Ewing Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Ewing Surname Meaning

The Scottish McEwen genealogist has maintained that “the name Ewen is a distinctive, ancient, and not very common name, derived from the Gaelic Eoghan, meaning ‘kind natured.'”

Ewing origins have been debatable. The Ewing clan website claimed a descent from Ewen of Otter who lived at Cnoc Mhic Eoghainn in Argyllshire in the 1300’s. Ewen had become Ewyne and then Ewing by the 16th century.  The ‘g’ in Ewing appears to have been an addition made in the spelling by those of English speech. This was because in pronouncing the name they give the final ‘n’ an ‘ng’ or nasal sound.

Ewing Surname Resources on The Internet

Ewing Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Lowland)
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America and Canada

ScotlandWhile the origins of the Ewings may have been disputed, their appearance by the late 15th century in the Scottish Lowlands in an area around Loch Lomond is not. Early Ewynes there included merchants, burgesses and priests. The Ewings of Balloch were so named because they had purchased the lands of Balloch in Dumbartonshire in the mid-16th century.

William Ewing rose to prominence after he had been summoned to attend the court of Mary Queen of Scots in 1566. Whether he benefited from the sponsorship of the Earl of Lennox is unclear. Some accounts have claimed that William Ewing carried the standard for the Queen at the Battle of Langsidein 1568. In any event he was soon granted a coat of arms.

Sometime later Findlay Ewing was settled on an estate at Ladytoun near Bonhill in Dumbartonshire. The last of this line, the Ewings of Craigtoun, died out in the 18th century.

Ewings were for the most part Presbyterian Covenanters, which put them at odds with the Stuart monarchy for much of the 17th century. Because of religious persecution many Ewings departed for Ulster at this time (and later to America). Ewings in Scotland supported the Campbells in the doomed Argyll rebellion against King James in 1685 and some of their estates were forfeited.

The Balloch line of Ewings later included William Leckie Ewing, a prominent Glasgow merchant of the early/mid 1800’s, and the Orr-Ewing baronets. The first of these baronets built Ballikinrain castle in Dumbartonshire in 1868 as his home.

Whether this history indicates that the Ewings should be considered as their own Scottish clan has been a matter of recent debate.

Ireland. The Ulster plantation that began in the early 1600’s became a sanctuary for persecuted Scottish Covenanters. The Ewings who came there settled mainly in the environs of Coleraine in Londonderry county. Others made their home in Donegal, but within a ten mile radius of Londonderry – on Inch Island and at Carnshanaugh. John Ewing was said to have been at the siege of Londonderry in 1689.

The best known of these Ewings had come in 1685 after the Argyll rebellion had collapsed. According to tradition, six Ewing brothers fled Scotland at that time. One of them was named Findlay and his son Thomas Ewing, born in 1690, departed Ulster for America in 1718. Other Ewings followed him.

The Ewing name did not disappear from Ulster, however. John Ewing was a Belfast merchant trading with Barbados and was one of four partners who started the Belfast Bank in 1787. Ewing’s, fishmongers of Belfast, has been going strong since the early 1900’s.

America. The first of these Scots Irish Ewings to come to America was Thomas Ewing who arrived in Southampton on Long Island in 1718. Two years later he married Mary Maskell and they raised their children in Greenwich, New Jersey. Their descendants included:

  • George Ewing, whose military diary of the Revolutionary War covered his winter at Valley Forge with Washington’s army
  • and his son Thomas Ewing, a country lawyer from Ohio who twice served as its Republican US Senator and held Cabinet posts in Washington before and after the Civil War. Thomas Ewing and his family were covered in Kenneth Heineman’s 2012 book Civil War Dynasty.

A large Ewing contingent crossed the Atlantic from Ireland in 1727 on the Eagle Wing, chartered by the Ewing family (which included Nathaniel and other sons of William Ewing plus a cousin Alexander).

Nathaniel Ewing and his wife Rachel settled in Cecil county, Maryland. One of their sons John was pastor of the First Presbyterian church in Philadelphia from 1759 until his death in 1802. From another son William came John Hoge Ewing, a civic leader in Washington county, Pennsylvania during the 19th century. James McMichael’s 1999 book Alexander Ewing and Descendants meanwhile covered the line from Alexander Ewing.

Meanwhile old John Ewing, present at the siege of Londonderry, came to Lancaster, county, Pennsylvania in 1729.

