CUNNINGHAM, JOHN, Scottish explorer in the employ of Denmark; b. 1575; d. 1651.
Contact between Denmark and the New World had been virtually non-existent from about 1500 until the 17th century, when Christian IV of Denmark dispatched three expeditions (1605, 1606, 1607) to recover the lost Scandinavian colonies in Greenland. Since England (now united with Scotland under James I) was the only country which had re-established communications with Greenland [see Frobisher and Davis], the Danes were naturally eager to secure the services of English and Scottish seamen who might be familiar with the route to Greenland. Dynastic ties were also close between the royal families of both countries (James I of England was the brother-in-law of Christian IV of Denmark) and Andrew Sinclair, a Scot, was one of the most trusted servants of the Danish king.
Cunningham entered the service of Christian IV in 1603 as a captain in the navy. In 1605 the king sent out an expedition under Cunningham’s command to recover Greenland, consisting of three ships, Trost (Consolation), Löven (Lion), and Marekatten or Katten (Cat), John Knight, captain. Cunningham’s ship was the Trost and on it he had as his first mate and “pilot” of the expedition another Englishman, James Hall.
From Hall’s valuable report to the king of Denmark we learn that after reaching Greenland Löven left the other two ships and soon returned home, but Cunningham and Hall sailed to Davis Strait and made a landfall in Greenland about 67°N at a spot named by Hall “Denmarkes Haven” on the south side of “Cunninghams Mount” (now Qaqatsiaq). After exploring parts of the country the expedition returned to Denmark with valuable cartographical data.
In 1606 King Christian sent out five ships, this time under the leadership of Godske Lindenow. Cunningham now commanded Löven and Hall was again pilot of the expedition and wrote an account of it. On this voyage they approached the shore of Labrador, then sailed almost to the mouth of Cumberland Sound and east to Greenland. This was Cunningham’s last voyage to Canadian waters. He remained in the Danish navy until 1619 when he became governor (lehnsman) of Vardöhuus in northern Norway, a post which he held until 1651, shortly before he died.