Ewing Family Association

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

Chapter VIII

Our Ewings Distinguished from the MacEwens

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“The name (Ewing) is identified with MacEwen by some,” as Spooner has said in Historic Families of America. I have met a few of our name in this country who are of the opinion that all American Ewings descended from the MacEwens, once a small but quite reputable clan of the Scotland Highlands. Here is a representative statement of this contention:

“The name was originally MacEwen, and originated about 1400 in Argyllshire, in Cowal. The Clan Ewen was an offshoot, a younger branch, of the Clan Lamont, and, about 1400, took the distinctive name MacEwen. Broken in the contests of the Highlands, the clan was dispersed and its organization lost. The members of the clan about 1500-1600 took refuge in the adjacent Lowlands district of the Lennox, which includes Dumbarton and the greater part of Stirling. Here many lost the mac, and others Anglicized the Ewen to Ewing,” wrote “Rev. John G. Ewing of Porto Rico,” quoted by Jos. Lyons Ewing (of N. J.) in Ewing Families. This is the Jno. G. Ewing, attorney, now in Washington, D. C., he tells me; but he is very glad to have it known that he has never been a “reverend.”

Some Gaelic Highland writers of Scotland are perhaps largely responsible for such views. As representative of that class we may take the late R. S. T. McEwen and his editor who gathered his genealogical papers into the little book, Clan Ewen, and Frank Adam, in What Is My Tartan? Their claim is that all Ewings who are descendants of the old Scotch family bearing the earlier form of the name go back for name and ancestry to Clan Ewen of Otter, descended from one of the early divisions of the people of the Highlands, and from that clan down through the MacEwens, the descendants of the founder of that Clan Ewen.

Of course those who have read the parts of my genealogical studies which present the story of the Ewing name and family as they emerged from the earliest Lowland days will readily see that, at least as to the Ewings of whom I write, the above quoted deductions are too broad; in fact, entirely inaccurate, considered in the light of our most reliable traditions. In truth, I am thoroughly satisfied that few Ewings are the descendants of the MacEwens or of the Ewen clan once dominant about Otter of the Highlands of Scotland. But of course I have confined the bulk of my investigations to the families indicated in earlier sections of these studies. However, some review of the claims made by the MacEwens and those who agree with them regarding the Ewings will be both interesting and helpful in seeing more certainly our early pedigree–will help us to see the more clearly that the Ewens of Otter, the MacEwens of the Highlands, are in no way related to the Ewins, the Ewens, or the Ewings of Cymric Celtic stock, one branch of whose family also early lived along the shores of Loch Lomond, here and there in Dumbarton and Argyll Counties generally–really at times close neighbors of the MacEwens. This local proximity, I am sure, has gone far to mislead the Highland writers who have confused the two distinct families and who, so far as I can discover, have never considered the evidence pertaining to our Lowland family and which in large part I present in these studies.

Now, it is important to bear in mind that McEwen, Adam and those who agree with them have followed Skene for what is known regarding the Clan Ewen of the Highlands, and have followed without being able to add to the evidence. Outside of the evidence which I have here and there gathered from general history, the only specific light which we have regarding the early Ewings (under any form of the name) is found in the writings of Skene and Ross. The specific data as to the Ewene (Ewen, Ewin, Ewan, Euan, Euing, Ewing) stock found in other writers appears to be a repetition of and conclusions drawn from the statements by Skene and Ross—oftener from Skene only.

Dr. P. Hume Brown, a recognized authority on Scotch history, an author of a history of Scotland, looked into this question for my personal information. At the time, he was professor of ancient history and paleography in the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Writing for me in December, 1917, he says:

I have now looked into all the authorities relative to Clan Ewen (in either the Lowlands or the Highlands) that I can think of, and find that all the information obtainable regarding it is contained in Skene’s ‘Celtic Scotland’ and his ‘Highlanders of Scotland,’ and F. J. Ross’ ‘Memoir of Alex. Ewing, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles’.

