Ewing Family Association

Clan Ewing of Scotland
Elbert William R. Ewing, A.M., LL.B., LL.D.

Chapter V

The Early Form of the Ewing Name in Scots and Gaelic Highland Records

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It is very curious to us that there was a time when father and child, in all the countries of the world, did not bear the same surname. Or, there was a time when there were no surnames. Authorities say that surnames or family names were not often used before 1050. The individual was, in the evolution of the human family, first a member of his tribe, transmitting the tribal name, not as a distinctive individual name, but as information of descent. Then, particularly in Scotland, as tribal government gave way to more general government, those of the same close-blood relation clung together in clan union, the word clan being understood in the broader meaning, “as a set of men (and, of course, their women) all bearing the same surname and believing themselves to be related the one to the other, and to be descended from the same stock.” The clan name, in many cases, became the family or surname. This is the history of the name Ewing.

When we speak of a Scotch clan many think only of the famous Scots or Gaelic Highland clans about which so much has been written. But there were quite as certainly the clans of the Lowlands. The Lowland clans lost the clan government much earlier than did the Highland clans; and their struggle for self-government was further back amid the fog which envelops much of the conquest by the Teutonic tribes. A few of the Lowland clans drifted into the border Highlands and there maintained clan government or union longer than did the Lowlanders generally, and so are mentioned in histories of the Highland clans, such as the Gordons, the Grahams and the Calhouns, while others living in the border Highlands and maintaining at least something of the ancient clan unit are not so mentioned by some Highland historians, evidently because of Lowland origin.

Now the most persistent tradition in the family of which I write, my family, I may say, is that our family stock is Lowlander; and it is certain that we trace our descent back to Glasgow and to the border Highland-Lowland section east and west of Loch Lomond. All traditions in my family, and that of most other American Ewings, agree that we descended from an ancient Scotch clan; and yet we find no history of our clan among that of the Highland clans. But, as we shall see more fully later, we do find that a few class us as descendants of the Clan Ewen, once a small clan of Scots ancestry living about Otter, in the neighborhood of Loch Fyne, and who at a very early day were known as McEwens.

Unfortunately, in all Scotch bibliography there is no extensive history or genealogy of the Ewing family, unless we regard it as descended from Clan Ewen of Otter. There are fragments of such a history, however, given by Rev. Alexander J. Ross, vicar of St. Philip’s, Stepney, Scotland, in his Memoir of Alexander Ewing, D. C. L., Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, written in 1877; and in such works as Burke’s Landed Gentry, and Genealogical and Heraldrick History of the Peerage, and in other similar productions. Too, from the old chronicles and from official records, such, for instance, as the Privy Council Register, considered in connection with these later writings, we find material from which to construct quite an interesting and reliable history. About all we know of Clan Ewen of Otter is to be found in Skene’s works, as we shall see in a later chapter. There is nothing in Skene or in any of his sources to suggest that the modern Ewings are descended from Clan Ewen of Otter.

Starting, then, with such light as Ross affords, we shall first explore the early Scots and Gaelic records for anything bearing upon either the family name, in either its early or present form, or upon the clan or family; and then we shall sweep across the pages of what we may term the Lowland records; and then by whatever light we get measures our tradition regarding family origin. We shall then examine the history of the Highland McEwen clan.

Ross says:

Alexander Ewing was born on the 25th of March, 1814, in Old Castle Street, Aberdeen, but the home of his ancestors lay far away on the banks of Loch Fyne, in the immediate neighborhood of which, in a later day, his own hospitable but modest mansion was to be found. The ‘clan’ from which he traced his descent claims as its progenitors the Ewen de Ergadia, King Ewen, Eugenius and others, who have special mention both in local and general history. For originally the forms of the family name which he inherited were Ewen, Ewene or Ewin; . . . The oldest traditions, however, of that branch of the Ewene stock with which the bishop was more immediately connected relate, not to Loch Fyne, but to Loch Lomond, in Dumbartonshire. Loch Fyne stands midway between Loch Awe on the west and Loch Lomond on the east, and it is not a very ‘far cry’ to either of the two. Accordingly, when the old Ewene territory became too strait for the needs of the increasing clan, it would appear that while some leaders of the tribe conducted a following into the land of the Macdougalls, around Oban, others struck off eastward through the weird passes of Glencoe, with its famous ‘Rest and be thankful,’ and settled down on the fair and fertile slopes of Lomond, the noblest of all the Scottish lakes. In this region some Ewenes, become Ewings now, established themselves.

That paternal settlement upon the banks of the noble Lomond, as we shall see, was something more than one thousand years ago! Yet the name we bear and, I hope to prove, the origin of our family, are much older.

