Background on the Old Campbell Clans

Larry Pearce

The name “Campbell” may conjure up everything from soup to nuts. The soup part obviously relates to that proud all-American New Jersey company that provides a tasty lunch for millions of us everyday: real hospitality! Perhaps the nuts part reminds of that shameful part of our family who massacred the MacDonalds at Glencoe, Scotland, in 1692 after they refused to acknowledge allegiance to King William III. [See WWW. FIX.LAW-FIRM.CO.UK/GLENCOE.HTM or WWW.ELECTRICSCOTLAND.COM/HISTORY/GLENCOE/INDEX.HTML.] Historians believe that only 38 persons were killed of a possible 200 that day, but according to Charlene McGowan, “It was not so much the deed itself that brings about the continuing hatred; it was the way it was done. According to Scottish hospitality one did not wage war against the one who cared for you. If you had a grievance with your host, you left and then came back to fight with honor.” You see, Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon along with his120 men had accepted room, board, and entertainment for over a week from MacDonald of Glencoe and then slaughtered him, his wife, family, and his men, mostly in the early morning hours as they slept. The point is that, as with any surname, history will reveal both the bad and the good. Our research has uncovered, and we will report, mostly good things about the Campbells.

In a lengthy series of articles, lists at least three major branches of the great Campbell family by their origination: Argyll, Loudoun, and Breadalbane. This does not include the Campbell clan of Ireland, probably a transplant that sprung up after the 1610 plantation movement of James I. [See “Background on the Scots-Irish.”] We’ll explore these and others as we consider the Campbell family tree that extends from King Kenneth MacAlpin, who ruled from 843 to 860, to the Campbells who settled in America in the 19th Century. We’ll learn about the Campbell crest and motto and hear about some Campbells from all over the world, some famous and some infamous.

We suggested in an earlier article that the name Campbell came from two Gaelic words, “cam” and “beul,” together meaning “a wry (or crooked) mouth with arched lips,” a derogatory term given probably by a neighboring clan out of jealousy or a real accusation of “moral defects” (New Dictionary of American Names, 1973). But, while claiming that the name’s origin as well as the family’s founder cannot be identified, mentions a Norman knight named “de Campo Bello,” which incidentally is Italian not French, who supposedly came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. No such name is on that roll of battle, but he could have come after the war, and it should be noted that King Robert Bruce’s roll of 1320 had a Sir Nigel de Camp Bello (sometimes translated “Neil Campbell). But, as early as the 11th Century there was an Archibald (also called Gillespie) Campbell with ties to the O’Duin family of Lochlow and Strachur. We’ll talk about him in a minute.

Whatever the origin, the Campbells have not only survived, they have dominated. They defeated and outlasted the families M’Dougall, Stewart, M’Naughton, M’Allister, M’Fies, and of course the clan Donald. In an online article entitled, “The Great Historic Families of Scotland,” The author claims:
Throughout their long career the Campbells have always been staunch supporters of the cause which, whatever temporary reverses it might suffer, was sure to win in the end—the cause of the independence of Scotland against foreign aggression; the cause of Protestantism against Popery and of freedom against despotism. (

Celtic legend has it that a brave man named Diarmid O”Duibhne once killed a ferocious wild boar that had been ravaging the district of Kintyre. Diarmid, in order to win his love’s devotion, decided to boast and measure the length of the dead pig by “stepping it off” in his bare feet. The boar’s bristles were poisonous however, and after managing to carelessly stick himself, he died. Today, a mountain in Kintyre is named Benan Tuire, or “the hill of the boar.” The natives of that area, Argyll or “Land of the Gael,” claim the brave (yet foolish?) Diarmid as their patriarch. It was his heiress named Eva who married Archibald (or Gillespie) Campbell and thus transferred the legend of the boar, the bravery of Diarmid, and the land of Argyll to our family.

Sir Colin Campbell of Lochow (d. 1294) is universally recognized as the first head of the Argyll family with the modern Campbell name, though he was sixth in descent from the first Gillespie. He was knighted by King Alexander III of Scotland in 1266. His oldest son, Neil (or Nigel), at first sided with King Edward I of England but then fought along side Robert Bruce for Scottish independence and even married Robert’s sister, Mary. The many noble Campbells who followed, all Sirs and Lords, built many national treasures that still stand today, including Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe. Inverary Castle, built in 1773 on the banks of Loch Fyne, is still the home of the Duke of Argyll and headquarters of Clan Campbell, but its primary tenant, Ian Campbell, Scotland’s leading aristocrat, died recently at the age of 63 following heart surgery. His son, 33-year old Sir Torquhil Ian Campbell, the 13th Duke of Argyll, will take his place. The region of Argyll rests on the western side of Scotland and is thought to be “The cradle of the Scottish race” because of the ancient invasion of the tribal Scots from Ireland. Samuel Johnson remembered the Vikings who once ruled here and wrote of this rugged seaside land:
Savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge and the blessings of religion.