Here is what Skene, in The Highlanders of Scotland says:

The Rev. Mr. Alexander Macfarlane, in his excellent account of the parish Killfinnan, says: ‘On a rocky point on the coast of Lochfine, about a mile below the church, is to be seen the vestige of a building called Caestael Mahic Eobhuin (that is, ‘MacEwen’s Castle’),’ and he adds: ‘This MacEwen was the chief of a clan and proprietor of the northern division of the parish called Otter.’ The reverend gentleman professes his inability to discover who this MacEwen was, but this omission is supplied by the manuscript of 1450, which contains the genealogy of the clan Eoghan na Hioteric,’ or Clan Ewen of Otter, and in which they are brought from Anradan, the common ancestor of the Maclachlans and the MacNeills.  

This (Ewen) family became very soon extinct, and their property gave title to a branch of the Campbells; of their history consequently we know nothing whatever.

In his notes to the 1902 edition of Skene’s The Highlanders of Scotland, Dr. Macbain, a distinguished Scotch scholar, makes no corrections of or additions to these statements, and so we regard them as unimpaired by modern research.

In Celtic Scotland Skene says:

The second group consists of clans supposed to be descended from Hy Neill or race Neill naoin Gillach, king of Ireland, which brings us nearer historical times. They consist of the Lamonds, the Clan Lachlan, the MacEwens of Otter and Clan Somarile, which has not yet been identified.

These clans are all taken back to a certain Aoda Alain, named Buirche, son of Anrotan, son of Aodha Altamuin, ancestors of the O’Neills. From Aoda’s son Gillachrist the clan Lachlan came, and from another son, Duinsleibe, the Lamonds, MacEwens and Clan Somarile. The death of Aoda Alain is recorded in 1047. (Edition 1890, vol. 3, p. 340)

R. S. T. MacEwen followed, as I have said, Skene; but it cannot be objectionable to quote his words. In the preface of his book Clan Ewen, written by “A. M. M.,” who expanded into a little volume MacEwen’s articles, which were originally published in The Celtic Monthly, a journal now extinct, it is said:

The attempt to weave together the scattered threads of tradition and historical record by which the Clan Ewen may still be darkly followed, has not been easy. All the usual materials for a clan history are wanting. A broken and disrupted clan since the middle of the fifteenth century, it boasts few authentic memorials and even fewer traditions of its early history and subsequent misfortunes.

In the body of the work MacEwen says:

The ancient Clan Ewen or McEwen of Otter, Eoghan na h-Oitrich, which once possessed a stronghold of its own, was one of the earliest of the western clans sprung from the Dalraida Scots. … Up to the thirteenth century these Scots were divided into a few great tribes, corresponding to the ancient maormorships (sic) or earldoms. Skene, in his ‘Table of the Descent of the Highland Clans,’ divided the Gallgael into five great clans, from whom sprang nine smaller clans. The clan system of later times had not appeared before this date. From the Siol Gillevray, the second of the great clans, he gives the Clan Neill, Lachlan and Ewen; Chiefs MacNeill, MacLachlan and MacEwen. … The genealogies given by Skene are taken from the Irish manuscripts and MacFerbis. He considers the latter portion of the pedigrees, as far back as the common ancestor from whom the clan takes its name, to be tolerably well vouched for, and it may be held as authentic.

Following these writers back we find they start the genealogy of Ewen of Otter with “the fabulous King Conn of the one hundred battles,” of Ireland, as Skene’s sources did; thence down to his descendant, Niall Glundubh, “who lived between 850 and 900.” The latter’s son was Aodha Allamuin (Hugh Allaman), “the then head of the great family of O’Neils, kings of Ireland,” and his son was Anradan, and the latter’s son was Aodha Alain, or De Dalan, whose death is recorded in 1047. “The latter had three sons: Gillachrist, Neill and Dunslebhe. Gillachrist had a son, Lachlan, who was the ancestor of the Machlachlans (sic); Neill was the ancestor of the MacNeills. Dunslebhe had two sons, Ferchard, ancestor of the Lamonds, and Ewen, ancestor of the MacEwens.” Keltie is given as the authority for the statement that these clans “were in possession, in the twelfth century, of the greater part of the district of Cowal, from Toward Point to Strachur. The Lamonds were separated from the MacEwens by the River Kilfinnan, and the MacEwens from the MacLachlans by the stream which divides the parishes of Kilfinnan and Strath Lachlan. The MacNeills took possession of the islands of Barra and Gigha.” (Keltie, 2 History of the Highland Clans.)

