This clan is one of the most ancient of Highland clans, proud of their reputation of being fiercer than fierceness itself. Sir Iain Moncreiffe, official Cameron clan historian, has traced their origins back to the kingdom of Fife and the Royal line of Macduff. Certainly, theirs is a Fife-place name, Cam brun, Gaelic for Crooked Hill. Moncreiffe noted the persistence of the letter B when the name appears in medieval documents, verifying cambrun is the correct originating name. He also pointed out the similar heraldry of the Camerons and the Earls of Fife.
A charter in favour of a brother of the Earl of Fife was witnessed by Adam of Kamerum in the 13th century. In the same era, Robert of Cambrun was granted the lands of Ballegarno by William the Lion. It was not until 1296 that Sir Robert Cambron appeared in the office of Sheriff of Atholl in the neighbourhood of Lochaber. It was probably he who owned Ballegarno Castle when Edward I occupied it in that year.
In 1320, Sir John of Cambrun was among the signatories of the Declaration of Arbroath. By 1388, Ballegarno and its properties had passed with heiresses to other families. However, before the century ended, the Camerons had become established in Lochaber.
The 11th Cameron Chief married an heiress of Letterfinlay and left two sons; Allan and Ewen. Ewen, the 13th Chief adopted the title of Locheil when his estates were erected into a barony of that name in 1528.
The name of Cameron was bestowed, through the fanaticism of one man, on an object that may appear somewhat surprising, considering that it is generally a Highland and a Catholic name. But a certain Richard Cameron, son of a small shop-keeper in Fife, was converted by the extreme Calvinists while he was a school-master and an Episcopalian. This was a time when the Covenanters had lost political power in Scotland, and were being treated with rather mild form of intolerance compared to how they had bludgeoned the country during their supremacy.
Cameron joined the exiled Calvinist ministers in Holland, but returned in 1680 to indulge in field-preaching. In July, he was surprised by a body of horse in the moors between Nithsdale and Ayrshire, and urged his followers to fight it out. Richard Cameron himself was among the slain, and so did not live to see the Calvinist triumph of 1688. However, the Covenantist regiment that was raised then in support of William of Orange was named the Cameronian regiment in his memory.
Author's note: My connection with this is that my great-great grandfather, John MacGregor (1824 - 1899), of Kinross-shire, joined the 26th Cameronian Regiment at Perth on 21st April of 1845, and made it his military career. He retired near Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1869.
The clan's best known figure was Sir Ewen Cameron of Locheil, 17th Chief, who was born in 1629. He was orphaned at an early age and was raised by the Marquis of Argyll, who tried to instill the principles of the Covenanters in him. Ewen was more inspired in the exploits of Montrose, and after witnessing his execution in Edinburgh in 1650, he became a determined Royalist. In 1652, he joined the Earl of Glencairn, who took part in a series of skirmishes against the English.
In particular, he harried the forces of Generals Monck and Morgan, who were trying to enforce parliament's rule in the area. Soon, his deeds acquired a legendary aura. Ewen was eventually compelled to submit but his reputation won him favourable terms. He did not have to make a personal oath of allegiance to Cromwell, he was granted compensation for the damage done to his property at Locheil, and his men were granted immunity from prosecution.
After the Restoration, Ewen was received in London by Charles II, and was knighted in 1680. In 1689, he took the field at Killiecrankie. He was now 60 years of age, and had been offered both money and a title for his neutrality. He also gave his full support to the 1715 rebellion but his time, the clan was led by his son. Ewen died four years later at the age of ninety.
Ewen's grandson, Donald, became known as the 'gentle Locheil'. He had the misfortune to become Chief during the 1745 uprising. After Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland, Locheil met with him and urged him to return to France to await a time when he had more support. The Prince refused, and uttered his famous reply; 'If Locheil did not wish to join him, he could stay at home and read about his fate in the newspapers'. Reluctantly, Locheil gave way and joined the rebellion.
It proved to be a disastrous decision. He was wounded at Culloden, and forced to flee to France, where he died in 1748. In his absence, all Cameron lands were forfeited. and their houses were burned to the ground.