Rev. Richard Cameron

The battle of Bothwell Brig on 22 June 1679 had a great effect upon the Covenanters in general and a silence seemed to come down on their protestations with the government. To many it resolved into bickering between themselves and only a few muted voices were raised in support of the ideals of the Covenant.  Richard Cameron, later to be called “The Lion of the Covenant,” was one voice that rose loud and clear.

 Richard Cameron  was born  circa 1648 in the ancient town of Falkland in Fifeshire where his father Allan Cameron was a merchant . His mother was Margaret Paterson. He had two younger brothers, Michael and Alexander, and a sister Marion.  After graduating from university in 1665 he was a schoolmaster in Falkland where he became interested in the field preachers. In particular he  attended a number of conventicles at which John Welsh of Irongray, preached. and resulted in his conversion to the Covenanter beliefs.  Cameron was convinced that it was a sin to accept the Indulgences  ( concessions  given by the King) and  became a vociferous ` root and branch` believer and amongst the most inflexible members of the  Covenanter movement.

The Cameron Home

 For a while he continued as tutor to the family of Sir William Scot of Harden in Roxburghshire but he left to join with John Welsh  who urged him to become a licensed preacher.  This was done at the home of Henry Hall of Haughhead and he was sent to begin his preaching in Annandale.  Cameron gained a reputation for being outspoken and this sometimes created concern among colleagues who reproved him and urged that he preach on the evangelical themes to which they all agreed. It appears that Cameron was keen to be ordained and knew that it would be easier to do this abroad, thus in May 1679 (before Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge) he went to Holland and joined with the exiled ministers John Brown of Wamphray and Robert MacWard.

 Despite his reputation for attacking the Indulgence Cameron preached well and was ordained in Rotterdam by the Dutch divine, Pastor James Koelman, Brown and McWard.  Here again was a prophetic statement made when at the laying on of hands during ordination, MacWard was the last to remove his hands and before doing so said

“Behold, all ye beholders, here is the head of a faithful minister and servant of Jesus Christ who shall lose the same for his Master`s interest, and shall be set up before sun and moon in the public view of the world.”

 In October 1679 Cameron returned to Scotland and began his ministry in Clydesdale and Ayrshire. He had occasional help from other ministers but following the battle at Bothwell Bridge there was very great pressure on ministers and none would publicly preach.  Cameron therefore became a mainly solitary figure preaching at conventicles throughout the South West of Scotland.  His principal colleagues in these difficult times were Donald Cargill and Thomas Douglas.  Many of his conventicles took place on Darmead Linn, a hill to the south of Shotts, near the village of Forth.  It was here that he drafted his Sanquhar Declaration, which he and his brother Michael posted in the town on 22 June 1680.  A bold and uncompromising document its closing words makes clear that war had been declared:

 “As also we, under the banner of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Captain of Salvation, do declare a war with such a tyrant and usurper, and all the men of these practices, as enemies to our Lord Jesus Christ and His cause and covenant.”

 There was also a maturity about his ministry as he became the man who denounced the despotism of the Royal house, directing his wrath against the worst offenders in the land.  It also meant that there was a reward  for him dead or alive.

Richard Cameron preached his last sermon on 18th July at Kype Water about seven miles south of Strathaven where his sermon was “Be still, and know that I am God.”  On 21 July 1680, Cameron spent the night at the farm of William Mitchell of Meadowhead, Water of Ayr.  With him were his bodyguard of about forty persons on foot and twenty horsemen who rested on the moor nearby.  The tale is told that rising in the morning Cameron washed his face and hands in the trough outside and remarked prophetically that

“This is their last washing.  I have need to make them clean, for there are many to see them.”

 Cameron knew that there was a party looking for him and meanwhile, Sir John Cochrane of Ochiltree informed Bruce of Earlshall, a Fife property owner, where they might be found.  At about 4 pm on Thursday 22 July about 120 troops under the command of Bruce came upon Cameron and his group at Ayrsmoss, a bleak stretch of open moorland being over 650 ft in altitude at one end and rising to nearly 730 feet at the other.  There was no escaping and the band gathered round Richard Cameron to pray ending in the three times repeated cry

“Lord, spare the green and take the ripe.”  Turning to his brother, Michael, he remarked “... this is the day we will get the Crown.”

 Despite a valiant stand the Covenanters were outnumbered and nine horsemen lay dead, including Richard Cameron aged barely thirty two, and his brother Michael.

 Five prisoners were taken - Manual of Shotts who died of his wounds at the Tollbooth in Edinburgh, John Vallance who died the next day; Archibald Alison and John Malcolm who were executed at the Grassmarket, Edinburgh on 13 August; and David Hackston who was to suffer the most brutal of executions.  But chief amongst the battle’s trophies were the head and hands of Richard Cameron which were delivered in triumph to the Privy Council in Edinburgh.  Old Allan Cameron, the father, was then a prisoner in the Tolbooth where he  had been locked up for assisting conventicles to be held near his  home in Falkland.  He was shown the head and hands and was left weeping for his son as they took the trophies to be fixed, as was the barbaric custom, above the Netherbow Gate with the hands in prayer beneath the severed head - a gruesome warning for all Covenanters.

Others  who  died  at  Ayrsmoss  were   John  Gemmel; John  Hamilton; James  Gray;  eldest son  of  Gray  of  Chryston; Robert  Dick; Captain John  Fowler; whose  head  was  taken  to  Edinburgh having been mistaken  for  Michael  Cameron;   Thomas  Watson  and  Robert Paterson  of  Kirkhill  in the  parish  of  Cambusnethan. -  a  pious  and  zealous  youth.

 Little  is  known  of  the  other  brother  Andrew, save  that  he  is mentioned as coming to Holland in James Renwick`s correspondence (a letter of 30 May 1683) . He became  a  Covenanting  minister  studying  theology  in  Holland and was thought to have returned to Scotland in 1685 to try and to get the Societies to support the rebellion by the Earl of Argyll. He must have returned to Holland at some stage (probably when the rebellion collapsed) and  remained  until  1688  when  he  was  in  Utrecht.  The  sister  Marion  and  two  companions  were  brutally  murdered  by  Claverhouse`s  troopers   who  had  caught  them  as  they  fled  across  the  moors  towards  Daljig, a  farm  near  New  Cumnock.  It  is  said  that the  troopers  callously  offered  to  let  the  girls  go  if  they  burned their  Bibles, knowing  full  well  that  they  would  not  do  so. Inevitably  the  dragoons  then  charged  their  rifles  and  shot  them  down  on  the  spot.

With  the  wonderful  sense  of  hindsight, we  might  question  why  Richard  Cameron  pursued  such  a  violent  campaign  and  the  need  for  his  death. There  is  no  doubt  that  the  King  really  had  broken  pledges  and  promises  and  given  every  reason  for  the  people  to  renounce  allegiance.  A  less  direct  confrontation  with the government  might  have  given  time  for  the people  to  rally to  the  cause  and  maybe  saved  Richard  Cameron  from  an  early  death.  Be  that  as  it  may, his  death  at  Ayrsmoss  helped  the more  cautious  to  focus  on  the  need  for  reform  and  sent  signals  of  a  coming  revolution  that  was  to  occur  in  1689.

A poignant poem by Mrs A Stuart Menteath (1843) entitled "Peden at the Grave of Cameron" relates the anguish of Alexander Peden at the death of his friend; and the well known phrase "Oh ! to be wi` thee, Ritchie".

 

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