“McEwen I of Otter, the earliest chief of the clan of whom there is mention, flourished about 1200,” MacEwen says. About their maximum strength, apparently, “the MacEwens possessed a tract of country about twenty-five miles square, and could probably bring out 200 fighting men.” Being in the Argyll territory the MacEwens supported the local claimant to the right of government as against the king who claimed the country more generally; but in 1222 Alexander I reduced the Argyll country to his domain, inflicting great losses upon the McEwens. In that struggles they suffered so severely that only “a remnant survived under their own chief of Otter, on the shores of Loch Fyne, where the last chief died two and one-half centuries afterward.” Thereupon, that is “after the middle of the fifteenth century, the barony and estate of Otter passed and gave title to a branch of the Campbells, and the MacEwens became more than ever ‘children of the mist’.”

Upon this dispersion of the clan some remained with the Campbells, then strong in Argyll, others going into Lorne, and “some of the latter are said to have settled in Lochaber;” and “some, no doubt, allied themselves to other western clans, for the name was common at one time in the Western Highlands and Islands, especially in Skye. Other colonies were formed in the Lenox country, in Dumbarton and in Galloway.”

After the dispersion, according to Lovat Fraser, The Highland Chief, in The Celtic Monthly, some MacEwens became the hereditary bards to the Campbells; and MacEwen in his history of the Clan Ewen says that “from old chronicles it appears that there were other McEwen poets and bards in other parts of the country.” These poets, or “bards seanachies, were important functionaries and officers in the Celtic system, and the most learned men in the clan. … They combined, in their own persons, the office of poetlaureate (sic), genealogist, and herald of arms. They were educated in the science of genealogy, and their work was preserved in the form of rhymes. These they recited on important occasions; just as Herald of the College of Arms, in the present day, recites the titles of distinguished persons at great public functions.” (See also J. F. Campbell, Tales of the Western Highlands; and Rev. MacNicol, Remarks on Dr. Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Highlands (1779).

Frank Adam, in What is my Tartan? or, the Clans of Scotland with their Septs and Dependents (Edinb. and London, 1896), gives Ewen, Ewan, Ewing as the forms of the name indicating the descendants of the MacEwen or MacEwan, and the latter as septs and dependents of the MacLachlan and also the McNeill clans. He gives his reason for this: “The Clan Ewen, whose ancient seat was at Otter, Loch Fyne, has, as a clan, become extinct. As, however, the above clan sprang from the Siol Gillevray, from whom the Clan Neill and Clan Lachlan also derived their origin, I have ranged the MacEwens, Ewens, etc., under the MacNeills and the Maclachlans.”

Now, so far as the MacEwens of Otter and their descendants are concerned, I have no quarrel with MacEwen, Adam and those who give the origin and descent of the Highland Gaelic or Dalriada Scots family. The error into which these Highland protagonists have fallen is the failure to distinguish the Ewens, Ewins, Ewings of the Cymric Briton stock; and whose existence and Cymric pedigree, as we have seen in other parts of these studies, is as historical and as certain as are those of the Otter family. Such writers seem to reason thus: Upon the dispersion of the Clan MacEwen about 1470 some changed the name to Ewing–therefore all Ewings are descendants of the immigrant MacEwens. Their conclusion might follow were it not true that in those neighbors where some dispersed McEwens located, there were Ewings long established before the MacEwen immigrants reached the new locations. These writers make the mistake of forgetting the Cymric Ewings. They appear to have known nothing of King Ewen of Strathclyde or of the other evidence regarding the Briton stock; and, relying upon Macbain, McEwen appears to have been under the delusion that the Celts of Strathclyde were of Scots origin.