“His sons had wanted to come to America, but their father being around 80 years of age, felt that he could not undertake the journey and they remained with him. At length he determined to detain them no longer and for their sake came to America, saying that his bones could rest in the ocean or the New World as well as in Ireland.”  

James Ewing was a cotton merchant from Edinburgh who came to Alabama in the 1840’s. He died young, at the age of 46 in 1860, leaving a son Robert who was then just one year old. Robert began working at the age of 13 as a messenger boy for Western Union. He rose rapidly in work and became a prominent newspaper journalist, publisher and political figure in the state of Louisiana. His son John and grandson Robert were both active in newspapers in the region.

Canada. Ewings in Canada could have been Loyalists from America or crossed the ocean from Scotland or Ireland:

  • Benjamin Ewing from Vermont was one of the early settlers in 1798 in Haldimand township in the Niagara district of Ontario. His original Benlock homestead there was handed down to his grandson Charles.
  • James Miller Ewing from Dumbartonshire in Scotland came to St. Johns, Newfoundland sometime in the 1830’s
  • while Samuel H. Ewing arrived in Montreal from Londonderry in Ireland in the 1860’s. He was the founder of S.H. Ewing and Sons, a company active in the importation and manufacture of spices, teas, and coffees and also held banking interests. Samuel H. Ewing presided over the company until his death in 1923.

Ewing Surname Miscellany

Ewing Origins.  Where did the Ewings come from?  The answer was in the old, traditional understanding of the name Ewing on which Elbert Ewing poured such scorn in his book Clan Ewing of Scotland in 1922.

The name Ewing was said to have derived directly from an old Highland clan, the Clan Ewen of Otter in Argyllshire. This clan had lost its traditional homeland in the late 15th century and had relocated to the lands of Lennox on the shores of Loch Lomond, precisely where the Ewing name is commonest to this day.

It was this origin for the name which was believed by the leading Ewing families before 1922.

Then Elbert Ewing recorded the tradition that “the Ewings of America trace their origin to six stalwart brothers of a Highland clan” and he quoted a letter from John G. Ewing which stated:“

The name was originally MacEwen, and originated about 1400 in Argyllshire, in Cowal. The members of the clan about 1500-1600 took refuge in the adjacent Lowlands district of the Lennox, which includes Dumbarton and the greater part of Stirling. Here many lost the “mac” and others anglicized the Ewen to Ewing.”

The origin in Clan Ewen of Otter was the only account of Ewing origins known to have existed at that time.

Elbert Ewing instead claimed that the Ewing name was a distinctive Lowland Scots surname which had its origins among the ancient Brythonic princes of Dumbarton.  In support of his argument he noted that the Ewing motto Audaciter was identical with the motto of the 11th century prince Ewen of Dumbarton.

Ewing as a Scottish Clan?  The Ewings have had no chief since the death of the last Ewing of Craigtoun in the 18th century.  From the late 19th century onwards the Ewings were usually grouped as a family within Clan MacLachlan and were entitled to wear MacLachlan tartan.

In 1992 Lord Lyon gave permission for Clan MacLachlan to list MacEwens as a dependent group within their clan.  Many Ewings campaigned alongside MacEwens for independence in the belief that together they made up a single clan.  However, it soon became clear that in all but a few cases Ewings and MacEwens had different origins.

The tradition of Ewing clanship has remained particularly strong in America, as reflected in Elbert Ewing’s 1922 book Clan Ewing of Scotland.  Although Elbert theorized about Lowland origins, he also preserved oral traditions testifying to its Highland roots.

In 1988 the Rev. Ellsworth S. Ewing established a network of Ewings throughout the US under the name Clan Ewing in America.  And in 2008 UK writer and historian Thor Ewing began investigating the historical evidence. His research suggested that the Ewings were indeed a clan in their own right – with their own history, heraldry and tradition.

William Leckie Ewing, Glasgow Merchant.  William Leckie Ewing (who would later be known as Leckie Ewing) was born in Stirlingshire in 1798, the son of Robert Ewing of the Balloch line and Isabella Leckie.  His father died at a young age of 33 when he was not yet one and he spent much of his childhood at the home of family relatives. At the young age of fifteen, through family connections, her found work in Glasgow as a junior clerk in the West India merchant house of Stirling, Gordon & Co.

By this time the firm had begun switching from the tobacco to the sugar trade.  Leckie Ewing soon prospered as a merchant there with them.  The business survived the Government’s abolition of the slave trade in 1833.  Owners were compensated and Ewing and his partners received compensation for their two Jamaican plantations.

