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Donald MacLeod was born in old Ruisgarry in 1831, the son of John MacLeod and Margaret MacAskill. The family was removed to Borgh Mhor, Harris during the 1840s. His parents died around this time, and his brother John became head of the household there by 1851. In 1854 John obtained 1/2 Ruisgarry (Sandhill), and both Donald and brother Murdo became cottars on the croft.
Donald married Catherine MacKillop of 5 Ruisgarry the same year, and they went on to have a family of fourteen children together.