Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Twilight of the Clans Volume 51 Number 3, May/June 1998
by Mark Rose

[image] Ruins of Flora MacDonald's birthplace (Mary C. Beaudry) [LARGER IMAGE]

Excavations at the birthplace of Flora MacDonald, who is credited with saving Bonnie Prince Charlie after the defeat of Scottish rebels at Culloden in 1746, have yielded evidence of how poor and middle-class farmers responded to eighteenth-century social and economic changes. The English victory at Culloden hastened the breakup of the clan system. Absentee landlords sought to subjugate clans by enclosing common lands and forceably displacing tenants and their cattle for more profitable activities such as sheep ranching.

Highland farmers lived in windowless "black" houses made of stones and turf with earth or peat floors. In excavations at the black house in which Flora MacDonald was born on South Uist Island, however, James Symonds of the University of Sheffield recovered fancy English and Chinese export pottery used for stylish display and taking tea. This suggests that Scottish farmers adopted some aspects of English culture and corroborates later observations made by Samuel Johnson, who, when he visited MacDonald at her home on Skye, saw houses with high-quality furnishings but floors of waterlogged earth. It appears that while the traditional house structure remained little changed, farmers saved what wealth they could in the form of portable objects like fine china, linen, and silver.

The Flora MacDonald project is part of a long-term study of settlement patterns, in which Symonds plans, in conjunction with Mary Beaudry of Boston University, to investigate Milton House (a Lowland-style manager's house built ca. 1820), seasonal agricultural structures, and a local clan leader's home.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America