William Cuffay, a Black politician


William Cuffay
Date: 
Thu, 1788-04-24

The birth of William Cuffay in 1788 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black tailor, and politician.

From Chatham, Kent in England his father was a naval cook and former slave. A young Cuffay found work as an apprentice tailor. Also as a young man he held conservative views and as late as 1833. Cuffay argued against the formation of trade unions and was the last member of his lodge to join the (then) new tailors' union. Yet when the tailors' union came out on strike in April 1834, Cuffay joined them and as a result lost his job.

Angry about the way he had been treated and now convinced that workers needed to be represented in parliament, he became involved in the struggle for universal suffrage. In 1839 Cuffay joined the Metropolitan Tailors' Charter Association. He became an important figure in the Chartist movement in London and in 1842 was elected to the five man national executive of the National Charter Association. Later that year he was chosen to become president of the London Chartists. Cuffay argued for the Chartists to remain independent from the Anti-Corn Law League and was shown by newspapers as one of the leaders of the militants. The Times described the militants in London as "the black man and his party".

After 1845 Cuffay became associated with Fergus O'Connor. He supported O'Connor's Land Plan and in 1846 became auditor to the Land Company until 1848. He was also one of the three London delegates at the National Convention and was considered to be one of their most militant members. In the summer of 1848 a government spy provided information on a group of London Chartists. Based on the evidence, Cuffay was arrested, convicted, sentenced and transported to Tasmania for 21 years. His wife worked for Richard Cobden until she raised enough money to join her husband in 1853. Three years later all political prisoners in Tasmania were pardoned.

Cuffay did not to return to England and became a tailor in Tasmania. He became involved in radical politics and trade union issues and played an important role in persuading the authorities to amend the Master and Servant Law in the colony. William Cuffay died in poverty in Tasmania's workhouse in July 1870.

Reference:
100 great Black Britons

To become a Political Scientist

Person / name: 

Cuffay, William