Now, of course, not all persons of today who bear the name Ewing are descendants of the same clan to which Bishop Ewing belonged; but it is reasonably certain that all Ewings who are descended of an old Scotch clan, as my family, go back for pedigree to the clan from which Bishop Ewing’s ancestors came, or to the Clan Ewen of Otter, known later as the McEwens, for it is admitted that either the MacEwens and their parent Clan Ewen of Otter and the Ewings of later day are of common origin or that there were two distinct clans and but two: the McEwen clan or family and the clan from which the Ewings come.

Ross was not attempting to write a history of the Ewing clan of the earlier days. In fact, aside from the traditions of the family which he gives, I doubt very much if he went into an investigation of the clan origin and history. He gives such traditions as came to him from reliable sources, and then takes the clan when it was expanding after the historical period among the southern or border Highlands. I regret that he was not more specific. Where and when did the King Ewen and the Ewen de Ergadia (or Ewing, the ruler of Argyll), and the Eugenius to whom he refers live? Were they Highlanders or Lowlanders? Were they Gaels or Britons or Saxons or Norse? Were they Scots or Picts? We are certainly of a Loch Lomond and Glasgow old Clan Ewing. Were they our ancestors?

As Ross tells us of a King Ewin (evidently of early days), particularly since there is no doubt that Ewen and Ewin and Ewan were early forms of our name, and since he tells us of Ewings in the southern Highlands, we naturally look first to Pictish and Dalriadac Scottish traditions and history to learn what the records tell us about such a person or persons. Of course, too, we naturally look first to those Highland sources for information regarding Ewin de Ergadia and Eugenius at a day before the Ewings “settled down on the fair and fertile slopes of Lomond, the noblest of all the Scottish lakes.”

As we have seen, for a time after the Romans withdrew, there intervened a period for the kings, kingdom and events of which we must depend upon traditions record subsequently. However, during that misty period there were men (seanachies) whose professional duty it was to commit to memory the names of the kings and some history of their day, and who faithfully transmitted that data to their successors and to rising generations. Then came the chroniclers, from whom we get, through time-worn parchment manuscripts, the next historical light. In many instances they prefaced the narration of events within their own knowledge by the traditions which had come to them. Natives of what is now Ireland, Scotland and Wales left us some of these chronicles. Among them are what are known as the Pictish Chronicles, compiled around 980, in the middle of the reign of Kenneth, son of Malcolm, which was from 977 to 995, as given by Skene, a standard Scotch authority. Too, let us bear in mind in this connection, we have, what has also been mentioned, the Saxon and Welsh Additions to a work now lost, known as Historia Britonum, probably written about 547. This work was an account of traditions of the different races of Britain, and contained some history. Though the work was lost, editions to which additions were made survived, the most popular by Nennius in 858, though there was an earlier of about 796. Then we have Irish and Pictish Addition to the Historia Britonum, containing some legendary history of the Picts and the Scots. Then comes the Duan Albanach, or Albanic Duan. This is a poem in Irish (that is, Gaelic or the Dalriada Scots) “and appears to have been written in the reign of Malcolm III and contains within itself abundant marks of its authenticity,” says Skene. Skene, in his earliest work, The Highlanders of Scotland, published in 1837, says the Albanich is “a work compiled in 1050, and consequently is the oldest and best authority for their (Dalriada Scots) history of kings.” However, Dr. Macbain in an edition, published in 1902, of this earliest book of Skene, says the date of the Duan is unknown and that the work “is of little value.” Again, there is a Latin list of the Dalriada kings, whose realm before the conquest of the Picts was about coterminous with the present Argyll, made by monks who wrote Latin. This was compiled probably about 1165. Then among others the genealogy of King William the Lion, the margin of which bears the date of 1165; and the Chronicle of the Scots & Picts, 1185; and the Chronicle of the Scots and the Picts, 1187; and yet another called the Chronicle of the Picts and the Scots.

To these and some others are added the Irish chronicles, such as that by Tighernac, written also in the eleventh century, “and by far the best and most authentic chronicle we have,” again to quote Skene, long Scotland’s recognized authority, for the most part at least, upon these subjects. These Irish annals cover much the same events in part of what became Scotland as do the Scots annals. Skene leaned heavily upon the Norse sagas for light upon the tenth, eleventh and twelve centuries; but some later scholars do not concur in Skene’s valuation of the sagas.

Then, also, as we have seen, we have Gildas, Bede, Nennius, Adamnon and others and some later writers, such as John of Fordun, who is said to have “compiled the first formal history of Scotland” probably in 1385, – writers who rank higher than mere chroniclers; but from them we get little light not afforded by the chronicles upon the name we bear or upon the origin of the Ewing clan or clans.

