Ewing Family Association

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

Chapter X

Our Racial Characteristics Border-Homeland Home and Neighbor

back to Reading Room
to Home Page

Intermarriages by our Celtic Ewing fathers with the Teutonic blood during the two hundred years since our ancestors left Scotland, have steadily tended to augment our inheritance from the Saxon and the Angle and the Norman. Yet the characteristics of the early Celtic stock cling tenaciously to us. In physical and mental and moral expressions those characteristics appear here or there now and again in accentuated form; while in some members of the family they are to be found only after closer inspection; yet in no generation are the Celtic qualities lost and from no normal member of our family in America, descended from the old Lomond and Glasgow clan, are they entirely absent.

There was, of course, on the part of the invading Saxon and his kindred tribes, lack of proper appreciation of the Celt and vice versa. As we go back we find this antipathy increasing until it reaches the blood-feud of the earliest hostilities. One of the keenest observers of things and conditions in general, who knew intimately the Highlanders north and the Lowlanders south, was our distant kinsman, Bishop Alexander Ewing, bishop of Argyll and the Isles. Learned, full of great energy, long a resident in Italy, he traveled on the continent and knew racial qualities. Born in the north Lowlands, in his prime he returned to the old Ewing paternal shores of Loch Lomond, in the border Highlands, to spend in Christian uplift his most vigorous days. Having this race antagonism in mind, he once said:

It is the fashion to disparage the Celtic race. I cannot think it a just disparagement. As a race, they were once as advanced, or more so, than any other, and still they retain marks of high distinction.

In 1852 famine threatened the Highlands with the most dire calamities. The crops had failed; the importation of sufficient food was, under existing conditions, apparently impossible. As she has since the outbreak of the world war, America then had not learned that she can feed the world. Organizations, back when that famine menaced the Highlands, were formed to encourage and aid emigration as a stern measure to save life and to perpetuate the Gaelic race. Bishop Ewing was profoundly moved by the sufferings of his people—as large numbers of his church were of the old Celtic Highland stock, and in his day yet spoke Gaelic, though the bishop spoke the English of the Lowlands. He was deeply grieved because expatriation appeared to be the only remedy. But he faced the situation bravely and preached in advocacy of the removal of as many as possible. In one discourse, having particularly in mind the Celtic people of the Highlands, he said:

If they have not the Saxon strength, they have other virtues. From the highest to the lowest, this long-descended people have, by nature, what is called ‘the next thing to Christian grace’—the grace of born gentlemen, with all the virtues signified by the word. If they have not the stern vigor of the oak, they have the elastic qualities of the ash. … In leaving the Celts to perish, we should lose a fine element in our humanity. Our nature would not be what it is without the admixture of Celtic blood.

It is worth notice that Bishop Ewing recognized that he and the people of the border Highlands and of the Highlands generally were an “admixture.”

Again Bishop Ewing refers to this same people as that “long descended race, that loyal and patient people;” and correctly tells us that another characteristic is that they “are a religious, reverential people—a people of deep piety.”

At another time, and having more in mind the work among the Scots and the Picts, the Highland Gaels, by the great preacher Columba and the far-reaching missionary labor which Columba directed from his wonderful school at Iona, one of the islands of Argyllshire, which island Columba first visited in 563 A. D., Bishop Ewing, bewailing the decline of the Highland stock, said:

Few of them, however, uneducated or unaccustomed to society, are without self-respect and that unselfish bearing which makes the gentleman; and this distinction of the Gael, were there no other, is one, we think, which should go far with us not to allow the race to perish from among us.

It is a noble race, even in its decline. It is a people who deserve to be cherished. By and by we shall seek, but we shall not find them; and the place which now knows them shall know them no more forever. ‘Che till ma tuille’ is heard in every glen. If ‘Fuimus’ is now their motto, time was when it was not so—when England and Europe owed their regeneration to Celtic missionaries, when the life and energy now characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon was characteristic of the Celt, and civilization and religion themselves were all but restored to Europe from Iona.

What Bishop Ewing says of the virtues and born graces of the Northern Celt is also true of the southern or Lowland Celt.

In his history of the sources of modern poetry, Veitch says that if we wish “to see the first outwellings of that romance which has raised us above self and commonplace and conventionalism, which has influenced English poetry from Chaucer to Tennyson, we must go back to the Cymric people who loom so dimly in the dawn of our history.” (John Veitch, LL. D., The History and Poetry of the Scottish Border, 177.)