It may be that some Ewings were descendants of the MacEwens and that it was these whom Macewen and Adam had in mind; but they have certainly misled many by the failure to mention the fact that Ewens or Ewings of the Cymric family were along the shores of Lomond and in the Lenox (sic) country and in parts of Argyll country, strong in the border Highlands, in fact, before the Otter family dispersed. It is striking, however, that such writers give no specific evidence which proves that any Ewing family are descendants of the Otter MacEwens. But if there be such who claim to be so descended, I shall not question that claim. I insist, however, the from that fact it must not be argued that all Ewings are so descended.

But, in fact, I know of no satisfactory evidence which shows that any Ewing, who can trace with reasonable certainty descent from an ancient Scotch clan, descended from the MacEwens. MacEwen fails to bring forward a single instance, as I have said. He was attempting to write the history of Clan Ewen, too, on the theory that “the Ewens or Ewings of Craigtown [whose arms we show and discuss] and Keppoch, of Glasgow, Levenfield, Billikinrain, &c.,” the Ewings generally, in fact, are descendants of the Otter clan Ewen. Hence he must have used all the evidence at his command; he was a barrister (lawyer) in one of the Scots courts and knew the value of evidence. Here is the nearest he reaches the Ewing part of his subject:

A considerable sept of the clan (MacEwen or Otter) settled early in Dumbartonshire, on the shores of Loch Lomond, and in the Lennox country. … The Lenox (sic) sept received grants of land in the district to which they gave their name. Between 1625 and 1680 there are at least four charters in which successive dukes of Lennox and Richmond are served heirs in the lands of ‘McKewin’ and ‘McEwin,’ as the name was then written.” He cites Report on the Public Records of Scotland as authority. He finds that tradition places the MacEwens on the Lennox fighting for Queen Mary in 1568. In every instance cited by him, in reference to lands or otherwise, the name has the mac to it. He cites Guthrie Smith, History of Strathendrick to show that the duke of Lennox granted “William Macewin” the land at Glenboig. “In 1691 the proprietor was,” says Smith, “James McAlne, called in 1698 James Macewen.” However, a family of Williamsons, says Smith, “appear to have succeeded the Macewens of Glenboig. The greater part of the lands of Western Glenboig was afterwards acquired by Napier of Billikinrain. But in 1796 there was a William MacEwan of Glenboig, writer in Edinburgh, who received a grant of arms at that date from the Lyon office. Netherton, the other division of the estate, is (1880) farmed by Mr. James Ewing (another form of the name), who belongs to a family who have long been tenants there.

The parenthesis in the above quotation is McEwen’s interpolation of Smith’s statement; certainly not justified by what Smith says. The lands had passed from the MacEwen family, and it does not follow that, long years afterward, because a tenant upon these lands bore the name Ewing he was a descendant of the earlier owner. But if we grant that this tenant was a descendant of the distant landlord MacEwen, the instance furnishes the sole specific case cited by MacEwen. He does not give, either, a single Ewing tradition that the Ewings are the descendants of the MacEwens.

