The MacDonald Family Letters, 1779-1801

The MacDonald Family Letters, 1779-1801

John MacDonald was the leader of a settlement scheme designed to bring Roman Catholic tenant farmers from Scotland to St. John's Island (renamed Prince Edward Island in 1799). In 1772 John's siblings, Helen (Nelly), Donald, and Margaret (Peggy), embarked on the ship Alexander carrying 210 settlers to the Island. John arrived the following year to help his family and their tenants to get established on his estate on Lot 36.

Three years later, in 1775, John and Donald volunteered for military service in the 84th Regiment of Foot (Royal Highland Emigrants), which was commissioned to fight for the British cause in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). In 1781 John travelled to Great Britain to fight political battles related to the decision of the Island's governor, Walter Patterson, to escheat (forfeit) land grants to proprietors who, like MacDonald, were in arrears in paying their quitrents (taxes). John MacDonald finally returned to his Island holdings in 1792. Meanwhile, Nelly tended to the family's estate and did her best to carry out her brother's wishes, which he conveyed to her in his detailed letters.

This website features ten letters, in image and transcription, written by John and Helen MacDonald between 1779 and 1801. Their correspondence offers a rare glimpse into the early settlement of Prince Edward Island.

The Letters

This virtual archive features ten letters written by siblings John and Helen MacDonald between 1779 and 1801.

Browse the collection.

Historical Context

Learn more about the MacDonalds' experiences in North America through a chronology of events, a collection of articles, and an image gallery.

For further reading, browse our bibliography of sources about the MacDonalds and Prince Edward Island.

Banner image: St. John's Island, 1765, Samuel Holland. Watermark image: The Last of the Clan, Thomas Faed.