McEwen/McEwan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select McEwen/McEwan Meaning
MacEwen and variations thereof are Scottish surnames
derived from the Old Gaelic name MacEoghainn
or “son of Eoghann” of uncertain
meaning.  McEwen
and McEwan
are the main spellings today, on a roughly 45/55
basis.  McEwan predominates in Scotland;
but the older McEwen is more numerous in the US and Canada

McEwen/McEwan Resources on

McEwen/McEwan Ancestry

ScotlandThe MacEwen name was to be found at different
locations around Scotland, mainly in the Highlands:

  • there were MacEwens in Galloway in SW Scotland from
    1331 when Patrick McEwyn was the provost at Wigtown.
    According to tradition, they fought with
    others in a feud against the Black Douglas in the mid-1400’s.
  • Ewen
    was recorded further north at Loch Fyne in Argyll in the early/mid
    1300’s.  He was the first of the MacEwens of Otter.  They
    were a clan with a recognized chieftain, but they only lasted until the
    mid-1400’s.  At that time they lost their
    lands to the Campbells and were forced to disperse.
  • the MacEwens around Loch Tay
    in Perthshire have preserved a tradition of descent from the MacDougall
    clan at
    Lorne in Argyll.  This was in particular
    true for the MacEwens of Muckley.
  • during the 16th century, a group of Camerons in
    Lochaber in the
    Highlands were also known as Clan Ewyne.  The
    leader of this clan was Donald Mac Ewen Vic Ewen Cameron
    of Erracht
    who was killed in 1570.  His followers
    took the MacEwen name.
  • and there was a MacEwen bardic family that practiced
    classical Gaelic poetry.  They served the
    MacDougalls of Lorne and later the Campbells of Argyll.
    The last of the line was apparently Neil
    MacEwen whose poem to the Campbells was composed in 1630.
    It is thought that this family originated in Ireland.

During the 19th century McEwan
was displacing the McEwen spelling
.  The
ratio was 58/42 in 1841, but increased to 80/20 in the 1911 census as
McEwan numbers rose and the McEwens fell.

The older MacEwen was still evident in
the Orkneys and, at a lesser density, in Inverness-shire.
Sir William MacEwen the eminent brain surgeon
was born on the Isle of Bute in Argyll in 1848.
But, again, there were more MacEwans than MacEwens around in

McEwen spelling did persist with some families.
James McEwen who drowned at the age of forty-two in the Stinchar
in Ayrshire in 1732 was the first of the McEwens of Bardrochat.  His grandson Robert was
a captain in the Ayrshire militia in the late 1700’s.
Then came:

  • Robert Finnie McEwen who was a successful lawyer in Edinburgh in the late
    1800’s.  He subsequently abandoned his law
    career to pursue musical interests. Among his philanthropic activities
    here, he
    organized free concerts for the poor people of London who might
    otherwise not have
    been able to attend such events.
  • and his son Sir John or
    Jock McEwen who was a Scottish MP from 1931 to 1945 and was made a
    baronet.  Sir John’s third son was the
    folk singer and painter Rory McEwen.

McEwan spelling was more numerous, particularly on the west coast of
and in and around Edinburgh.

James McEwan, born in Stirling, founded the
legendary firm of McEwan golf clubmakers in Edinburgh in 1770.  This business went through succeeding
generations of McEwans until the club-making stopped in 1897.  But later McEwans were able to earn a living
as golf professionals and so continue the family involvement in golf.

McEwan from Alloa founded the Fountain Brewery in Edinburgh in 1856
money borrowed from his family.  This
made him rich.  And beer money enabled
his daughter Maggie to mix with
and the aristocracy
by the early 1900’s.

  McEwens have
been in Ulster, mainly as a result of McEwen arrivals from Scotland.  Indeed there was a good deal of back and
forth between Ireland and Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Their main presence was in Antrim and

These counties also had
similar-sounding names such as McKeown (originally MacEoin) and McCune
sometimes became McEwan:

  • for
    McKeowns were to be found at Fedany in county Down from about 1750.   Subsequently the name fluctuated between
    McKeown and McEwan. 
    Henry McEwan moved with his family to Scotland
    and later in
    1860 to America.
  • John McKeown, born in Tyrone
    in 1815, crossed the Irish Sea in
    1850 to Ayrshire where he was known as McEwan, as were his descendants.  His grandson Davie took up cycling in 1891
    and won many cycling races in Ayrshire.
  • while
    Donald McKeown
    migrated from Belfast to England in the early 1900’s and worked as a
    compositor in Berkshire.  His daughter
    who was born there in 1932 became the actress Geraldine McEwan, best
    known for
    her role as Miss Marple in the TV series Marple.

America.  The
McEwens who came to America were mainly from Scotland.

