Thomas McCabe (1739-1820), was a prominent United Irishman and merchant in Belfast. Prior to the founding of the United Irishmen, McCabe was heavily involved in Belfast's liberal and radical community, being a leading figure in the city's anti-slavery circle. McCabe's exploits as an abolitionist led Theobald Wolfe Tone to style him as the 'Irish Slave'. The United Irishmen, as an organization were totally opposed to the practice of slavery and resisted the purchase of rum, sugar, fruit, and tobacco produced in slavery plantations.
McCabe, the son of a watchmaker, was born in Lurgan, Co. Armagh and moved to Belfast in 1762. "McKabe" set up a clock-making shop on Donegal St near the Four Corners and became a Freemason and member of Lodge 684. As one of the founding members of the Belfast Charitable Society, McCabe installed the first cotton spinning mill in the town at Belfast Poor House aka Clifton House. He also donated to the building of a new White Linen Hall in 1782.
Thomas McCabe is probably best remembered as the Presbyterian radical who kept the slave ships out of Belfast. In 1786, he clashed with plans for Belfast ships to be commissioned in the hideous practice of slavery that indentured people from Africa while enriching those that exploited them.
Having traded extensively in the Caribbean, Waddell Cunningham (the richest man in the city, and president of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce) and Thomas Gregg planned to form the ‘Belfast Slaveship Company’ in the hopes of emulating the profits seen by merchants in Liverpool and Bristol. They proposed to first ship goods to the Gold Coast in Australia, after which they would purchase slaves in Africa and bring them to the West Indies plantations before returning back to Belfast with vast cargoes of sugar and brandy.
McCabe made an impassioned speech against the plan and uttered a warning which still echoes down Irish history today: "May God wither the hand and consign the name to eternal infamy of the man who will sign that document." Because the efforts of Thomas McCabe and many other anti-slavery campaigners, Belfast remained one of the few major ports in the British Isles to have turned its face against the slave trade.
McCabe was a founding member of the Belfast Society of United Irishmen.
Thomas McCabe's watchmaking shop in North Street was famous for its sign “Irish slave licensed to sell gold and silver”
McCabe held a farm of 10 acres on lease in perpetuity at "Cross Loanings" and built a home here which he named the "Vicinage" on account of its proximity to Belfast. It was here that the meetings to plan the 1798 attack on Antrim were held. During and after the insurrection, his shop in North St was repeatedly attacked by government troops.
In 1883, the Vicinage house and farm were sold to Dr. Crolly. Today St.Malachy's College stands on the site of the McCabe home from which Vicinage Park takes its name. Thomas McCabe was interred at Clifton Street Cemetery, Belfast.
|Date of Birth||1739|
|Date of Death||1820|
|Mother (First Name/s and Maiden)||Mary Maziere c.1717-1801|
|Father (First Name/s and Surname)||Patrick McCabe, c 1708-1785, watch and clockmaker – who erected the clock on the steeple of Shankill Church of Ireland.||VIEW SOURCE|
|Townland born||Lurgan, Co Armagh|
|Names of Siblings||William McCabe (1740-1785) watchmaker Lisburn & Newry| John McCabe, clockmaker Dublin > Baltimore in 1772 | James McCabe 1748-1811 > London est "House of McCabe"|
|Spouse (First Name/s and Maiden/Surname)||Jean Woolsey (d.1790) daughter of John Woolsey, a merchant of Portadown|
|Names of Children||William Putnam McCabe|