Alexander Pope has immortalized the power of this royal Scottish house with the lines:
Argyll, the state’s whole thunder born to wield,
And shake alike the senate and the field.

The second son of Colin Campbell, Donald, was the progenitor of the Loudoun line of Campbells. Margaret, the heiress of this estate, belonging to one of Scotland’s oldest families, was the grandmother of freedom fighter William Wallace of Brave Heart fame. She married Reginald Crawford [see “Our Crawford Family Tree” and remember that James Crawford came to America before Thomas Campbell] the high sheriff of Ayrshire. According to The Doomsday Book, a census taken in the 12th century after the British conquest by William, the Loudoun properties consisted of 18,638 acres with great rental value and high mineral yields.

The Campbell’s of Breadalbane, under Sir Colin, have been called the most powerful of the clan’s branches because of their alignment with the British crown, particularly Charles II in 1653. [See “Background on the Scots-Irish.”] Their house is called Glenurchy. An old manuscript entitled The Black Book, found in Taymouth Castle, names a Duncan Campbell as coming to the house of Lochow in 1067. By 1681 British King William of Orange entrusted the Earl of Breadalbane to bring Scottish Jacobite (Protestant) chieftains to his side. It is said that the Earl was so wealthy and powerful that he could from the east end of Loch Tay to the coast of Argyll without ever leaving Campbell land (Martine’s Scottish Clans & Family Names, 1987). Breadalbane’s descendant John Campbell, through the original Colin, built the castle of Kilchurn (or Coalchuirn) overlooking Lochawe in 1440 [actually, his wife had it built because John was away for years with the Crusades].

Other official Campbell family branches include:
• The Macarthur Campbells of Strachur, on the other side of Loch Fyne from Colin, also supporters of Robert Bruce, who rewarded them with the castle of Dunstaffnage. It was said that so great was Macarthur’s following that he could bring 1,000 men onto any battlefield. His claim ended in 1427 when James I beheaded him.
• The Campbells of Cawdor (or Clader) begun in 1510.
• The Campbells of Aberuchill, Perthshire, in 1596. A son, Sir James, was granted a baronet in Nova Scotia in the 17th Century.
• The Campbells of Ardamurchan are a branch of Sir Donald’s Loudoun line created in 1625.
• The Campbells of Ardkinglass became a baronet in 1679. Extinct in 1832.
• The Barcaldine or Glenure branch was conferred in 1831.
Many other Campbell houses exist or existed.

According to
The gentry of the Campbell name are decidedly the most numerous, on the whole, in Scotland, if the clan be not indeed the largest. But, the great power of the chiefs called into their ranks, nominally, many other families besides the real Campbells, the lords of that line, in short, obtained so much of permanent power in the district of Dhu Galls, or Irish Celts, as to bring these largely under their sway, giving to them at the same time that general clan-designation.

The Internet and Scottish genealogical literature has many Campbell family trees, some so detailed as to make your head spin. But, I want to share a simple diagram of a Campbell lineage that was given to me by a friend from church, Kathy Blough, with whom I share several other surnames. It ends in America in the 20th Century, but I will stop in the mid 18th Century because there the Campbell name ends and because her family emigrated to West Virginia. There is no indication where most of these kings and commoners lived except for the final names below, who were both born in Ireland, but I believe that our Thomas Campbell’s ancestors could have been born to any of these couples. I hope this list will help you sort out the many Campbells with similar names mentioned above who seemed to intermarry so frequently (also, notice the French and English influences):

