Richard Cameron lived from 1648 to 1680. He was a leader of the radical wing of the Presbyterians who resisted the efforts of Charles II to impose Episcopalian rule (rule by bishops) on the Scottish Kirk. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Cameron was born at Falkland in Fife. He started out as a teacher in a parish school before becoming a highly respected and popular Presbyterian preacher and leader of the most extreme faction of Covenanters. Because of his radical religious and political views Cameron spent some time in exile in the Netherlands, returning to Scotland after the Covenanters suffered a serious defeat at the hands of Government forces as the Battle of Bothwell Brig, on 22 June 1679.
On 22 June 1680, the anniversary of the Battle of Bothwell Brig, Richard Cameron entered Sanquhar in Ayrshire with a group of armed followers (variously known as "Society Folk", "Sanquharians" and "Hilimen"). Here he stood in front of the Mercat Cross and declared himself against Charles II as "the representative of the true Presbyterian Kirk and covenanted nation of Scotland." Cameron intended the Sanquhar Declaration to be the spark that would ignite a popular uprising. It never happened. Instead, the Government put a price on Cameron's head and moved troops into Ayrshire to hunt him down.
On 22 July 1680, Cameron and 60 of his followers were trapped by 120 Government dragoons at Airds Moss near Cumnock in Ayrshire. The "Sanquharians" fought bravely, but were eventually overwhelmed, and both Cameron and his brother were killed. The survivors were first taken to Edinburgh and then transported to the colonies.
Cameron himself became regarded as a martyr, something that has given his name and reputation an enduring quality that would probably have been lost had he not gone out in such spectacular and defiant failure. The man himself was not widely liked, even by the more determined Presbyterians among the Scottish Covenanters, many of whom found him too extreme. But his death turned his name into a rallying cry. From 1681, "Societies of Cameronians for the Maintenance of the Presbyterian Form of Worship" were formed in various parts of Scotland, and these formed the basis of a distinct church in 1690, taking the name of Reformed Presbyterians from 1743.
In 1688, the Protestant Lords of the Congregation raised the Cameronian Guard, named in memory of Richard Cameron. The following year this became part of the British army supporting William III, and the name "The Cameronians" was applied to a regiment of the British Army right up until its disbandment in the the 1980s.