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John, known as Johnnie, was born in 1879, the son of Donald MacLeod and Christina MacCusbic of Quay. In 1891 he was registered with the household of his aunt Catherine, who lived nearby. He became a fisherman like his father, inheriting the house at Quay following his parents' death.
Although one of the best fishermen on the island, he was still liable to the occasional mishap, such as when he ended up high and dry on Sgeir na Cloiche.
He later moved to Glenelg.