Cameron, Sir Ewen or Evan 1629-1719, of Lochiel, highland chief, was descended from a family who were able to trace their succession as chiefs from John, surnamed Ochtery, who distinguished himself in the service of King Robert I and King David. He was the seventeenth in descent from John Ochtery, being the eldest son of John IAllan Cameron, and Margaret, eldest daughter of Sir Robert Campbell, then of Glenfalloch, afterwards of Glenurchy, grandfather of John Campbell, eighth earl of Breadalbane [qv.]. He was born in the castle of Kilchurn, the seat of Sir Robert Campbell in February 1629. His father having died in his infancy, the first seven years of his life were passed with his foster-father, Cameron of Latter-Finlay, after which he was taken in charge by his uncle. Having in his twelfth year been placed in the hands of the Marquis of Argyll as a hostage for the behaviour of the Camerons, he attended the school at Inverary. The marquis had intended him to study at Oxford, but the unsettled state of the country prevented them proceeding further south than Berwick. While with the marquis during the meeting of the parliament at St. Andrews in September 1646, Cameron found an opportunity, without the knowledge of the marquis, of visiting Sir Robert Spotiswood, then a prisoner in the castle, under sentence of death, whose conversation is said to have had a powerful effect in attaching him to the royal cause. His life at Inverary became irksome, and in his eighteenth year he privately told his uncle of his wish to return home. The principal gentlemen of the clan Cameron addressed the marquis on his behalf, who complied with their request, and young Cameron was conducted to his territory of Lochaber with great pomp by the whole body of the clan, who went a day's journey to meet him. After his return he spent a great part of his time in hunting in his extensive forests, and especially in destroying the foxes and the wolves which still tenanted the highlands. In 1680 he is said to have killed with his own hand the last wolf that was seen in the highlands. Few in the highlands were his equal in the use of the weapons of war or of the chase. In stature he was of the largest size, and his finely proportioned frame manifested a perfect combination of grace and strength. Lord Macaulay styled him the Ulysses of the Highlands, and the title at least indicates not inaptly the peculiar combination of gifts to which he owed his special ascendency. Shortly after his return to his estates he found an opportunity of manifesting something of his mettle in chastising Macdonald of Keppoch and Macdonald of Glengarry, both of whom had refused to pay him certain sums of money they owed him as chief of the Camerons. After the execution of Charles I he responded to the act for levying an army in behalf of Charles II, but the backwardness of his followers, or his distrust of Argyll, delayed him so much, that when, with about a thousand of his followers, on the way to join the king's forces at Stirling, he was intercepted by Cromwell, and compelled to turn back. He was, however, the first of the chiefs to join Glencairn in the northern highlands in 1652, bringing with him about seven hundred of his clan. Having received the appointment of colonel, he distinguished himself on numerous occasions, especially in defending the pass of Tulloch, at Braemar, against the whole force of the English, when Glencairn on retreating had neglected to send orders for him to fall back. For his conduct he received a special letter of thanks from King Charles, dated 3 Nov. 1653. Cameron persevered in his resistance to General Monck, the English commander, for a considerable time after Glencairn had come to terms with him, and continued pertinaciously to harass the English troops stationed on the borders of his territory, notwithstanding the efforts of Monck to win him over by the offer of large bribes. To hold Cameron in check, Monck resolved to establish a military station at Inverlochy, at the foot of Ben Nevis, and by ship transported thither two thousand troops, with material and workmen for the erection of the fort. On learning of their arrival Cameron hurried down with all his men, but already found the defence so strong as to render a direct attack hopeless. Dismissing the bulk of his men to drive the cattle into places of greater security, and to find provisions for a more lengthened stay in the neighbourhood, he withdrew with thirty-two gentlemen of the clan and his personal servants to a wood on the other side of the loch, where he lay in concealment to watch events. Obtaining information by spies that a hundred and fifty men were to be sent across to the side of the loch where he was concealed to forage for provisions and obtain supplies of timber, he resolved, notwithstanding their numbers were four to one, to attack them in the act of pillaging. Some of the gentlemen having objected, lest no successor to the chiefdom should be left, he tied his brother Alan to a tree to reserve him as the future head of the clan. In the desperate conflict which ensued an Englishman covered Cameron with his musket, and was about to pull the trigger, when his brother Alan—who had persuaded the boy in charge of him to cut the cords which bound him to the tree—appeared upon the scene, in the nick of time to save the chief's life by shooting down his opponent. The onslaught of the highlanders was so sudden and furious that the Englishmen were soon in flight to their ships. In the pursuit Cameron came up with the commander of the party, who remained in wait for him behind a bush. After a desperate struggle, Cameron killed his opponent by seizing his throat with his teeth. The combat formed the model for Sir Walter Scott's description of the fight between Roderick Dhu and FitzJames in the Lady of the Lake. In various other raids against the garrisons Cameron made his name a word of terror, but when the other chiefs had all withdrawn, he received a letter from General Middleton advising him to capitulate. Cameron thereupon captured three English colonels in an inn near Inverary, and retaining two of them as hostages, despatched the third to General Monck with overtures of submission. Satisfactory terms were soon arranged, and were confirmed by Monck 5 June 1658, no oaths being required of the Camerons but their word of honour, and permission being granted them to carry their arms as formerly. Reparation was also made to Cameron for the wood cut down by the garrison at Inverlochy, and for other losses, as well as indemnity for all acts of depredation committed by his men. When Monck marched south to London with the design of restoring Charles II, he was accompanied by Cameron, who was present when Charles made his entry into London. He was received at court with every mark of favour, but his services on behalf of the royal cause met with little substantial recognition. Through the influence of the Duke of Lauderdale his claims on certain of the forfeited lands of Argyll were not only disregarded, but a commission of fire and sword was used against him as a rebellious man who held certain lands in high contempt of royal authority. The chief of the Macintoshes who undertook to execute this commission was easily worsted by Cameron. Though Charles on one occasion facetiously alluded to Cameron in his presence as the king of thieves, it does not appear that Lauderdale received from Charles much countenance in his procedure against him, which proved practically fruitless. In 1681 Cameron visited Holyrood to solicit the pardon of some of his men, who, by mistake, had fired with fatal effect on a party of the Atholl men. His request was immediately granted, and he received the honour of knighthood.
