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John MacLeod

John MacLeod


Teilisnish to North Carolina

My name is John MacLeod – Iain mac Mhurchaidh ‘ic Dhomhnaill Bhàin (John son of Murdo son of Fair-haired Donald) – and I was born in the village of Teilisnish, in the deer forest of North Harris. My father and my uncles were foresters – gamekeepers you would call them today – working for Donald Campbell, the farmer of the Isle of Scalpay, who was in charge of the forest for MacLeod at Dunvegan, the chief of the MacLeods of Harris.

I must have been born in about 1735, as you reckon the years now, for I was about ten or eleven years of age and working on the farm of Scalpay at the time when Donald Campbell sheltered the Bonnie Prince when he was in hiding after the Battle of Culloden. When John, the younger son of Donald Campbell, came of age, I started working for him, and he was a gentleman, not like his elder brother Kenneth – I never trusted him!

After Culloden, MacLeod began to raise his rents, and Kenneth persuaded his father that the new rent was more than Scalpay was worth, and that he should join the other tacksmen on the MacLeod and other island estates who were leaving Scotland to set up a new Gaeldom across the Atlantic in the Carolinas. So off we went, old Donald and all his family and their servants, though it must have been a wrench for the old man to leave his homeland – especially when he found out that Kenneth had gone back to Scalpay and taken the farm there for himself at the new rent!

That was some journey, even though I was well used to the Minch, but I was young and fit and it was an adventure. At last we arrived in Charleston, and headed up country along the Cape Fear River, into the pine groves and sandhills around Cross Creek, Many of the newcomers took in new land for themselves – there was plenty for the taking – but Donald and his family bought existing plantations, and we settled down there. Tobacco and cotton were the two main crops for selling, and the land was good, and we grew all sorts of grain and fruits – I had never heard of many of them before, nor tasted them!

But it was not to last. Many of the colonists – especially those to the north of us – were getting tired of being ruled from Britain – and heavily taxed too – and wanted more say in running their new country, and in 1775 they started a rebellion against the British Government. I was not really surprised when the Campbells and their friends decided to oppose the rebellion. They had no great love for the Hanoverians, but they still belonged to the Old Country, and even Flora MacDonald, who had come with her husband to Carolina after being jailed in London for helping the Prince, decided that they should fight for the British Government.

For myself, I could not see the point of fighting for a government on the other side of the world but wherever my John Campbell, now Captain John, decided to fight, I would fight with him. But the Highland Brigade was heavily defeated at the Battle of Moore’s Creek, and shortly afterward my Captain John was killed too, and I saw no point in fighting on after that.

The Campbells lost their plantations, and most of them went back to Scotland, but I was married by then, with a young family, and we were Americans now more than Scots, so we headed west into the hills and made a new life for ourselves in Tennessee, up in what they call the Great Smoky Mountains. That was wild country, and you were left pretty well alone there to do what you liked, and that suited us just fine. There was plenty of game to shoot, and we cleared a little farm for ourselves, and though we are not rich, we have plenty of all we require. We can keep to the old ways up here, and though the folk down in the farms of the valleys make fun of us and call us hillbillies, I know which of us is more content. But it is a far cry from Scalpay – and how I wish I could smell the sea, just once more!

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