One of the first of the chronicles, “both in point of time and importance,” is what is known as the Pictish Chronicles. It has a list of the kings of the Picts from Cruithne, from whom this chronicle represents the Picts as springing, to Bred. Another is a chronicle of the kings of the Scots of Dalriada from Kenneth Macalpin to Kenneth, son of Malcolm. Part of it was, evidently at a very early day, written in Gaelic; but in the manuscript which came to later times part of it had been translated into what Skene calls Irish, the rest is in Latin. The last work was compiled, as seen, between 977 and 995. It tells us:

Uven filius Vnuist iij. Annis regnavit.

This word Uven is clearly the Irish corruption of the Latin Ewen. Then from the Irish version of the Pictish Chronicles we get:

Uven (filius) Vnest iij.

The latter spells Malcolm Maelcolaim, as another sample of the ancient spelling of well-known names.

From the old genealogy of King William the Lion, the first year of whose reign was 1165, descended from the old Scots kings, we find that Ewen is given as one of the early Dalriada kings, and as an ancestor of William the Lion.

From Chronicles of the Scots, we are told: “Fergus filius Eric ipse fuit primus qui de semine Chonare suscepit regnum Alban, id est, a monte Drumalban usque ad mare Hibernie et ad Inchegal. Iste regnavit iii annis.” Then his son regnavit v annis, and so on down the line to “Ewen filius Ferchar longi xiii.”

Skene says that this manuscript is made up of two “separate chronicles which have been pieced together.” He thinks this “chronicle was put together in 1165.”

In the Chronicle of the Picts and the Scots a link in the royal chain is thus stated:

Ferchar filius Ewini 16 annis.

An old manuscript known as the Metrical Chronicles has a prose chronicle which precedes, wherein we find:

Anno DCCXLIV, obiit Murezaut rex Scottorum, cui successit Ewen filius ejus.

Anno DCCXLVIJ, obiit Ewen rex Scottorum, cui successit Hed Abbus filius ejus.

This manuscript was completed about 1270, scholars think.

From what is known as Fragments of Irish Annals, we read, in what Skene calls the Irish language:

727 Kal. San bhliadain si so bhris Aongas, ri Foirtreann, tri catha for Drust righ Alban.

734 Cath do bhrisedh do Aodh allan mac Fergail for Flaithbheartach mac Loingsigh ri Eirenn go d-tug Flaithbheartach loingius a Fortreannoibh chuige a naighidh Cineil Eoghain, acht chena ra baidheadh earmhor an cobhlaigh sin.

These sentences Skene translates:

In this year, Aengus, king of Fortrenn, gained three battles over Drust, King of Alban.

A battle was gained by Aedh Allan, son of Fergal, over Flaithbhertach son of Loingsech, King of Erin, so that Flaithbhertach brought a fleet out of Fortrenn to assist him against the Cinel Eoghan (Ewein or Ewen).

“The greater part of that fleet was, however, drowned,” says Skene in Chronicles and Early Memorials. The date is unknown, but this production is very old.

It is interesting to notice that Skene translates Eoghain (same as Eoghan), Owen (which in the early days was the same as Ewen) in this passage in the old Irish:

… mathi Cinel Eoghain e,” “and the nobles of Cinel Owen prevented it.

This is a reference to the royal Owen or Ewan clan in Dalriada at a very early day apparently.

Thus we find that as written by the Latin scholars a name similar in form to the early form of our name was borne by some kings who wielded the Scots scepter, a dominion which finally gathered in the Picts and at length covered what we may term the Gaelic Highlands. “Hic mira calliditate duxit Scotos de Ergadia in terram Pictorum,” as the Chronicle of the Picts and the Scots, compiled about 1317, according to Skene, describes that expansion of the old Dalriada Scots. The uniformity of the spelling through all those hundreds of years of illiteracy and in the formative period of kingdoms and of differing languages is remarkable. The same writers spelled, for instance, Malcolm, Malcoilin; Keneth, Kineth, and the famous brothers, Scots, Herc, Fergus, Lorin, Engus.

Occasionally we meet in an old chronicle the Irish (Gaelic) spelling the Eogan form of the name, as in Chronicon Rythmicum, of an earlier date than 1447, as thus:

Armkelloch uno, sed tredecem regnauit Eogian.

That is, Armkelloch reigned one year, but Ewen reigned thirty.

