Belfast is a seaport located on the Penobscot Bay, at the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River. It was once the territory of the Abenaki Indians, who visited each summer to hunt and fish. In 1630, it was granted rights for English trading posts with the Indians. In 1720, General Samuel Waldo of Boston took ownership of the land, and it was known as Waldo until sold in 1759 by his heirs to Scots-Irish proprietors, and renamed Belfast after Belfast, Ireland. First settled in 1770, Belfast was incorporated as a town in 1773. The British military burned Belfast in 1779, and also held it in 1814 for five days during the war of 1812. Following the war, the seaport rebuilt and thrived. In 1853, Belfast became the 8th city incorporated in Maine, and developed into a shipbuilding center. Shipbuilders became wealthy and built the historic mansions and civic architecture for which the city is noted.
As shipbuilding faded in 1900, the economy shifted to harvesting seafood for the Boston and New York markets. Following World War II, until the national recession of the 1970s, the Belfast economy had been driven by the poultry industry. However, the collapse of this industry resulted in an exodus of people from the area. Artists and young college graduates arrived at that time. In the 1990s, credit-card giant MBNA established a facility in Belfast, which increased the population significantly. Belfast is a prime coastal village.