So that, whether our earlier Celtic ancestors were Gaels or Cymry, or other Britons, or an “admixture,”—we have the most desirable, the most noble, and the most pleasing racial inheritance.

Over and again old people who knew intimately one or another of our earlier American ancestors have said in writing to me: “He had the grace of a born gentleman, and the highest integrity,”—in part our Celtic inheritance.

With this merest glimpse at our racial qualities, let us see our neighbors before our ancestors left Scotland.

Of those neighbors, the Grahams, who were just east of Loch Lomond and north of the Buchanans, are among the older in family ancestry. There is a story that the Grahams descended from a warrior “who breached the Roman wall in 420” A. D. However, the origin of the name, Scotch authors tell us, “is involved in obscurity and fable.” But “the first authentic appearance of the name was about 1143 or ’47.”

The Colquhouns (Calhouns), who bore to us a tribal relation, some Scotch authors say, occupied the lands on the west center of Loch Lomond. It is said by reliable authority that an early surname Calquhoun was Kilpatrick, and that the former name attached to the clan because it acquired the Dumbartonshire lands known as Colquhoun between 1214 and 1249. “The adoption of surnames from lands successively acquired was a common practice in the time of King Alexander II (1214 to 1249), when surnames were less fixed than they came to be in later times.” (William Fraser, The Chief of the Calquhouns and Their Country, Edinburgh, 1869, p.1.)

The Macfarlanes were on the northwestern shores of Loch Lomond. It is said they descended from the ancient Celtic earls of the Lennox or Lowland district. “The remote ancestor of this clan is said to have been Duncan Mac Gilchrist, a younger brother of Malduin, Earl of Lennox.” It was after 1296 that from the Gaelic Parlan “the p and f being easily convertible in Gaelic,” the name became Farlan and then McFarlane.

On the east of the Loch were the Buchanans. This was another Stirlingshire family; and the name came from the lands it acquired “toward the middle of the thirteenth century.”

The McDougalls, with whom part of our clan came in unfriendly contact, at one time dwelt on the ocean, just opposite the northern end of Lock Awe. Glencoe, also mentioned in the Ewing annals, another historic spot, is ten or twelve miles north of the north end of Awe, by the way. The McDougals trace this descent from Somerled of the Isles who died in 1164, and his son Dougal is said to have been the first of the name. Anyway, the present clan name is not older than 1164, if so old.

In this connection it is interesting to notice the age of other Highland clan names. The Campbells, long the most powerful clan in Scotland, “rose upon the ruins of the McDonalds, and their whole policy for ages, says a writer, was to supplant and ruin that race.”

The county of Argyll was for ages, and is still a considerable extent, inhabited by this great clan.” In 1701 one of the Campbells was made duke of Argyll. The first charter to lands in Argyll, however, was granted by King Robert Bruce in 1316, and “the name is therein written Campbel.” From that date “the clan gradually increased in power, till, by conquest and marriage, it became the most influential in the kingdom,” says a Scotch authority. It is this clan, it is interesting to note, whose clan pipe music is “Baile Ionaraora,” the famous march which in English is “The Campbells are Coming.”

There were three or more branches of the Camerons; and it is very interesting that the Camerons of Erracht claim descent from “Ewen, thirteenth chief of Lochiel, by his second wife, Marjory MacIntosh. The family were known locally as Sliochd Eoghainn’ ic Eoghainn, or ‘the children of Ewen the son of Ewen’.” So that we know that at least one of the prominent Gaelic Ewens founded a family the family name of which, Cameron, is just as unlike his and ours as can be. And it is historically certain that our Ewings are not descendants of Clan Cameron.

Another well-known Highland name is Douglas. We recall the story of a descendant, the Earl Douglas, who by marriage became also the Earl of Mar, who contested the succession to the Scottish crown with Robert II. Yet the first “record of this name is William Douglas, the name being derived from the wild pastoral dale he possessed. He appears as a witness to a charter between 1175 and 1213.”

“The royal Stuarts, which in Gaelic is Stiubhard, derived their family name from the office of ‘Lord High Steward of Scotland,’ which they held for nearly two centuries before they came to the throne.” “The first progenitor of this gallant and royal race,” says a Scotch authority, was a Norman, Allan.” His son Walter obtained lands in Scotland in the twelfth century; and Malcolm IV made the office of High Steward hereditary in the Allan family, which became Stuarts two hundred years later.