The restoration of Argyll to his estates in 1689 was not more distasteful to any other of the highland chiefs than it was to Cameron, who had taken possession of a part of his forfeited lands. It was at Cameron's house in Lochaber, an immense pile of timber, that, in answer to the summons of the fiery cross, the clans gathered in 1690 under Dundee, and although overtures were made to him from the government promising him concessions from Argyll, and even offering him a sum of money to hold aloof from the rebellion, he declined to return to them any answer. His influence was of immense importance to Dundee, who at a council of war proposed a scheme for bringing the clans under similar discipline to that of a regular army, but Cameron on behalf of the chiefs strongly opposed it. It was chiefly owing to his advice that Dundee resolved to attack General Mackay as he was entering the pass of Killiecrankie. Fight, my lord, he said, fight immediately; fight if you have only one to three. Our men are in heart. Their only fear is that the enemy should escape. Give them their way, and be assured that they will either perish or win a complete victory. These words decided Dundee. Cameron strongly advised Dundee to be content with overlooking the arrangements and issuing the commands, but without success. When the word was given to advance, Cameron took off his shoes and charged barefooted at the head of his clan, Mackay's own foot being the division of the enemy which by the impetuous rush of the Camerons were driven into headlong flight. After the death of Dundee, Cameron, in order to prevent the coalition of the clans from breaking up, was strong for energetic action against Mackay, and on his advice being disregarded by General Cannon, he retired to Lochaber, leaving his eldest son in command of his men. Shortly afterwards General Cannon was defeated at Dunkeld, and the highlanders returned home. A gathering of the clans was planned for the following summer. Cameron was then in bed from a wound at first believed to be mortal, which he had received in endeavouring to prevent a combat. When Breadalbane endeavoured to induce the clans to give in their submission, on the promise of a considerable sum of money, Cameron at first endeavoured to thwart the negotiations, having very strong doubts as to Breadalbane's real intentions; but after the proclamation of August 1692 requiring submission by 1 January following, he ceased to advise further resistance. I will not, he said, break the ice; that is a point of honour with me; but my tacksmen and people may use their freedom. In the rebellion of 1714, being too infirm to lead his vassals, he entrusted the command of them to his son. The result of the battle of Sheriffmuir caused him much chagrin, and having inquired into the conduct of his clan in the battle, he mourned their degeneracy with great bitterness, saying of them to his son: The older they grow the more cowardice; for in Oliver's days your grandfather with his men could fight double their number, as I right well remember (Patten's History of the Rebellion in 1715, pp. 197-8). Writing in 1717 Patten says of Cameron: He is a gentleman though old of a sound judgment, and yet very healthful and strong in constitution. This is corroborated by the account of his death in the Balhadie papers (Memoir of Sir Ewen Cameron, editor's introduction, p. 24): His eyes retained their former vivacity, and his sight was so good in his ninetieth year, that he could discern the most minute object, and read the smallest print; nor did he so much as want a tooth, which to me seemed as white and close as one would have imagined they were in the twentieth year of his age. He died of a high fever in February 1719. In his many encounters it never chanced that his blood on any occasion was drawn by an enemy. He was thrice married: first, to Mary, daughter of Sir Donald Macdonald, eighth baron and first baronet of Sleat, by whom he had no issue; secondly, to Isabel, eldest daughter of Sir Lachlan Maclean of Duart, by whom he had three sons and four daughters; and thirdly, to Jean, daughter of Colonel David Barclay of Uric, by whom he had one son and seven daughters. His eldest son (by his second wife), John Cameron (attainted 1715, died 1745), was father of Donald Cameron [qv.], and great-grandfather of John Cameron (1771-1815) [qv.].
Memoirs of Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, chief of the clan Cameron, supposed to have been written by one John Drummond (Bannatyne Club, 1842)
Life of Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, in appendix to Pennant's Tour in Scotland
Mackenzie's History of the Camerons (1884), pp. 94-212
Patten's History of the Rebellion in 1715 (1717)
Papers illustrative of the Highlands of Scotland (Maitland Club, 1845)
Leven and Melville Papers (Bannatyne Club, 1843)
Hill Burton's History of Scotland
Macaulay's History of England.
Contributor: T. F. H. [Thomas Finlayson Henderson]