➢ Alpin Key
➢ *Kenneth MacAlpin (r. 843-860) * King of Scotland
➢ *Constantine I (r. 863-877) r. Reigned
➢ *Donald II (r.899-900) m. Married
➢ *Malcolm (r. 943-954)
➢ *Kenneth II (r. 971-995)
➢ *Malcolm II (r. 1005-1034)
➢ *Bethoc m. Crinan of Dunkeld
➢ *Duncan I (r. 1034-1040
➢ *Malcolm III Canmore m. Margaret (daughter of Edward Atheling)
➢ *David I of Scotland (1084-1153) m. (1109) Maud (daughter of Waltheof II)
➢ *Henry (Earl of Northunberland) m. (1139) Adaline (daughter of William, E. of Warren)
➢ David (Earl of Huntington) m. Maud de Maschines
➢ Isabel de Huntington m. Robert de Brus (Bruce)
➢ Robert Bruce (claimant to crown) m. Isabel de Clare
➢ Robert Bruce (1243-1304) m. Marhory de Carrick
➢ *Robert Bruce (1274-1329) m. Isabel (daughter of Donald, 10th Earl of Mar)
➢ Marjory Bruce m. Walter Stewart
➢ *John (Robert II) Stewart (1315-1390) M. Elizabeth Mure
➢ Robert Stewart M. Margaret Graham
➢ Majory Stewart (Stuart) m. Duncan Campbell
➢ Archibald Campbell m. Elizabeth Somerville
➢ Sir Colin Campbell (1st Earl of Argyll) m. Isabel Stewart
➢ Sir Archibald Campbell (2nd Earl of Argyll) m. Elizabeth Stewart
➢ Sir John Campbell m. Muriel Calder (Cawder)
➢ John Campbell m. Mary Kieth
➢ Sir John Campbell m. Jean Campbell
➢ Sir Colin Campbell m. Elizabeth Brodie
➢ Margaret Campbell m. Sir Archibald Campbell
➢ Sir Duncan Campbell m. Harriet (daughter of Alexander, 1st Earl of Balsearres)
➢ Sire James Campbell m. Susan Campbell
➢ Mary Campbell (1690-1742) m. (1704) Michael Woods (last generation Scotch-Irish)

In 1774 Benjamin Franklin estimated the Sctoch-Irish population in Pennsylvania to be at least 190,000, or about one-third of the population in the commonwealth. Author John H. Findley said, “Scotland was the seedbed, Ulster the hardening-off ground, and America the field of transplanting.” According to Richard Grenier, in an article entitled “Braveheart: The legacy of a People,” by the time of the American Civil War, about three-quarters of the white population of the South was of Celtic descent. The Confederate blood-curdling “rebel yell” was no doubt and imitation of the Highland Scot war cry. More recently, 31 of the 78 Medals of Honor awarded to American Army personnel in the Korean conflict went to Southerners, half of whom are of Scottish descent.

Over the years, each branch of the original Scottish Campbells developed its own unique coat of arms, but at least one common thread still exists: the oared galley, the connection by origin or marriage to the Western Gaels, the Island Kings. Burke’s General Armory describes a common one as follows:
Gyronny [rotation] of eight SA [black and gold sections] and/or a bordure [black border] of the first charged with eight crescents of the second.

Above the shield and helmet is the crest which consists of two naturally colored galley oars, crossed diagonally.

The logo used at previous Thomas Campbell reunions has included a red-cloaked wild boar sitting atop an eight-section black and gold shield. This is an obvious reference to the Gaelic legend of Diarmid of Kintyre related above, but we are still researching this.

While the Breadalbanes have the motto “Follow Me,” our Thomas Campbells, of unknown origin, recognize “Ne oblivis caris,” which we are still researching. Another source lists the family motto as “Victorium Coronat Christus,” which is “Christ Crowns Victory.”

The tartan kilt, or plaid skirt, is considered the national dress of the Scot. During the 12th Century the uniform was a symbol of rebellion, but today it is considered high fashion in all parts of the British Isles. There are four authentic tartans worn by Campbells, according to a statement by MacCailein More, 12th Duke of Argyll:
Just four sets are authorized Campbell Tartans: “Ancient” or “Campbell,” Campbell of Breadalbane, Campbell of Cawdor, and Campbell of Loudoun. To be faithful to Scottish tradition, only those descended from the Houses of Breadalbane, Casdor, and Loudoun should wear the tartans belonging to those houses; all others Campbells and members of other Campbell septs [in-laws] should wear “ancient” or “Campbell” tartans, which is composed of thread of only three colors: blue, green, and black, with no overstripes of any other color.

Ancient Campbell, incidentally, is the tartan worn by the famous Regiment of the Black Watch. Some Campbells wear a lighter shade of green and blue in the daytime and darker ones for evening and formal wear.

