was 15 short when, as if by a miracle, 15 French seamen offered their services on the night of 23rd May, and McCatter had immediately put to sea. On the 29th May, after a very successful voyage, Black Princess was intercepted by three armed British Vessels. She crowded on sail, but one of them Unicorn, a British Privateer, could outsail Black Princess and finally, after a seven-hour chase, exchanged broadsides with her. After half an hour Unicorn was dismasted, but not before she had done considerable damage to Black Princess's rigging. With the two other British vessels coming up on him, McCatter decided to put into Morlaix in Brittany for repairs.

There he found trouble. The fifteen French sailors were naval men. McCatter was lucky to escape imprisonment for having shipped seamen of the French Royal Navy but his ship was impounded for a month. He put to sea again on 29th June and by 1st July, in his run from Britanny into the Bristol Channel, he had taken and ransomed numerous vessels. On 4th July, he captured, among several others, a Scots brig, the Three Brothers from Liverpool for Exeter. Her Scots master refused to parley and he and his crew saw from the deck of the Black Princess, their brig burned to the water's edge.

He continued northwards taking frequent prizes. Somewhere off the Isle of Man, he came up with the 70 ton brig "John" John McIsaac master, out of Campbeltown with a cargo of coal for Dublin. One of McCatter's lieutenants boarded her and demanded £400. McIsaac protested. The ship and her cargo weren't worth half as much. A loaded pistol pointed at his chest rapidly changed his mind. On the night of 7th July, he captured and ransomed the Brig Nancy and Peggy from Riga to Chester. From her Captain, he learned that two other ships out of the Baltic were a day's sail astern, so he headed north to intercept them as they came round the Mull of Kintyre. He met them off Larne.

Here he met his match, in the Crow Castle, sailing under letters of marque with a crew of 24 and armed with 10 6-pounders. The Crow Castle, after her successful resistance, reported 142 shots in her sails, 2 shots through the hull, two lodged in the foremast, one in the foreyard, two in the mainmast besides many sticking in her sides. But all her guns were still serviceable and not a British seaman was killed or wounded. McCatter broke off the contest after an hour and a half. His object was prizes, not heroics.

He then tackled the lightly armed brig. The Crow Castle's rigging and sails had been so badly damaged that she could not come to the brig's assistance and after her Captain and mate had been badly wounded and a seaman killed, she struck her colours. According to Captain Rawson, the privateer's surgeon refused to treat his wounds and McCatter used the most diabolic language to him for daring to defend himself and threatened to burn his ship with her crew in it if he didn't agree to a ransom of £1,000. Captain Rawson agreed to this enormous sum.

A somewhat garbled report from an eyewitness on the Irish Shore appeared in the London Chronicle of July 20/22:

"On Sunday evening, a ship was seen engaged with a brig and a cutter in the Channel off the Mull of Cantyre and in a short time the cutter sheered off leaving the ship and brig engaged who soon closed and from the firing ceased it is presumed one of them struck the other."

The Black Princess continued northwards and here the accounts differ substantially. According to the American biographers of McCatter, she took two prizes on 10th July in the Sound of Islay. One was a small sloop from Christiansund for Greenock, the other a ship from Memel to the Clyde. Both were ransomed and McCatter turned south, arriving unmolested in Morlaix on July 18. But on 11th July 1780 the Campbeltown Custom House Records have the following entry:

"Yesterday Kenneth Morrison master of the Dove of Campbeltown came to this place by land from Sanda where he had left his vessel and gave account of his baing, boarded on the day before in the Channel between Cushendun in Ireland and the Mull of Kintyre by a cutter-rigged privateer which, after pillaging his vessel of anything that was valuable, allowed him to proceed, to the particulars of which he made oath. This day the "Sophia Auguste" of this place, Alexander Mackinnon, Master, came to the harbour and Mackinnon has made oath that on yesterday his vessel was taken as we have reason to think by the same privateer which was called the Black Princess of Boston, Edward McCatter, Master, mounting eighteen. carriage guns besides two stern chacas and twenty swivels. (Here it may be noted that Captain Mackinnnon's description of the armament differs only in that apparently she had 30, not 20 swivels) She has taken two other vessels belonging to this place which as well as Mackinnnon's were ransomed and had on board of her at the time Mackinnon was in her twenty ransomers. Mackinnon made oath to these and several other particulars respecting this privateer."

McCatter never entered Scottish waters again. Luke Ryan, however, made two voyages north about into the Western Isles in the spring and summer of 1780 in a new command, "The Fearnot." Stornoway was defenceless since the Highlanders had been deprived of arms since 1745, Ryan landed there, and while his crew plundered the town, he made arrangements for a ransom, carrying off 15 leading citizens as hostages. I mention this to show that Campbeltown's efforts at self help may well have saved her from a similar insult.

A more amusing incident took place a day or two later at the entrance to Loch Sheil, where he intercepted a small sloop carrying the local laird with a party of Irish gentlemen "who had come pleasuring to the Highlands." The laird explained that his Irish guests were there for the shooting and fishing and he would be delighted if Captain Ryan joined them. Captain Ryan admitted to being a sportsman but did not add that his activities in that direction had been under an Irish moon. He regretted being unable to stay, and suggested a modest ransome. In a report in the London Chronicle of September 5/7 1780 the laird was quoted as saying he had been treated "in the most agreeable and genteelest manner I could expect from an enemy."

