Adam Cunningham, I

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Adam Cunningham, I

Birthdate: (83)
Birthplace: Shankill Parish, Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland
Death: 1797 (83)
Smithville, Ritchie Co. West Virginia
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Cunningham and Jeannie Valentine
Husband of Catherine Cunningham
Father of Nutter Webb; John Cunningham; Edward Cunningham; Walter Cunningham and Adam Cunningham
Brother of John Cunningham, Sr and Walter Cunningham

Managed by: Erica Howton
Last Updated:

About Adam Cunningham, I

Adam Cunningham was born in Shankill Parish, Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland, 1713/1714. He and his brother Walter moved to Orange County, Virginia around 1740. He died 1797 in Harrison, VA (now Ritchie County, West Virginia).


  1. before 1730 to Catherine ?

Children of Adam Cunningham and Catherine:

  1. Adam ll (1730-1797) m. Rachel Morgan (1746-1841)
  2. Ephriam (1732-1827) m. Elizabeth ?
  3. Joseph (1736-1831) m. ?
  4. William (1738-1833) m. Arseneth Moore (1738-1837)
  5. John (1744-1782) m. Ann Tapp (1732-1789)
  6. Edward (1746-1804) m. Sarah Price
  7. Walter (1749-1834) m. Hanna Leith (1749-1803)
  8. Thomas (1754-1826) m. Phoebe Tucker (1761-1845)

Cunninghams of the Valley of Virginia

By the 1750s there were at least nineteen distinctly separate families living west of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Most of them resided in valleys drained by the twin branches of the Shenandoah River or further to the south in the section drained by the James River. This vast tract of fertile land is known as the "Valley of Virginia." A few Cunningham families lived still further west in the high plateaus of the mountains beyond the front ranges of the Alleghany Mountains on land drained by the "Wappacomico," the Indian name for the South Branch of the Potomac River.

Where these Cunningham families lived before their removal to the wild, unstable, frontier of pre-Revolutionary War Virginia has not been ascertained with any degree of certainty. Some, especially those in the Southern section, are reported to have come from Ireland, most probably the northern section where the majority of Protestants resided. It is likely that the Cunninghams of the northern section also came from northern Ireland but rumors have circulated that they came from Pennsylvania, eastern Virginia in the section around Alexandria, or from Scotland.

These nineteen families were a diverse group and probably represented a cross section of the residents of western Virginia in those early years. Some were highly successful and left vast estates to their descendants; others barely escaped debtor's prison. Some had happy marriages; others were less happy and a few ended in separation or divorce. At least one Cunningham held high political office in the Colony of Virginia; others seem to have had little interest in community affairs. Many Cunninghams were officers and soldiers in the Revolutionary War while some of their cousins who lived in the same area fought on the side of the British.

The one trait all the Cunninghams had in common, and it was a trait shared by most residents of the Valley of Virginia, was their tenacity in acquiring land -- and it is through these land dealings, with the help of a few wills, that is it possible to sort the many Johns, Roberts, Walters, James, Thomases, etc. into groups and establish relationships.

Biographical notes

In depositions given by Adam in 1770, he stated that he was 57 years old and that he "came to this Colony about 30 years." This would place his birth about 1713 and his settlement in Virginia about 1740. The reconstructed census for 1740 records his residency in Orange County, Virginia and an early Augusta County record shows he was taxed 91 pounds of tobacco in 1744. Adam's date of birth and settlement in Virginia correspond with Adam Cunningham of Shankill Parish, Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland, who was born in 1714 and moved to Virginia with his brother, Walter, as a young man.

In 1742/3 Adam signed a road petition in Orange County. By March 1746/7, a road was ordered from Caleb Jones' [Caleb Job] Mill down to the county line. Adam's name appears in the Augusta County court order along with James McKay, Moses McKay, Thomas Grubbs, Zachery McKay, William Hursh [or Hurst], Joshua Job, Ephrm Leech [Ephriam Leith] and Caleb Job. The road was built, but proved unsuitable, so another road petition was filed in Augusta County on May 22, 1751. It was noted that "about 3 years ago it was ordered to open a road from Caleb Job's plantation down the South side of the said North River to James McCoy's plantation." The new petition asked that the road to James McKay's plantation be replaced by a more suitable one, crossing the river at Brush Bottom Ford and running along the river by Henry Spear's plantation. [Note: the surnames McCoy and McKay seem to be used interchangeably in many court records.] Again, Adam Cunningham was among those who signed the petition. The road was approved the following year. Henry Spears, Josias Parent, Adam Cunningham, and others were asked to keep it in repair.

