Cunningham Surname Genealogy

The Scots name Cunningham was derived from the place-name Cunninghame
in northern Ayrshire. There are many different theories as to the
origin of Cunninghame

Cunningham Resources on

Cunningham Ancestry

Scotland. A Cunningham
family can trace their ancestry back to Wernebald, a vassal
of the Norman nobleman Hugh de Morville, who obtained the manor of
Cunningham from his feudal superior in the early 12th century.
One story has the Cunninghams appearing earlier, at the time
of Macbeth
. The first recorded spelling of the name
was Richard de Cunningham in
1210. Alexander Cunningham was made Lord Kilmaurs and the first
Earl of Glencairn in the late 15th century and assumed Finlaystone
as the family seat.

The early history was full of clan warfare, in particular against the
Montgomeries. The Montgomeries destroyed clan Cunningham’s
Kerelaw castle in 1488 and their feud continued for the next two
centuries. The Cunninghams were Royalist during the English Civil
War and British Government supporters during the Jacobite
uprising. It was Captain Cunningham who commanded the British
artillery at
Culloden which fired grapeshot at the advancing Jacobites.

James Cunningham, the 14th Earl, was a great
supporter and friend of the poet Robbie Burns. A Cunningham
family who lived near the Burns establishment in Dumfriesshire
contained two men who became poets, Thomas and Allan, and their brother
Peter who became a naval surgeon.

The 1891 census showed the Cunningham name mainly in Ayrshire and
neighboring Lanarkshire. The numbers at that time probably
included many Irish
Cunninghams in Glasgow.

Ireland. The Cunningham
name was brought to Ireland during the Scottish plantation of Ulster in
the 17th century. The first Cunninghams arrived
around 1610
and took up lands in Donegal confiscated
from prior Irish owners. The villages of Newtown
Cunningham and Manor Cunningham testify to their presence there.

Some Ulster Cunninghams acquired their
surnames differently. There had been a small sept of MacDonegan
in county Down, one of whom, John Donegan or MacDonnegan, was Bishop of
Down from 1395 to 1412. The spelling of this surname got
corrupted in some cases to
Cunningham in imitation of the Scottish settlers. However, their
pronunciation was closer to “Cuineagan.” The Cunningham name also
cropped up in the Connacht counties of
Galway and Roscommon. Their original Gaelic forms were O’Cunnigan
and MacCuinneagain, which became as well Cunningham.

The Scottish
influx, together with a considerable number of Irish Cunninghams, made
Cunningham surname common and widespread throughout Ireland.

America. John Cunningham
had come to Virginia in 1681 from Scotland
seeking religious freedom. Robert Cunningham of this family moved
to South Carolina in 1769 and became a wealthy plantation owner.
He was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War, lost his
lands, and departed for the Bahamas. William Cunningham, known as
“Bloody Bill” for his rough fighting on behalf of the British, was
deported to Cuba.
Another brother Patrick was able to stay
and his descendants held the Rosemont plantation until 1930 when it
burned down.

Cunninghams in
America are more likely to be Irish than Scottish in origin.
Early Cunninghams have included:

  • Thomas Cunningham who came to America from county Donegal in
    Ireland around 1737 and settled in Frederick county,
    Virginia. His descendants emigrated west to Ohio in the
    early 1800’s.
  • James Cunningham, also Scots Irish, who came with his brothers to
    Virginia in 1752. James settled in Augusta county and died there
    in 1763. His sons held land in Beverley manor. Later
    Cunninghams of this family were Presbyterian pioneers in Washington
    county, Tennessee. Dr. Samuel Blair Cunningham of
    this family led the building of the East Tennessee and Virginia
  • another Scots Irish was Barnett Cunningham who came from
    Ulster province
    and settled in York county, Pennsylvania sometime in the 1750’s.
    His son Barnett was the first ruling elder in the Tyrone Presbyterian
    Church in nearby Cumberland county.
  • meanwhile William Cunningham who had come to Albemarle county,
    Virginia in 1785 as a young boy, married there, and brought his family
    to Kentucky in 1818. His grave at the Cunningham cemetery in
    Twigg county is marked by a twelve foot monument erected by his
    descendants in 1936. The family genealogy has been covered in
    Bertie Gingles’ 1957 book History
    and Genealogy of William Cunningham

Canada. Cunningham’s Inn
had become a well-known establishment in Gloucester township near
Ottawa by the 1830’s, being a stop on the passing stagecoach
route. It was run by John Cunningham from Ireland and his
wife Catherine.

Robert Cunningham from county Tyrone in Ireland set out for the
West Coast in 1862 as a missionary for the Anglican Church Missionary
Society. He became an entrepreneur there and founded the town of
Essington in British Columbia. Another Robert Cunningham,
this time from Scotland, arrived in Canada in 1868 and also headed
west, to Manitoba. He ran a local newspaper in Winnipeg, the Manitoban, and became involved in
the local politics.

Australia. The first
Cunningham in Australia was a bit of a firebrand. Phillip
Cunningham, a veteran of the Irish rebellion in 1798 and the mutiny of
the convict transport ship Ann, led a convict rebellion against
the British colonial authority in Australia. The mutiny was
eventually put down and Cunningham was executed.

Peter Miller Cunningham from Dumfries in Scotland was a surgeon and
supervisor on convict ships. He wrote a highly informative
account of convict life in Australia in his 1827 book Two Years in New South Wales.

Another Scot, Andrew Cunningham, had bought land along the Murrumbidgee
river in NSW in 1848 and his family raised sheep there. His grand
homestead there, Lanyon House, was the center of a large sheep-raising
enterprise. The colorful story of this family was told in
Jennifer Horsfield’s 2004 book Mary
Cunningham, an Australian Life

Cunningham Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Cunningham Names

William Cunningham was briefly Lord High Treasurer of
Scotland in 1526.
John Cunningham was an 18th
century Irish actor, playwright and poet.
Arthur Browne Cunningham
(ABC) served as Commander in Chief
of the British
Mediterranean fleet during the Second World War.
Merce Cunningham was an
American dancer and choreographer, considered one of the greatest
creative forces in American modern dance of the late 20th

Select Cunninghams Today

  • 38,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in County Down, Northern Ireland)
  • 48,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 38,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



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