Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cameron, Richard

CAMERON, RICHARD (d. 1680), covenanting leader, was born at Falkland in Fife. He was at first schoolmaster and precentor in the parish church, which had then an episcopal incumbent, but having gone to hear some of the field preachers, he was powerfully impressed by their sermons, and was won over to their side. Cameron now espoused the cause of the most advanced section of the presbyterians, holding that those who had accepted the ‘indulgence’ had sinned very heinously, and that their fellowship was to be utterly shunned. His strong views on this point made him unacceptable to Sir Walter and Lady Scott of Harden, in whose family he had been tutor for a time. Cameron had received no university training, but, having a gift of natural and persuasive eloquence, he was considered by John Welsh, Gabriel Semple, and other leading field preachers to have a call to the office of preacher, and was licensed by them accordingly. In Annandale and Clydesdale hundreds and thousands hung upon his lips, and, moved by his tender and melting appeals, ‘fell into a great weeping.’ In 1678 he went to Holland, where many like-minded men were in banishment, and in his absence a new indulgence was proclaimed which many accepted. Returning in 1680, he found very few ministers to share his views. Among the few were Donald Cargill and Thomas Douglas, who met with him several times to form a public declaration and testimony as to the state of the church. What is commonly called the Sanquhar declaration followed, so named from the town of Sanquhar, where it was published. It disowned the authority of Charles II, and declared war against him. It disowned likewise the Duke of York and his right to succeed to the throne. Substantially this was the very basis on which, a few years after, the revolution was effected. The work of but a handful of poor men, it had little effect, except to embitter the spirit of opposition, and set a price of 5,000 merks on the head of Cameron, and 3,000 on those of Donald Cargill and Thomas Douglas. For a few weeks, notwithstanding, Cameron, now accompanied by a small body of armed men, went on preaching here and there, and uttering very strong predictions against all who should favour the royal indulgence. On 22 July 1680 his party was surprised by a body of royal troops who came upon them at a place called Ayrsmoss or Airdsmoss, in the parish of Auchinleck in Ayrshire. The Cameronians resolved to receive the charge, Cameron having thrice prayed ‘Lord, spare the green and take the ripe,’ but notwithstanding their great valour, they were overpowered by superior numbers and mostly cut to pieces; Cameron and his brother were among the slain. The preacher's head and hands were cut off, and by order of the council were fixed to the Nether Bow gate in Edinburgh.

After his death the name of Cameron, though cherished with a kind of holy reverence by his friends, was very often applied vaguely by enemies to all sects or bodies who held advanced or unusual opinions. In particular it used to be given to the ‘reformed presbyterians’ who would not accept the settlement of church and state under William and Mary. It ought to be added that the ‘reformed presbyterians’ decline the term ‘Cameronian,’ although to this day it is applied to them in popular use in Ireland, Scotland, and the United States.

[Biographia Presbyteriana, vol. i.; Howie's Scots Worthies; Wodrow's History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland; Grub's Eccles. Hist. of Scotland, vol. iii.; McCrie's Story of the Scottish Church; Herzog and Schaff's Encyclopædia, art. ‘Cameronians.’]

W. G. B.