In 1752 Adam Cunningham and James McCoy were assignees of William Hurst of Augusta County, receiving 216 acres on Flint Run, adjoining Alexander Mathews and Thomas Norman. This land later became part of Shenandoah County and was granted to James McCoy and Adam Cunningham on April 3, 1765.

A land warrant was issued to William Safer in 1754 for 255 acres adjoining Alexander Matthews and Ephraim Leith and included a place called Lick Hollow. Adam Cunningham claimed an older entry for the same land and had the land surveyed in October 1756 by George Hume (Tract P-16 Map 12). The land at Lick Hollow was granted to Adam in 1771.

Adam, his brother Walter, and Adam's son's Edward and John were all members of the colonial militia. Frederick County court martial records for Henry Spear's Company show that Adam was fined 30 shillings in October 1758 for missing 1 general and 2 private musters; Adam and Walter were both fined 50 shillings in November 1760 for missing 1 general and 4 private musters.

In the fall of 1765, Adam purchased 197 acres from Shadrack and Elizabeth Parlour (Tract K-97, Map 12). The land was located in present-day Page County, south of Overall and contained a water grist mill, which became known as Cunningham's Mill. In 1772, Abraham Keller was appointed to take his list of tithables from the county line to Adam Cunningham's Mill and Henry Nelson from Cunningham's Mill to Pass Run. It doesn't appear that Adam lived on this piece of land; perhaps the mill was operated and maintained by his sons. This land later became part of indentures in 1792 and 1793.

In February 1768, Adam received a Fairfax grant for an additional 133 acres on Flint Creek, a drain of South River, about one mile east of Bentonville. This land adjoined James McCoy, Alexander Matthews, Reuben Paget, and his own land. Adam and his wife, Catherine, sold this tract on April 4, 1769 to John Jacob, Isaac Hite, John Nelson, and Alexander Woodrow of the town of Falmouth, King George County, for 50 pounds. This transaction had a negative impact at a later date, when Andrew Woodrow, administrator of Woodrow and Nelson, claimed damages in 1783 for breach of promise.

In 1770, Adam Cunningham was living on his 255-acre tract at Lick Hollow. Adam sold the land in October 1793 to Thomas Hawkins of Charles County, Maryland for 175 pounds.

Philip Groom was appointed overseer of the road from Adam Cunningham's Run to Gooney's Run in room of Zekel Morgan, June 1773. Adam's brother, Walter, settled land on Gooney's Run.

In 1775, Adam and his family were listed on Dunmore County's "List or number of persons included in the District of Henry Nelson, Junior", with 5 people in his household: three males and two females. Four persons were over the age of 16 and one person was under 16. There were no blacks.

Adam received a fourth Fairfax grant on April 1,1779 for 89 acres, adjoining his own land. This land also became part of the indentures in 1792 and 1793.

Adam's brother, Walter Cunningham, died sometime between March and May 1781. On August 30, Ann Cunningham (assumed to be Walter's widow) and Adam Cunningham were granted letters of administration for Walter's estate.

Although no Revolutionary War records have been found for Adam, he supported the cause for freedom from England and filed a "Publick Claim" in Shenandoah County, August 1782 for sundries 10 pounds, 11 shillings, 10 pence and 26 diets, 19 shillings.

The census list of Abraham Keller, for Shenandoah County, 1785 shows Adam Cunningham with nine whites, two dwellings, and three other buildings. At this time, they were probably living on land settled by Walter Cunningham. In June of 1786, while recording "Improvements in the Northern Neck," Jonathan Clark noted that Adam Cunningham, senior and his family were living on land that was part of Walter Cunningham's claim. There were two old log dwelling houses with a stone chimney between them and a fireplace in each house. Each house was covered with clap boards and measured 20 by 16. An apple orchard contained twenty-five trees and thirty acres of best bottom and ten acres of first rate high land were cultivated, but in bad order. A separate entry for 3 acres of best bottom is noted for Adam. No dwellings were listed. This entry was made between James Leith and James Ireland, indicating a separate piece of land from the one listed above.

