Cameron, John (1724–99), presbyterian minister and writer, was born in Scotland; some sources say near Edinburgh, though Kinross is also mentioned. Nothing is known of his parents. He was apprenticed to an Edinburgh bookseller, and among the books picked up a love of literature and a wide knowledge of history and theology; he graduated MA from Edinburgh university. He became a probationer in the Reformed Presbyterian church, and went to Ireland before 1752; he preached in barns and fields, as well as in the houses where adherents met in covenanting societies. He was a popular preacher, and in 1754, when some members of the regular presbyterian congregation in Bushmills sought to break away from the ministry of the incumbent John Logue, they offered to call Cameron, provided he joined the presbytery of Route. Cameron's ability as a preacher, evident in his unusually prompt composition of a trial sermon, impressed the presbytery, and he was ordained in Dunluce 3 June 1755.
Cameron's theology underwent remarkable development a few years later, when a Church of Ireland clergyman lent him the then notorious book by John Taylor, Scripture doctrine of original sin. Far from loathing Taylor's thesis, as he had expected to do, Cameron was completely convinced by the arguments, and in time his own beliefs went beyond the sympathy for New Light theology that was tacitly tolerated in the general synod of his day. He strongly disapproved of man-made creeds, and took an active part in theological controversies (orthodox historians of the church would later admit the power of his sermons and writings, while denouncing his doctrines as pernicious). His works generally appeared anony-mously, though his authorship was an open secret; his pamphlet The catholic Christian (1769) was attacked in print by Benjamin McDowell (qv), who named him as author. Cameron produced two further works in the continuing controversy, one of which was Theophilus and Philander (1772). Though he could not sway McDowell (or later historians), others of his contemporaries held him in sufficient regard to elect him moderator of the general synod in 1767, and since he freely lent his sermons to colleagues, his views must have been widely disseminated in north Co. Antrim and Co. Londonderry.
In 1768 appeared Cameron's magnum opus, the only one to which he put his name: The Messiah, a prose epic in nine books. It is an ambitious production in exalted diction, in which Cameron's imaginative recreation of Satan's thought processes and scheming is almost that of a novelist. It was reprinted with a memoir of the author in 1811, and can still be read with interest. A manuscript dealing with the millennium remained unpublished in case of unintended political applications; it was said to foretell the French revolution in surprising detail. Francis Dobbs (qv), who urged publication, said he would rather have written it than be king of England. Another work, The doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, remained unpublished when Cameron died but was edited and published (1828) by Arthur Neilson (or Nelson), minister of Rademon, Co. Down; the orthodox Thomas Witherow (qv) described it as ‘repulsive reading’. Cameron died on 31 December 1799 at Park, Ballymagarry, and was buried in the old Dunluce graveyard.
Cameron was married (though nothing is known of his wife), and had at least one son, William, who as a result of correspondence between his father and Joseph Priestley, the famous unitarian scientist, moved to Birmingham to work. Two daughters married locally, and there were possibly other children, but a Simon Cameron (b. 1777), who became Reformed Presbyterian minister of Ballylaggan, is unlikely to have been his son.