Robert McEwen
came from Dundee and was a Covenanter.
At the age of 18 he was fighting against the king at Bothwell’s
in 1679 and was captured.  Six years
later he was sent as a prisoner in a ship to colonize the isthmus of
Darien.  The commander of the ship died a
few days after they set sail and the poor and half-starved passengers
onboard the
vessel during a gale managed to beach it at Amboy in New Jersey.

In 1686 Robert settled in Stratford,
Connecticut where he was a tailor.
George, one of his sons, moved to Milford in 1742 and died there
1786.  A later George moved to Hinesburg
in Vermont.  The line was covered in Ruth
Coleman’s 1992 book Descendants of Robert

James McEwen from Perth married
Isabella Miller clandestinely in Edinburgh around 1740.

is a tradition in
the family that Isabella belonged to the Stuart family and that she and
fled from Scotland because she had married beneath her rank and that
there was
a price on James’ head.”

She and James escaped to the Isle of Man for seven
years and then sailed for America, first to Pennsylvania and then,
sometime in
the 1760’s, to Rowan county in North Carolina.
Their son David moved to Roper’s Knob in Williamson county,
Tennessee in

Alexander McEwen meanwhile came from Scotland in 1777, settling in
North Carolina.  His son Robert received
a land grant in NE Georgia after having served in the Georgia militia.   Robert’s son Kirkham settled in Alabama
1836 and Kirkham’s son George was a planter and miller there.

William Penn McEwen also enlisted in
the Georgia militia, but later in 1836.
He arrived in Florida around 1858 and was a circuit-riding
minister there.

and Jerusah McEwen from North Carolina headed west, first stopping in
before moving to the Kittitas valley in Washington state in 1871.  They homesteaded there near Ellensburg.  Later McEwens of the family were top
horsemen, both at their ranch and at local rodeos and horse racing

Canada.  Possibly the earliest
McEwen arrival in
Canada was Duncan McEwen, probably from Perthshire, who came to Prince
Island on the Falmouth in 1770.  He married twice
and established families in both St. Peters and New London before his
death in
1831.  Most McEwens of PEI are his

Charles and Jane McEwan, originally from Scotland, had
settled in upstate New York before crossing the border into Ontario
1815.  Their son John married Margaret, the granddaughter of the American
traitor Benedict Arnold, and they moved to Windsor where John opened a
yard.  He later started the town’s first
newspaper, the Windsor Herald.  He became sheriff of the county in 1856.

Peter McEwen, a crofter from Perthshire, departed in 1829 with four
other families to seek a new life in Canada.
They settled in Osgoode township near Ottawa in Ontario.  He and his family proved hardy pioneer
farmers.  Six generations of the family
have now lived at their Heather Crest farm.

and Neil McEwan, the sons of Archibald McEwing from Islay in the Inner
emigrated to New Zealand in 1871.  Little
is known of John’s line.  Neil settled in
Tokanui near Invercargill on South Island where he farmed.
He and his wife Janet raised thirteen
children there


MeEwen/McEwan Miscellany

McEwens and McEwans Today

Numbers (000’s) McEwen McEwan Total
UK    2    9   11
America    3    1    4
Canada    6    3    9
Australis/NZ    2    4    6
Total 13   17 30

The MacEwen Clan of Otter.  The Rev. Alexander McFarlane, a minister of the
parish of Kilfinan in Argyll, writing in 1794, said the following:

“On a rocky point on the coast of Loch
about a mile below the church of Kilfinan is seen the vestige of a
called MacEwen’s Castle.  This MacEwen
was a chief of a clan and a proprietor of Otter.”

The MacEwen lands were
located on the southern shore of Loch Fyne with the Lamonts to the
south and
the MacLachlans to the north where the terrace sloped looked down onto
Spit and the stream divided the parishes of Kilfinnan and Strathlachlan.

The MacEwens were said to have
descended from Aodh Anrothan (Hugh the Solitary) who came from Ireland to Argyll in the early 11th century
and married an heiress of the lords of Cowal.  In the early 1300’s a
named Ewen established a base on Loch Fyne and the head of the clan
resulted became known as the MacEwens of Otter.

MacEwens were not a clan for a long time.
Swene MacEwen, the last Chief, apparently squandered his clan’s
inheritance and ended up borrowing money from the Campbells of Lochow.  It was recorded in 1463 that the lands of
Otter were granted to the Campbells.  The
story goes that the MacEwens were deceived and massacred and that the
then marched into Otter and took possession of the lands with minimal

The MacEwens that survived became outlaws and fled their
homes.  Legend has it that some were able
to get
protection from their neighbors the MacLachlans.

