Mausoleum of Waddell Cunningham (1729-1797) a wealthy Belfast merchant, leading member of the Volunteer movement and a radical but eventual opponent of the United Irishmen. A founding president of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce and first president of the Belfast Harbour Board, he numbered among those who made fortunes from slavery.
Born in 1729 the youngest son of a Co. Antrim farmer, he left Ireland for America in 1750. With Belfast-based partner Thomas Greg, he established a firm which, by 1775, was to become the largest shipping company in New York. A player in the trading of West Indian commodities, not only did he deal in the produce of slave labour but he was intimately involved in the trading of slaves within the islands of the Caribbean. Cunningham made a fortune and purchased an estate in the Ceded Islands (Dominica) which he called Belfast.
When Cunningham returned from America in 1766, he expanded his repertoire of interests to include general merchandising, land speculation, ship insurance, banking and even smuggling. While he also traded in Europe his Caribbean interests continued to develop and he became a partner in a sugar refinery and exported mules and coarse linen to the West Indies. Belfast's trade with the West Indies was more important than its trade with continental Europe and the fact that the longest voyages leaving from Belfast were to the Caribbean meant that it was an important employer of local seamen. As the West Indies offered little in the way of ship repairing Belfast established itself in that arena as well. Offshoots of this industry such as rope and sail manufacture flourished as a result.
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