In late 1780 the American Commissions to both vessels were withdrawn though they continued to sail under French Commissions. Their success had been phenomenal. Black Prince taken 35 prizes, Black Princess 43, the two cruising together 20, and Fearnot 16 -114 in-all- British vessels captured, burned, scuttled or ransomed.

Despite the withdrawal of the American Commissions, American manned privateers still troubled the coasts, and on 23rd December 1780 the Campbeltown Customs House records report that the Islay packet had been taken by a French privateer who went off towards the Sound of Mull, taking the packet and her passengers with her. This happened on 14th October and the vessel involved is named as the Fear Nought, Master, Wm. Kane. Then two Clyde busses sailed into Oban and reported that in the Sound of Mull they had met with John Campbell, Master of the sloop Carleton of Campbeltown who told them the Black Princess had captured a Brigg in the Sound of Mull on the previous day and had ransomed her for 900 guineas and that there were a number of busses in the Sound which were unlikely to escape as she stood northwards towards them.

Cuthbert Bede in "Argylls Highlands" purports to narrate the story of the taking of the Islay packet. He attributes the affair to the year 1778 and the attack to "Paul Jones the Pirate." He was told the story, by Murdoch Cameron, who claimed that his father was a hand on the packet and had told him the yarn. "Campbell of Islay was aboard. He was a fighting man, a Major in the King's Army who had been fighting for many years in India. He had married a sweet young lass and was bringing her back to Islay, with all the jewels and spoil he had taken in his fightings. The whole of his wealth was on board with him." Cameron went on to relate how the major with a pistol in each hand wished to fight it out to the last with "the pirate crew" but his pistols were of no avail against her guns and well armed company. Paul Jones robbed the major of all his wealth and then drank to the health of the gallant major and his lady. "In half an hour afterwards he was flying across the Atlantic and was never seen again on the Cantyre coast." Major Campbell landed in Islay a penniless man, and despoiled of his hard-earned wealth, but as Paul Jones could not rob him of his land he soon got together a second fortune and he and his wife lived prosperously."

Alas for romance there is no Campbell of Islay to fill the bill. Daniel, a bachelor, died in 1777 and was succeeded by his brother Walter who had married in 1768.

A message was immediately sent to Campbeltown where the Seaford frigate and the Ranger and Hope cutters were lying "But" reported the custom officers "contrary winds have hitherto put it out of the power of the King's vessels to get round the Mull of Kintyre in order to proceed to the Highlands for the protection of our poor fishers." In March 1781 sloop Hope of Campbeltown was captured by a French privateer, commanded by a Captain Kelly, who lost her eight days later to a Guernsey privateer. She was eventually restored to her owners.

As was to be expected, enthusiasm waned as the danger decreased and in July 1782, the Magistrates declared that more men could not be raised because so many from the Town were already abroad or at sea or impressed into the Navy.

The American privateers had a disasterous effect on Campbeltown's trade. By 1777 transatlantic trade had ceased. In 1776 94 vessels had left or entered the harbour in foreign trade. In 1782 and 1783 there was a total of only 33 for the two years.

But Campbeltown's losses did not benefit Luke Ryan or Edward McCatter. Ryan was captured in April 1781 and McCatter 6 months later. Both tried in the High Court of Admiralty at the Old Bailey in March 1782 and each was sentenced to hang at Execution Dock on 14th May. But they were both reprieved and eventually pardoned. Their backer in Dunkirk, Sir John Torris, who had financed the expeditions went bankrupt. Luke Ryan died a debtor in the King's Bench Prison. He had incurred a medical bill of £100 for the inoculation of three of his children, and did not receive a penny of the 160,000: livres due to him. McCatter's death is not recorded, but his wife, Mary, complained to Benjamin Franklin that he had never got a penny. In a letter to me in 1953 Admiral Hefferman, Director of Naval History of the U.S. Navy, informed me that McCatter was exchanged. He was reputed to have been entitled to prize money amounting to 1,820,280 livres, more than any other privateer captain.

The irony of the whole business is that Benjamin Franklin, driven by compassion for American prisoners in British hands had commissioned the privateers with a view to collecting British prisoners for exchange. This aspect of the business had been largely ignored by the redoubtable Ryan and McCatter who were interested in making a fortune. They succeeded in that, but never enjoyed it.

Campbeltown Town Minutes.
Campbeltown Custom House Records.
"A Ramble through old Kilkerran Graveyard." Col. C. Mactaggart.
"Ben Franklin's Privateers." William Bell Clark. Louisiana State University Press, 1956.
"Life and Character of John Paul Jones." John Henry Sherburne, Adriance Sherwood & Co. New York, 1851.
"The Life of Rear-Admiral Jones." George R. Preedy. Herbert Jenkins Ltd. 1940.

Copyright belongs to the authors unless otherwise stated.

The Kintyre Antiquarian & Natural History Society was founded in 1921 and exists to promote the history, archaeology and natural history of the peninsula.
It organises monthly lectures in Campbeltown - from October to April, annually - and has published its journal, 'The Kintyre Magazine', twice a year since 1977, in addition to a range of books on diverse subjects relating to Kintyre.

CLICK HERE for Correspondence and Subscription Information.


ISSN 0140 0762

To visit some of my index pages,
choose from this drop down list, and click GO:
HTML-Kit Button