Select McEwen/McEwan Surname Genealogy

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.

Select McEwen/McEwan Resources on The Internet

Select 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 the 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 1911.

The McEwen spelling did persist with some families.  James McEwen who drowned at the age of forty-two in the Stinchar river 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 organised 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.
The McEwan spelling was more numerous, particularly on the west coast of Scotland 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.

William McEwan from Alloa founded the Fountain Brewery in Edinburgh in 1856 through money borrowed from his family.  This made him rich.  And beer money enabled his daughter Maggie to mix with royalty 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 Down. 

These counties also had similar-sounding names such as McKeown (originally MacEoin) and McCune which sometimes became McEwan: 
  • for instance, 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 printers’ 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 Bridge 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 in 1786.  A later George moved to Hinesburg in Vermont.  The line was covered in Ruth Coleman’s 1992 book Descendants of Robert McEwen.

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

“It is a tradition in the family that Isabella belonged to the Stuart family and that she and James 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 1798.

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 in 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 Methodist minister there.

John and Jerusah McEwen from North Carolina headed west, first stopping in Iowa 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 tracks.

.  Possibly the earliest McEwen arrival in Canada was Duncan McEwen, probably from Perthshire, who came to Prince Edward 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 descendants.

Charles and Jane McEwan, originally from Scotland, had settled in upstate New York before crossing the border into Ontario around 1815.  Their son John married
Margaret, the granddaughter of the American traitor Benedict Arnold, and they moved to Windsor where John opened a lumber 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.

New Zealand. 
John and Neil McEwan, the sons of Archibald McEwing from Islay in the Inner Hebrides, 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

Select MeEwen/McEwan Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select 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 McEwens/McEwans 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)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

Click here for reader feedback
Click here for return to front page