Your local library or history and genealogy center has many references containing information on surnames. One such book, The Campbell Family History, was compiled by Gwen Campbell and published in Keno, Oregon in 1988. An Internet search using the Campbell name will reveal dozens of family sites. The following is an interesting list of famous Campbells from another library source :

– John (1653-1728) born in Scotland. Boston Postmaster and publisher of the Boston News-Letter.
– George (1719-1796) born in Scotland, Presbyterian minister, philosopher, and principal and professor of divinity at Marischal College. He wrote Dissertation on Miracles and The Philosophy of Rhetoric.
– Lord William (d. 1778) colonial governor of South Carolina. Fled to England after Indians and Tories attempted a coup.
– Thomas (1763-1854) born in Ireland. With son Alexander (1778-1866) founded the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church)
– George Washington (1769-1848) born in Scotland. Tennessee lawyer, served in Congress and Senate. Treasury Secretary and minister to Russia.
– John Wilson (1782-1833) Congressman from Ohio and U.S. District Judge.
– John McLeod (1800-1872) born in Scotland. Minister at Rhu and wrote The Nature of Atonement.
– Charles (1807-1876) wrote An Introduction to the History of the Colony and Ancient Dominion of Virginia and editor of the Bland Papers.
– William Bowen (1807-1867) Tennessee Congressman and governor.
– William Henry (1808-1890) president of Rutgers College, New Jersey.
– John Archibald (1811-1889) justice of the Supreme Court but left to serve the Confederacy as assistant secretary of state, then practiced law in New Orleans.
– James (1812-1893) of PA was U.S. Postmaster General.
– Allen (1813-1894) civil engineer who built railroads in GA, NY, and Chile. President of the Harlem Railroad.
– George Washington (1817-1898) horticulturist who developed the “Campbell Early” grape.
– Andrew (1821-1890) inventor and manufacturer who developed paper-feed mechanisms and automatic features for printing presses.
– James Valentine (1823-1890) justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.
– Josiah A. Patterson (1830-1917) justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court.
– Francis Joseph (1832-1914) blind since birth, became a music teacher and cofounder of the Royal Academy of Music for the Blind in London.
– Sir Henry (1836-1908) born in Scotland, son of Sir James who went from being a draper to Lord Provost and to Prime Minister in 1905. He added his uncle’s name Bannerman to inherit his estate.
– Helen Stuart (1839-1918) author, reformer, and home economist who wrote about the poverty of the New York slums.
– Bartley (1843-1888) PA playwright who wrote The White Slave and The Virginian, My Partner.
– Thomas Joseph (1848-1925) Jesuit priest, president of Fordham University, and editor of The Jesuits.
– Marius Robinson (1858-1940) geologist who studied national coal resources.
– Prince Lucien (1861-1925) president of the University of Oregon.
– William Wallace (1862-1938) early astrophysicist and president of University of California.
– Charles Macfie (1876-1943) born in Scotland, a physician who studied mental illness.
– Persia Crawford (1898-1974) born in Australia, an economist and consumer advocate who wrote pamphlets and worked in radio and television.
– Joseph (1904-1987) writer and lecturer on myths: The Masks of God, Flight of the Wild Gander, and Myths to Live By.
In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a quote and a song. Guy Klett, research historian with the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, in his Pennsylvania History Study Number Three (1948) says:
As a people of positive convictions and accustomed to asserting their rights and independence in their religious experiences from Scotland to America—an attitude that led to divisions in the family of Presbyterians that persist to the present day—they soon showed the same trend in their political alignments after independence had been realized.

He goes on to name the American presidents whose forebears were from the Scotch-Irish communities in Pennsylvania: Buchanan, McKinley, Wilson, and Grant. Other famous Americans with Scotch-Irish roots in other states include: General George Patton, Thomas Stonewall Jackson, Sam Houston, Davey Crockett, John Paul Jones, and President Andrew Jackson. So, we can be proud of our heritage, from commoners to kings, and yes, to presidents. As our research continues, new chapters in the series will be added, but meanwhile, lets celebrate with a chorus of “Scotland the Brave:”
Hark when the night is falling. Hear, hear the pipes are calling.
Loudly and proudly calling down through the glen.
There, where the hills are sleeping. Now feel the blood a-leaping
High as the spirits of the old Highland men.

Towering in gallant flame, Scotland, my mountain home.
High may your proud standards gloriously wave.
Land of the high endeavor. Land of the shining river.
Land of my heart forever. Scotland the Brave.

2 Responses to Background on the Old Campbell Clans

  1. Dennis Graft says:

    My mother was born a Campbell, however my last name is Graft (Dennis Michael Graft). I live in the mountains 50 miles south of Pittsburgh Penna.

    • admin says:

      Lots of Scots-Irish Campbells in the hills & valleys from West Virginia north through Western Pennsylvania, Dennis. I just drove past Fox Chapel and O’Hare Township (Pittsburgh) the other day where my mother’s Campbells grew tomatoes for H.J. Heinz many years ago. Lots of wonderful history there. Thanks for tuning in and reporting back.

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