Now, then, we see that the earliest date at which McEwen gets any MacEwens into the Lowland section is 1568, as given by tradition. Against the tradition the record left by Workman shows E-w-i-n-g of the Dumbarton (near the Lennox) section so well established that there was a family coat of arms under that spelling of the name before 1565. (See the illustration from Workman.) In 1722 Nisbet shows these same arms—yet E-w-i-n-g arms, bearing a motto which long years before—over seven hundred, in fact—was used possibly upon the standard carried by the warriors of the Ewing family when brigaded with their kindred admitted to be of the Cymric stock, Lowlanders. On the other hand, when the McEwen arms later appear they are clearly not founded upon the older Ewing arms; and they take a motto the earlier, “Pervicax recti,” the later, “Reviresco,” both suggestive of the history of the Highland family, and each entirely different from “Audaciter,” the motto of our family. It is true that mottoes are not regarded as exclusive and as much property as coats of arms, and that they are not necessarily of a hereditary nature. Yet they are important, and when it is known that they have been used by ancient ancestors, their evidential value is great. McEwen finds that the earliest records show that between 1625 and 1680 there were four Lennox charters involving the lands of “MacKewen” and “McEwin.” As against this the old Ewing arms were recorded upon the gravestone of a E-w-i-n-g in Bonhill churchyard in 1600. It must have been about this date when the relation was buried upon whose gravestone on the banks of Loch Lomond Bishop Ewing years later saw the Ewing “family coat of arms.” Then, as we have also seen, the Scotland Privy Council Register discloses Ewings residing in Aberdeen in 1574, far from the Otter McEwens, in the very heart of the Lowlands, and that in 1575 James Ewing was burgess of that city. He must have been there for many years before. Then again, in 1592 Alexander Ewing was burgess of that city. And so on and on the record evidence sustains our tradition that we are from a clan distinct from the Otter McEwen clan.

Other Ewing families than those for whom I write can draw their own conclusions, guided by such traditions as each may have.

It is interesting, therefore, in this connection to remember by what rule McEwen attempted to argue that the Ewings were descendants of the Otter Clan Ewen. Here it is:

Where the name is of clan origin and still common in the clan territory, and where septs or families can be traced by tradition or otherwise from the original home to other localities where the name is found, while the other names common to those localities are different—in both these cases there is a prima facie presumption that the name has been handed down from the original source and that those who bear it are the descendants and representatives, remotely, no doubt, of the immigrant clansmen.

But what when before the immigrants reached the new home there were others there bearing a very similar name, yet a name with clearly distinguishing parts, and when on down for hundreds of years families lived there bearing the similar yet clearly distinguished name? And, too, while others continued to and yet bear the immigrant name?

This very rule sustains my contention regarding the descent of my family from the Cymric stock. The evidence shows that when the immigrants from the Otter clan reached the border Highlands and the Lennox country they settled in communities where first Ewin and then Ewing had already become a clan name, and the name of a large and widely dispersed family. The ancestor of those Highland immigrants, let us remember, was Alain, who died in 1047. It must have been about 1100 before his descendant Ewen, the first Ewen, the earliest of the Highland family bearing any form of the family name, began to establish that distinctive family who became the Highland clan—a clan which had no chief before 1200. Then more and more we see much besides the Gaelic Highland side of the story when we remember that Eugein also ruled in Dumbarton long years before Ewen of Otter was born—Eugein being the Latin form of Ewin. Or again, we recall that “Ewin defended the kine of his father” along the shores of picturesque Loch Lomond even before the royal bearers of our name sat upon the Strathclyde throne. Hundreds of years, yet again, before the MacEwens of Otter had a clan name—in fact, more than five hundred years before that time—Kentigern, the great Strathclyde preacher, and whose father was Prince Ewen, a Lowlander by blood and birth, built his sanctuary beside the clear waters of the Molindinar, almost exactly where Historic Glasgow Cathedral now stands.

So that the rule, by the too narrow application of which the MacEwen claimants have gotten into error, aids in establishing my contentions; that is, applying the rule, we find:

The name Ewing is of clan origin (the clan government having once maintained in both the Lowlands and the Highlands) and today yet common in the home of the Briton Ewings. “Where the name is of clan origin and still common in the clan territory … there is a prima facie presumption that the name has been handed down from the original source.” Hence as to our Ewings the prima facie presumption is that we are descended and that our name has come to us from the Brythonic Ewen, Ewin, and then Ewing, a name still common in the clan territory of the Lowlands, particularly in the Sterling Castle and Lomond region, where our Cymric Ewing ancestors lived and the family existed hundreds of years before the Gaelic clan of the Highlands.

When to this very clear prima facie presumption we add the tradition that we are of Lowland and not of Dalriadic or Gaelic ancestry, the conclusion that we are descended from the Cymric, close kin to the old Welsh stock, becomes a master of creditable history.

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