THE remarkable story of how Flora MacDonald helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape over the sea to Skye has captured the imagination of people all over the world.

Less well known is her later voyage across the Atlantic to North Carolina where she became involved in the US War of Independence.

Even her namesake, the award-winning biographer Flora MacDonald Fraser, who was brought up on Jacobite tales and whose ancestor was the Old Fox, Simon Fraser, knew little of what happened to the historical Flora in later life.

Then one day, when Fraser was looking through portraits of those involved in the American Revolution against British rule, she came across an engraving of a picture of Flora painted after the Battle of Culloden.

“I have written about 18th-century women but I did not consider ever writing about Flora even though I was named after her,” Fraser told the Sunday National. “Then when I was looking for illustrations for my biography of George and Martha Washington, I came across the engraving and wondered what this famous Jacobite was doing 30 years later across the Atlantic.”

The find reminded her that when the famous writer Dr Samuel Johnson had visited with James Boswell 30 years after she helped the Prince escape the Redcoats, Flora had told them they were lucky to catch her as she was off to America.

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“I knew she was leaving because times were hard – there were shiploads of families setting off for America in the early 1770s because government legislation was breaking up the clan system, rents were being racked up and there had been a really hard winter and a couple of bad years of cattle disease,” said Fraser.

On top of that, even though Boswell described Flora’s husband, Allan MacDonald, as “completely the picture of a gallant Highlander”, he was useless with money and she was the one who tried to make sure their five boys and two girls had a secure future.

“Flora had to be almost like the head of the family,” said Fraser.

Finding the image of Flora made her want to find out more about her namesake and this has resulted in Pretty Young Rebel which is published in paperback this month.

“We know an extraordinary amount about the audacious and successful plan to dress the Prince as her maid and escape over the sea to Skye but not so much about her later life,” said Fraser.

As she began to look into it, she came to admire and respect the historic Flora even more.

“She just charmed everyone and outwitted them all the way,” said Fraser. “She is unafraid and works out how to negotiate the consequences when her part in the escape is discovered.

The National: Flora MacDonald, 1749. Artist: Allan Ramsay. (Photo by Ashmolean Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images).

“She knows she is going to be seized but is very cool-headed and seeks advice about what to do.”

Captured and taken to London, the 24-year-old somehow managed to charm the Hanoverian general aboard her ship and, unlike the other male and female captives, was treated well.

Fraser believes Flora’s self-confidence came from being brought up in the democratic clan system.

“She knew her worth,” said Fraser. “She was never overawed by anyone because she was a humanitarian and thought everyone’s life was of equal worth.”

Initially imprisoned, Flora was later released and became a society heroine after the news spread of the daring escape.

A fundraiser by well-off Jacobite sympathisers raised a substantial sum and her portrait was painted by leading painters of the age.

“She goes from totally unknown to a total sensation really overnight and never has her head turned,” said Fraser. “She took it all completely in her stride and also took in her stride when she went back to Skye.”

Marrying shortly after and having seven children in quick succession did not appear to have phased her and, despite her husband’s apparent ineffectiveness, Flora did not complain.

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“She just got on with it,” said Fraser.

In 1774, along with other Scots, the family headed off to North Carolina and joined the Scottish settlement at what is now Fayetteville, but were not long there before the war broke out.

Ironically, given her past aid to the Stuart cause, her husband and sons and many other Scots highlanders joined up for the British crown but were ambushed on their way to the coast and taken prisoner.

The womenfolk were left to defend themselves against “night robbers” as Flora called them until their property was confiscated and they were evicted with the loss of all their possessions.

She made her way to New York and was dependent on the Scottish diaspora before her husband was released as part of a prisoner exchange and posted to a garrison in Nova Scotia where she was able to join him.

After a hard winter there, she followed her daughter and son-in-law back to Skye where Allan finally returned a few years later.

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By this time, both he and Flora were in their mid-60s, in poor health and financially out of pocket.

Always resourceful, Flora used her charm once more to persuade the Hanoverian Prince of Wales, later George IV, to send her a pension.

“She did not meet him but wrote such a persuasive petition that she got it,” said Fraser.

Flora died at the age of 68 in 1790 and was buried in Kilmuir Graveyard on Skye.

“Her grave is one place of pilgrimage and another is the amazing and, I think, unique statue of her outside Inverness Castle,” said Fraser.

“This was erected simply by an admirer and I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where a castle is, in effect, guarded by one life-size statue which is not of a warrior or king or queen but of someone who simply helped someone in great distress.

“It’s a very public monument and in a sense the only other person you could possibly have outside, if you were going to put up another to give her some company, would be Rabbie Burns because Flora in a sense embodies female Scotland and Burns embodies male Scotland.

“She is not any kind of noblewoman – yes, she was closely related to these chiefs and lairds and no stranger to their houses – but she remained the same person who was born on a date that we don’t quite know, in a month that we don’t quite know, in a year that we think is 1722 but we are not quite sure because we only come to hear about her 24 years later in the summer of ‘46,” said Fraser.

Fraser will talk about the book at Inverness Museum on September 16, St Duthac Book and Arts Festival, on September 17 and Culloden Visitor Centre later that day.

The paperback edition of Pretty Young Rebel will be published by Bloomsbury on September 14.