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Significant Scots
Cameron, Richard

CAMERON, RICHARD, an eminent martyr of the Scottish church, and whose name is still retained in the popular designation of one of its sects, was the son of a small shopkeeper at Falkland in Fife. His first appearance in life was in the capacity of schoolmaster and precentor of that parish under the episcopal clergyman. But, being converted by the field preachers, he afterwards became an enthusiastic votary of the pure presbyterian system, and, resigning those offices, went to reside as a preceptor in the family of Sir Walter Scott of Harden. From this place he was soon compelled to remove, on account of his refusal to attend the ministrations of the parish clergyman. He then fell into the company of the celebrated Mr John Welch, and was by him persuaded to accept a licence as a preacher. This honour was conferred upon him by Mr Welch and another persecuted clergyman in the house of Haughhead in Roxburghshire; so simple was the ceremony by which these unfortunate ministers recruited their ranks.

Cameron soon excited the hostility of the indulged presbyterian clergy, by the freedom with which he asserted the spiritual independence of the Scottish church. He was, in 1677, reproved for this offence at a meeting of the presbyterian clergy at Edinburgh. The indulged ministers, having threatened to deprive him of his licence, he was induced to promise that he would be more sparing in his invectives against them; an engagement which afterwards burdened his conscience so much as to throw him into a deep melancholy. He sought diversion to his grief in Holland, where his fervid eloquence and decided character made a strong impression upon the banished ministers. These men appear to have become convinced that his extraordinary zeal could end only in his own destruction, as Mr Ward, in assisting at his ordination, retained his hand for some time upon the young preacher's head, and exclaimed, "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 it shall be set up before the sun and moon, in the view of the world."

Cameron returned to his native country in 1680, and, although field-preaching had now been nearly suppressed by the severity of the government, he immediately re-commenced that practice. It is necessary to be observed, that Cameron did not identify himself at any time with the presbyterian clergy in general; while his proceedings, so little squared by prudence or expediency, were regarded by his brethren with only a gentler kind of disapprobation than that which they excited in the government. The persecutors had now, by dint of mere-brute force, reduced almost all men to a tacit or passive conformity; and there only held out a small remnant, as it was termed, who could not be induced to remain quiet, and at whose head Mr Richard Cameron was placed, on account of his enthusiastic and energetic character.

On the 20th of June, 1680, in company with about twenty other persons, well-armed, he entered the little remote burgh of Sanquhar, and in a ceremonious manner proclaimed at the cross, that he and those who adhered to him renounced their allegiance to the king, on account of his having abused his government, and also declared a war against him and all who adhered to him, at the same time avowing their resolution to resist the succession of his brother the Duke of York. The bulk of the presbyterians beheld this transaction with dismay, for they knew that the government would charge it upon the party in general. The privy Council immediately put a reward of five thousand merks upon Cameron's head, and three thousand upon the heads of all the rest; and parties were sent out to waylay them. The little band kept together in arms for a month, in the mountainous country, between Nithsdale and Ayrshire. But at length, on the 20th of July, when they were lying in a secure place on Airsmoss, Bruce of Earlshall approached them with a party of horse and foot much superior in numbers. Cameron, who was believed by his followers to have a gift of prophecy, is said to have that morning washed his hands with particular care, in expectation that they were immediately to become a public spectacle. His party, at sight of the enemy, gathered closely around him, and he uttered a short prayer, in which he thrice repeated the expression -"Lord, spare the green and take the ripe" - no doubt, including himself in the latter description, as conceiving himself to be among the best prepared for death. He then said to his brother, "Come, let us fight it out to the last; for this is the day which I have longed for, and the day that I have prayed for, to die fighting against our Lord's avowed enemies; this is the day that we will get the crown." To all of them, in the event of falling, he gave assurance that he already saw the gates of heaven open to receive them.

A brief skirmish took place, in which the insurgents were allowed even by their enemies to have behaved with great bravely; but nothing could avail against superior numbers. Mr Cameron being among the slain, his head and hands were cut off, and carried to Edinburgh, along with the prisoners, among whom was the celebrated Mr Hackstoun of Rathillet. It happened that the father of Cameron was at this time in prison for non-conformity. The head was shown to the old man, with the question, "Did he know to whom it had belonged." He seized the bloody relics with the eagerness of parental affection, and, kissing them fervently, exclaimed, "I know, I know them; they are my son's, my own dear son's: it is the Lord; good is the will of the Lord, who cannot wrong me or mine, but has made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days." The head and hands were then fixed upon the Netherbow Port, the fingers pointing upwards, in mockery of the attitude of prayer. The headless trunk was buried with the rest of the slain in Airsmoss, where a plain monument was in better times erected over them. To this spot, while the persecution was still raging, Peden, the friend of Cameron, used to resort, not so much, apparently, to lament his fate, as to wish that he had shared it. "Oh to be wi' Ritchie!" was the frequent and touching ejaculation of Peden over the grave of his friend.

The name of Cameron was applied to the small but zealous sect of presbyterians which he had led in life, and has since been erroneously extended to the persecuted presbyterians in general. The twenty-sixth regiment, which was raised at the Revolution out of the west-country people who flocked to Edinburgh, was styled, on that account, the Cameronian Regiment, which appellation, notwithstanding the obvious error, it still retains.

Richard Cameron
By John Herkless (pdf)

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