Some of the Argyll Ewings, we have elsewhere seen, espoused the claims of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1745; but our American ancestors had been out of Scotland two or three or more generations before that time.

MacNeil was the name of another Argyll clan. “The name McNeil first appears in a charter by Robert I” to John, son of Gilbert McNeil; “but the oldest charter to the name is for the Isle of Barra” and is dated 1427. This charter was “granted to Gilleonon, son of Roderick, son of Murchard, son of Neil.” So that this family name by several hundred years is not as old as the name Ewin, which corresponds in the evolution of the names to Neil–Neil, the ancestor, McNeil, the descendant; Ewin, the ancestor; Ewing, the son, as we have seen.

So the great antiquity of our name as compared to those of our fathers’ Highland neighbors and to those of other distinguished Highland clans is both striking and pleasing.

The Highlands of Scotland are romantic and much of their scenery is unsurpassed. In some respects the borders overlooking Glasgow and embracing noble Loch Lomond are most interesting and charming. Before our ancestors emigrated the country was very wild. Game was abundant, and bear, wolf, and stag led hounds and huntsmen afar over moor, through dell, up crags, and often plunged deep into glades and mountain jungles inaccessible to men.

Of Ben Nevis, one of the more conspicuous mountains of the Ewing Highland neighborhood, Bishop Ewing wrote in July, 1844:

It is a majestic and massive mountain, stony and hard looking with green basement hills and gray upper elevations, with patches of snow toward its summit.

Snow on old Ben Nevis in July suggests the salubrious climate characteristic of the Highlands.

Riding from Inverouran toward Lourand, Bishop Ewing saw a “country of fine swelling mountains, clothed in part with oak, beech, hazel, and bracken, with bits of green grass at intervals, where cattle were grazing; while waterfalls and torrents in endless variety of width and volume were rippling or rushing down to join the Falloch, which was flowing beneath us. The first peep at Loch Lomond was splendid—the hills very majestic with fine, broken, prominent and protuberant outlines, copse and timber upon every side, and a clear, bright glorious sky above, and the Loch reflecting it. ‘So much for Dumbartonshire,’ thought I. ‘Monseigneur mon grandpere,’ what could have induced you to leave such a fatherland as this’,” he exclaims as he reflected that from a section so charming, so full of life, his own ancestor had, years before, gone to the less inviting country about old Aberdeen in northern Lowland Scotland.

Let our cousin bishop’s vivid pen give us one more picture as he rides southward from historic Oban:

When we left Oban we had to drive over a ridge from which, in looking back, we had a beautiful view of the town, the bay, and islands, not very different from multitudes of the same kind of views we have all along the western coast; but after crossing a moor for a mile or two, a scene opened of quite a different character, for which we were quite unprepared. Below, on a peninsula running into Loch Etive, stood Dunstaffnage Castle, a finer and more imposing ruin than I had imagined. Around Loch Etive the Etive and the sea, and away in the distance, and far beyond anything of the sort I have seen in Switzerland, rose and towered in heaps and masses of all sizes and colours the hills of Morven, Ben Cruachan, and the Glen Creran Mountains, their bases covered with forests of greenwood, birch, hazel, oak, and alder, and their higher slopes with green masses of pine, which, however, gradually diminish to single clumps of solitary trees; and, above all, the mountain tops, bare, cold, and severe. Fit country and accessories for Caledonian monarchs. …

Then, again, here is old Ben Lomond, further away Ben Ledi; and southward the Clyde river, Glasgow, the furnaces of which reminded Bishop Ewing of “a veritable Terra del Fuego;” then the rolling Clyde valley, and far beyond, the Perthshire Grampians.

“Wild forest, foaming cascade, and magnificent mountains” are not all; the “wild birds’ cry and the moan of the sullen wave” are forgotten when one rides into some imposing old castle grounds, roses, hollies, cedars, pinks, and in season, peaches, pears, apples and gooseberries on either hand; or, hurrying out upon some moor finds there bogs, covered breast high with heather; and out “here paths that promise much, but in the end lead no whether; while the lights and shadows and glorious coloring, with hares starting out at every turn, a heron sailing high over head, the cry of the curlew, a convoy of grouse rising whirring on the wing,”—furnish variety, life and thrill.