In 1836 Leckie Ewing was chosen in a deputation to Drayton Manor to invite Sir Robert Peel to a public banquet in the city.  This was on the occasion of his installation as Lord Rector of the University.

Leckie was wont to recount the details of this incident – their journey in a carriage-and-four (for it was before the days of railways), their arrival and reception by Sir Robert and Lady Peel and their family, the presentation of a huge petition, the dinner party, and the return to Glasgow to announce the result to the citizens assembled in the Trades’ Hall.  And the banquet followed in due course.

Leckie Ewing retired from business in 1845 and returned to his old family estate of Broich.  He built himself a comfortable mansion house there and interested himself in country affairs.

Thomas Ewing and the Silver-Hilted Sword.  The early Ewings of America have traced their origin to six brothers who participated in the doomed Argyll rebellion in Scotland against King James in 1685 and, after the defeat, were outlawed. They fled first to the Isle of Bute in Scotland and then settled near Coleraine in county Londonderry.

In 1690 these Ewings took part in the Battle of the Boyne, fought in Ireland between the forces of King James and those of William of Orange. They fought with distinction at the battle and afterwards Findlay Ewing was said to have been honored by King William with a gift of a silver-hilted sword.

Findlay’s son Thomas was born in that same year.  When he came to manhood he was presented with the sword by his father. He took it with him when he departed for America in 1718.  The sword, however, was subsequently stolen.  So no evidence exists for it. 

Nathaniel Ewing’s Reminiscences.  Nathaniel Ewing had moved from Maryland to Indiana in 1801.  A short time before he died in 1846 he wrote an account of his family. That information along with additional information added by Colonel William Ewing was published in 1897 in The Courier-Journal, more than fifty years after Nathaniel’s death.

“At the request of my children I give the following history of my family as far back as I have any knowledge, either traditional or personal.  My forefathers were originally from Scotland, their seat in that country being on the Forth not far from Stirling Castle, whence they removed to the north of Ireland and settled near Londonderry.  My great grandfather, whose name, I believe, was William, was twice married.  By his first wife he had but one son, Nathaniel, who was my grandfather; by his second marriage he had several children.

Nathaniel Ewing was born about the year 1693. He married a cousin Rachel Porter in the year 1723 and four years afterwards he emigrated to America, bringing with him his half-brothers and sisters, a large connection of the Porter family, and also the Gillespies.  This colony settled in Maryland, between Octorora Creek and the Susquehanna River, near the Pennsylvania line.  My grandfather purchased a tract of land and commenced farming.  His brother Joshua also purchased a tract adjoining him.

He settled in what is now Cecil county where he had a large family of ten children – six sons and four daughters.  They were Sarah, William, Ann, John and James (twins), George, Alexander, Rachel and Samuel who died young.”

Civil War Dynasty – The Ewing Family of Ohio.  For years the Ewing family of Ohio has been lost in the historical shadow cast by their in-law, General William T. Sherman.  In the era of the Civil War, it was the Ewing family who raised Sherman, got him into West Point, and provided him with the financial resources and political connections to succeed in war.

The family patriarch Thomas Ewing counseled presidents and clashed with radical abolitionists and southern secessionists leading to the Civil War.  Three Ewing sons became Union generals, served with distinction at Antietam and Vicksburg, marched through Georgia, and fought guerrillas in Missouri.  The Ewing family stood at the center of the Northern debate over emancipation, fought for the soul of the Republican Party, and waged total war against the South.

In his 2012 book Civil War Dynasty, Kenneth J. Heineman brought to life this drama of political intrigue and military valor – warts and all.  This work is a military, political, religious, and family history, told against the backdrop of disunion, war, violence, and grief.

Ewing Names

  • William Leckie Ewing was a prominent Glasgow merchant in the early 1800’s.   
  • Thomas Ewing was a country lawyer from Ohio who twice served as its Republican US Senator and held Cabinet posts in Washington before and after the Civil War. 
  • Robert Ewing was a newspaper publisher and political figure in Louisiana of the late 19th and early 20th century. 
  • J.R. Ewing was head of the fictional Ewing family in the 1978-1991 TV series Dallas.

Ewing Numbers Today

  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 13,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Ewing and Like Surnames 

These are surnames from the Scottish Lowlands.  Some are clan names; some – like Gordon, Graham and Hamilton – have Anglo-Norman antecedents that crossed the border into Scotland; and some – like Douglas and Stewart – were very powerful in early Scottish history.  Stewart in fact became the royal Stuart line.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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