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John, more usually Johnnie or Seonaidh, was born in 1858, the son of William MacDonald and Marion MacLean of 15 Ruisgarry (Trealigarry). In 1864 the family was removed from the croft to Ludag, where they lived as cottars.
In 1884 Seonaidh married Ann MacLean, with whom he was to have twelve children. They made their home at Lamerick. Seonaidh was a fisherman, naming his boat Anna for his wife. By 1911 Seonaidh was working as a ferryman, carrying the mails. Following Seonaidh's death the house at Lamerick was passed to his son Murdo.