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Donald was born in 1846, the son of Alexander MacLeod and Flora MacLeod of old Ruisgarry, then 2 Ruisgarry (Sandhill). The family moved to Grenitote in 1854, returning to 'house 7' Quay a short time later.
His father and older brother were drowned in 1865, when Donald was still only 19 years of age. A few years later he married Christina MacCusbic, the daughter of one of the other men killed in the tragedy. They made their home next to his widowed mother at East Quay ('house 8'), with their family of seven children.
Donald worked as a fisherman. At a time of unrest on Berneray, he became involved in the struggle to regain the use of the land taken for Borve Farm. In 1893 he helped to waylay the tacksman's boat, cutting down its sail. This came to be known as the Reef Incident. Donald and three other islanders were imprisoned at Inverness as punishment. They were not amongst those allocated a tenancy when Borve Farm was finally redivided into crofts in 1900.