In the Latin list (written in Latin by monks) we find that King Ewen succeeded Muredach, down to whose reign this list agrees with that in the Albanic Duan, in the Dalriada, or Scots, dynasty. Ewen succeeded about 734 A. D., and reigned five years. A king by another name followed this Ewen, and the latter is again followed by Ewen who ruled for three years. (Macbain thinks that in the Latin list the first Muredach and Ewen names should be deleted, leaving one each. P. 403 of Macbain’s ed. of Skene). Both lists are treated by Skene as genuine, and he reconciles the difference by concluding that a Pictish king had taken possession of part of the Scots territory of Dalriada, and that the names found in the Albanic Duan not found in the Latin list are the Pictish rulers of the conquered section; and that the Latin lists give the “Kings of Dalriada, properly speaking.”

The Pictish Chronicle gives “Uwen or Eogan,” son of “Unnust or Angus,” who reigned 836-838.

Beginning with Eogan (as spelled in the Latin lists) both the Albanic Duan and the Latin lists again agree to and including Kenneth McAlpin who gathered into one the kingdoms of the Scots and the Picts in 843. Dungal was the son of King Ewen (about 835); Alpin was the son of Dungal; and Kenneth MacAlpin, who became king of the larger realm, was son of Alpin. The Duan spells Eogan Eoganon, the former the Latin and the latter Gaelic. So that we have more than three of the earliest historic sources which give persons who bore the early form of our name. However, I do not believe, as will later appear, that a Scot, as distinguished from a Briton, was the progenitor of our clan.

Skene says the Ewen of the Latin list was the son of Muredach, the Scots king of Dalriada, and of Scots descent.

Uwen or Eogan, mentioned in the Pictish Chronicles, as we have seen, is also the same name as Ewen. The Eogan spelling of the name is both British and Gaelic. Uwen must be a dialect spelling,--at least the result of phonetics.

Dunstaffnage is the place where the cornation stone of Scotland was for a time said to have been kept. It is on Loch Etive, Argyllshire, not far from Lomond and Glasgow. Hector Boece, who wrote in 1527, calls the Dunstaffnage the Evonium, “after Ewin, who built it.” See The Perth Incident of 1396 from a Folk-Lore Point of View, by Robert C. Maclagan, M. D., Edinburg (sic) and London, 1905, p. 28. Maclagan says this connects the Evonium with “the Eoghannacht.” The Eoghannacht or Eoghanacht were, according to Maclagan, the descendants of Eoghan, or Eugenius, the oldest son of Oilill Olum, king of Munster, Ireland, in 186. This Eugenius was killed “at the battle of Magh Macroimhe (fought in Ireland about 186 A. D.), and the Eoghanacht are the descendants of his son Fiach, called the Broad Crowned. They have another name, Ui Fidh-gheinte. The suffix gen, which undoubtedly means ‘offspring,’ is accepted in Gaulish, and the Welsh forms of the name, Eugein, Euein, Ywein, are considered more directly from the original than the Gaelic form Eoghan. Rhys derives Eugein from the name of the Gaulish god Esus, and therefore makes it equal to ‘offspring of Esus.’ In Greek εùyεvής is ‘well-born,’ or ‘noble descent,’ and these Celtic names, whatever their spelling, which seems to be mostly phonetic, convey the meaning of the Greek word quoted.”

Maclagan points out that according to O’Flaherty “there are descendants of Oilill Olum in central Scotland.” But the fact that bearers of the early British and Gaelic form of our name in Scotland were descendants of an early Irish king, does not prove that even they were of Irish origin. The same source, the folk-lore or tradition stories, “also point to a movement from the west of modern Lowland Scotland across to Ireland, with settlements in Meath, then in Waterford and Kerry, bringing us to Munster, the possession of Oilioll Oluim, and of Lugaidh and the combatants in the battle of Magh Macroimhe, and suggest Latin influence and also Latin strain along with the old Briton.” See O’Curry, Manners and Customs.

Boece, History of Scotland, or History of the Scots, (published in 1527), gives three Ewins in the sovereignty of the Scots, two of them reigning before the date of Julius Caesar, the third, called son of Edeir, beginning to reign in the twenty-sixth year of the Emperor Augustus. He, therefore, commenced to reign one year before Christ, and his reign lasted for seven years, which makes him contemporary with Connchobar mac ‘Nessa.’ Connchobar became a son of ‘the Jesus, an Iosa,’ but Boece makes no statement of that sort regards Ewin. What he does say of him is quite in accord with Galgacus’ account of the Roman invaders. He was the “maist vicius man in erd. … He had ane Hundred concubinis of the nobl illest matronis and virginis of his countre.” He is said to have made some laws that were very objectionable to his subjects, and which were not repealed “quhill the time of Malcome Canmore, and his blist quene Sanct Margaret.” Boece says that a conspiracy among Ewin’s subjects landed him in prison, and that he was there slain the first night. Maclagan thinks, however, that this earliest Ewin, the traditional monarch, was a fiction and but a type of the Roman invaders.

