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
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.
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.
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.
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".