The locations of our neighbors north of the Highland line are shown upon maps and their “checkered breacons or tartains”–the famous Highland plaids—widely known. But there is no mention of the Ewings upon such a map and no tartan of our family described in any history of “the tartans of Scotland,” at least so far as disclosed by any of the larger libraries in the United States. Yet, as we have seen, our family was certainly for hundreds of years a powerful factor in the border Highland-Lowland country. These facts again suggest our Lowland origin and that the family never became one of the Highland clans.

The earliest accounts of the ancient Britons tell us of the custom of painting their bodies. This, it is asserted, was to distinguish friend from foe in the melee of battle, or in other words, “their uniform.” When progress toward a civilization discovered weaving, “the means of identification which had been painted upon their bodies, had to be transformed to their apparel—hence the origin of the striped scarfs (sic) and tunics worn by different tribes; and hence, also, in all probability, the origin of the clan tartan.”

From this custom tartans were used early in both the Lowlands and the Highlands. However, in historic times, it is asserted by Scotch writers, “there seems no evidence of clan sets having been adopted as distinguishing badges of any but a very few and well-known Lowland families. It is to the Highlands we must look for the systematic use of these” plaids.

“Tartan vestments” in the Highlands appear “first to have corresponded in number to the few ancient earldoms into which the north of Scotland was early divided—the different sets [patterns] not being so much the distinguishing garb of particular families as of particular districts.”

But as the earls waned and the clans become powerful and belligerent in clan interest, the clan uniform became indispensable. The people of the Lowlands and of the Celtic-Saxon stock at an early day discarded the clan uniform when they abandoned clan government. Belligerency and sell-assertiveness long after the Lowland families had discarded clan government made the clans of the Highlands famous—and in the eyes of the law of 1747 infamous, for under it wearing the clan tartan was forbidden by drastic penalties. This law was repealed in 1782; “but by that time the old spirit of the clans had been lost and many of the proud and daring Highland chieftains had died or were in exile.” “Waverly, or ’tis Sixty Years Since, revived the memory of the past and summoned, as with the wand of an enchanter, the buried chief of the ’45 from their forgotten graves.” The use of the tartan revived and is much worn at this time by descendants of the old Highland clans.

Listen! There is the bagpipe! Who of our race even in America has not thrilled on catching the strains of weird and yet charming bagpipe? Back through the centuries those strains waft us–and again we hear pipe and horn call the clans to war or to festive reunions; and we see the bring plaids flutter around “the sturdy figures of the blue bonneted men.” And again and further back we see the Ewings from the border Highland-Lowland gathering with their Cymric-Briton kindred from Wales about the common tribal banner! Or, adown the centuries of normal life we find along the dashing, clear, diamond streams men and maidens in summer reposing beneath the gracious shade of the fine old birches and listening to the cuckoo and admiring the many-colored woodcocks. Hollies “ever more picturesque in winter than summer,” add to the charm, often “forming deep glades of singular beauty.” Yonder and yonder the hills sweep suddenly to the water’s edge—for at least the nearby-land of our fathers is moor and hill and mountain, stream and lake and wild sea—and now and then the crags are of that “scarped, stony redness which looks so well in water colour drawings,” as Bishop Ewing described them more than fifty years ago. Even in his day, Darnaway forest, one among thousands, had twenty-five distinct specimens of indigenous trees.

Along the shores of Lomond, and on the banks of the Levin and of the Clyde, on hill and in moor, many are the changes since our fathers set their faces toward then little-known America; yet the spirit of the by-gone ages hovers over the Highlands and fills the Lowlands–and Scotland, in many ways, one of which is through the old, unchanged, plaintive and sweet tunes, calls to the blood in America. With much truth Bishop Ewing wrote:

Immortal tunes! Immortal!
How many a man and maid;
Have brightened at your stirring strains,
Have wept when you were played,
Who now are sleeping far and wide,
Deep in the silent shade. 

But ye live on forever,
Forever fresh and new;
Unshadowed by a touch of age,
No halt in your measure true. 

Free as the breezy air of heaven,
Still rings the “Braes o’ Mar.”
“King Robin loes,” as erst he did,
And “Gallie Callum’s War,”
“The Brig o’ Perth,” and “Money Musk,”
Still as ye were—ye are.

top of page

Page last updated 13 October 2008.
back to the Clan Ewing Home Page