Boece, or Boyce, was born at Dundee, Scotland, about 1465. He wrote in Latin and was quite a scholarly man for his day. He had as sources the chronicles before him and, of course, Gildas, Beda (sic) and others. Taylor, in his Pictorial History of Scotland, says that Boece, “without the slightest regard to facts,” attempted to embellish the meager lists of kings with what he regarded as suitable actions. So that we cannot be sure that Boece did find from a now lost list, a Ewin, or Ewen, who was on the throne before the Latin lists and the Albanic Duan.

A Ewen de Ergadia, otherwise known as King Ewen, was one of the kings of a small realm of the Argyll section from 1253 to 1270. Macbain says that Ewen’s genealogy is: “John of Lorn and his father, Alexander de Ergadia (who) were the heads of Somerled’s house in Bruce’s time. Alexander was son of King Ewen, son of Duncan, son of Dugall, son of Somerled.” Somerled’s name is said to be Norse. Before his day the Norse had made many incursions upon Argyll, and the Norse Sagas claim that their kings often conquered and held that country. Somerled’s domain was the Dalverja, as Macbane spells it, the “old name for Dalriada,” he says; and Skene says Somerled belonged to “a Dalverian family, a term derived from Dala, the Norse name for the district of Argyll, and which implies that they had for some time been indigenous to the district.” (Macbane’s Ed., 197 and 409). Macbane seems to agree with Skene that “on the whole,” Somerled may be regarded as Gael-Pictish, not Scottish. However, MacKenzie is more nearly correct when he says: “This Somerled, known as ‘Somerled the Great,’ was of mixed Celtic and Norse (Teutonic) extraction. He was the progenitor of the Clan Macdonald, and of the Lords of the Isles, who loom so largely in medieval Highland history.”

Then of Somerled’s son, King Ewen, MacKenzie says:

The experience of one of those descendants, Ewen of Lorne, illustrates the anomalous situation which was created by the attempt to serve two masters. Holding his lands in Argyll from the Scottish crown, and owing allegiance to Norway for his Hebridean possessions, he tried, with transparent honesty, to do his duty by both countries, when relations between them became strained. He failed to please either side, but his attempts redound to his credit as a man of probity in an age when that virtue was rare. (W. C. MacKenzie, A Short History of the Scottish Highlands, 48.)

It is said that the Camerons of Lochaber are a Moravian clan. (MacKenzie, Hist. of the Camerons); and there is some tradition that the Camerons have some close relation to the Ewens or Ewins. McEwen mentions this relation between the Scots or Gaelic Ewens and Camerons (History of Clan Ewen, 19). Anyway, early in the use of Christian names we find Ewen as much name frequently used in the Cameron clan. For instance:

The first member of this family (Cameron of Erracht) was Ewen Cameron, son of Ewen, thirteenth chief of Lochiel, by his second wife, Marjory MacIntosh. The family was known locally as Sliochd Eoghainn’is Eoghainn, or ‘the children of Ewen the son of Ewen.’ (Scottish Clans and Their Tartans, published by Scribners in N. Y. and Johnston in Edinburgh in 1892.).

In 1390 Ewen, son of Allan, was captain of the Clan Cameron. The Camerons were loyal to the house of Stuart, and it was their leader, Lochiel, who said to Prince Charles, “Come weal, come woe, I’ll follow thee.”

Another Ewen of this family, living in 1745, “was a son of John, the tanister (i.e., the chosen successor of a clan chieftain), a young brother of the great Lochiel.”

So much, then, for the distinguished Ewens or Ewins of royal prerogatives who were Scots or Gaels or Picts, or of mixture with one or more of those races.

Unless we accept the McEwens, descendants of Ewen of Otter, there is neither record nor reliable tradition that either of these Highland or Gaelic or Scots Ewens founded a family or clan bearing the Ewing name.

Hence, so far as the records show, there is no substantial evidence suggesting either Gael or Scot as our ancestor or as giving to our family the name we bear. Those who hold that the Ewings generally are from Clan Ewen of Otter, as we shall see more fully later, do not rightly include our Ewings. If there be Ewings even at this day descended from Scots or Gaelic Ewens or Ewins, they are not descendants of our ancestors. This conclusion is all the more certain when studied in the light which we shall now find from Lowland sources, corroborating our tradition of Lowland origin.

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Page last updated 13 October 2008.
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