In 1787, Adam lived in Shenandoah County. He paid one tithe personal property tax for himself, one tithe for Walter [his son] and another for an unnamed servant. He had four horses and eighteen cattle.

Although Adam never held public office, he was occasionally called upon to help survey land, appraise the estates of deceased neighbors, and report conveniences and inconveniences of local roads in Augusta, Frederick, Dunmore, and Shenandoah Counties.

Adam periodically encountered financial troubles and was taken to court for debt, breach of promise, and even selling liquor without a license. When Walter Cunningham was taken to court for debt in June 1773, Adam "undertook for the defendant." When Robert and Adam Cunningham were both arrested in 1774 for debts owed to Alexander Macher, Adam appeared as bail for Robert, and Walter Cunningham appeared as bail for Adam. In August 1782, Andrew Woodrow, administrator for Alexander Woodrow and John Nelson took Adam to court regarding a breach of promise. Adam was required to pay 25 pounds, 6 shillings, and 8 pence, besides the administrator's costs. A year later, on August 28, 1783, Adam was back in court because damages for the breach of promise had not been paid. The court specified damages at 15 pounds, 17 shillings and 3 pence, besides costs and the plaintiff was to recover damages as agreed upon before. The next day, on August 29, Adam was arrested, in what appears to be a different case (Henry Humbough vs. Adam Cunningham). Judgment was given against Adam and his security for the damages and cost were provided by Edwin Young. In addition to these cases, the Grand Jury made presentments against Adam for retailing liquors in November 1773 and November 1782. Adam was finally given permission in 1784 to keep a tavern at his house, "having given bond and security according to law."

After liquidating one piece of property, Adam did not have enough money to repay his debts. An indenture was made on November 23, 1793, between Adam, Walter and his wife Hannah, and Joseph Ruffner to Thomas Allen. For 230 pounds, Thomas Allen received: the land and a water grist mill purchased by Adam in 1765, 120 acres conveyed to Walter Cunningham by Josiah Leith in 1784, and 89 acres granted to Adam Cunningham April 1, 1779. It is assumed that Adam's wife, Catherine was deceased at this time, since her name does not appear on the indenture for 1792 or 1793.

By the fall of 1793, Adam was 79 years old, widowed, and had liquidated all of his property. Perhaps he spent his remaining years living with his son Walter. Adam probably died in Shenandoah County. Since he did not own land at the time of his death, no probate record was necessary.


Works Cited

Source data

  • Bockstruck, Virginia's Colonial Soldiers.
  • Brumbaugh, Revolutionary War Records.
  • Chalkley, Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia.
  • Farwell, Four Generations of Cunninghams of Ireland.
  • Gilbreath, Shenandoah County, Virginia, Order Book 1772-1774.
  • Gray, Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants.
  • Joyner, Abstracts of Virginia's Northern Neck Warrants & Surveys.
  • Joyner, Abstracts of Virginia's Northern Neck Warrants & Surveys: The Jonathan Clark Notebook, 1786.
  • O'Dell, Pioneers of Old Frederick County, Virginia.
  • Northern Neck Warrants & Surveys: Orange & Augusta Counties.
  • National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Volume 39, Lord Fairfax Rent Rolls.
  • 1744 Frederick County, Virginia. Fee Tax Schedule.
  • Shenandoah County, Virginia, Personal Property Tax, 1785.
  • Virginia in 1740: A Reconstructed Census.
  • Virginia Publick Claims.
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Adam Cunningham, I's Timeline

Shankill Parish, Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland
Age 16
Age 30
Frederick, Virginia
March 18, 1745
Age 31
May 4, 1746
Age 32
Cunningham Run Harrison Co. West Virginia
Age 35
Shenandoah, Virginia
Age 83
Smithville, Ritchie Co. West Virginia
Age 83