McEwens and McEwans in Scottish Censuses

1841 1881 1911
McEwen   1,403   1,386   1,272
McEwan   1,863   4,175   5,600
MacEwen       96       56       66
MacEwan       51       68      171

The Rev. William Penn McEwen in Florida.  The Rev. William Penn McEwen came to Florida around
1758 and was the first Methodist preacher in that part of the state.

He used to
ride his horse and swim the river. They had no bridges to cross the
river.  So he’d take his horse with a high
horn on the saddle, and he’d take his clothes off and get naked, and
tie his
clothes up on the horn of his saddle and swim across with his horse,
and then
dry off with moss, and put on his clothes and then he’d go out in the
woods and

They had no churches and he preached under the trees.  It was said that he converted a lot of

He was so poor because the people were not able to pay
him anything and
he had a black frock coat.  He came home
and his wife said:
“Mr. McEwen, you’re going to have to stop preaching and get
a job because we cannot raise these children on what you make.”
He said: “Patch
my coat!”
“This coat has a big hole in it and I can’t patch it
“Patch my coat, woman!  Woe
unto me if I don’t preach the Gospel.”

So she patched his coat and he preached
the Gospel until he died in Arcadia in 1883

McEwan Beer Money Mixing with Royalty and the Aristocracy.  William McEwan, a successful Edinburgh brewer, had
stayed unmarried until the age of fifty-eight in 1885 when he married
erstwhile housekeeper Helen Anderson.
But it transpired that he had fathered a child, Maggie, with her
twenty years earlier.

Back in 1863, Maggie’s
birth certificate had stated that her parents were Helen Anderson and
Murray Anderson.  The latter was in fact
an employee at McEwan’s Edinburgh brewery. To save Helen’s reputation
and to
provide the baby with legitimacy, it is believed that McEwan sent Helen
William Anderson to London to have the baby. As they had the same
surname, no
one would question whether they were actually man and wife when they
Maggie’s birth.

At twenty-two, at the time of her parents’ real
marriage, there must have been rumors about Maggie’s actual parentage,
she was generally referred to as William McEwan’s stepdaughter.  This might have impaired her own marriage
prospects.   But beer money talked and
1891 she married Captain Ronnie Greville, heir to a
baronetcy and a member of the Marlborough house set, the social circle
the future King Edward VII.

Maggie and Ronnie lived in Mayfair and in 1906 they
bought Polesden Lacey near Dorking in Surrey as their weekend retreat.  However, two years later Ronnie died and in
1913 so did her father William – leaving her, as his only heir, with
what was
then a huge inheritance of 1.5 million pounds.

This she lavished on entertaining
as a Society hostess.  She hosted her
first house party at Polesden in 1909, the guest of honour being none
than King Edward VII.  She continued to
host the great and good of the day for the next thirty years –
including such
luminaries as Winston Churchill, Beverly Nichols and Queen Ena of Spain.  And she also remained close to the Royal
Family.  Prince Albert, who became George
VI, and his wife Elizabeth in fact spent part of their honeymoon at
Polesden in

Rory McEwen, Folk Singer and Painter.  An
Eton-educated aristocrat, Rory McEwen’s love of blues would take him
and his brother Alex to the US in the late 1950’s where he met the
widow of his hero Huddle “leadbeely” Ledbetter.  He also spent
time with folk singer Pete Seeger, as well as appearing on consecutive
nights on the Ed Sullivan Show.

When McEwen returned to the UK he went on to
host ATV’s Hullabaloo music
show and appeared on Tonight with Cliff Michelmore on
the BBC, inspiring young hopefuls such as Van Morrison and Billy
Connolly with
his 12-string guitar playing. The 1960’s found McEwen mixing with a bewildering array
of public
figures from Princess Margaret to Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar and Jim Dine,
deciding to put aside his music to concentrate on painting.

Although he would
also go on to create light-refracting Perspex sculptures and other art
it is his beautiful, hyper-realist paintings of plants upon which his
reputation as an artist rests.

In 1958 Rory had married the
debutante Romana von Hofmannsthal and they were to have four
children.   In 1982 he was diagnosed
with terminal cancer.  In a state of
despair, he threw himself under a train at the South Kensington tube
station.   He was just fifty.


McEwen/McEwan Names

  • Swene MacEwen who died in 1493 was the last chief of the MacEwen clan of Otter in Argyll. 
  • William McEwan founded the Fountain Brewery in
    Edinburgh in 1856.  His McEwan beer became
    a big seller in Britain and in the export market. 
  • Rob McEwen is a highly successful Canadian gold mining entrepreneur. 
  • Ian McEwan is an acclaimed British novelist who was the Man Booker prize winner in 1998 with Amsterdam.

Select McEwen/McEwan Numbers Today

  • 11,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Glasgow)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




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