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William Cuffay

(1788—1870) Chartist


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(1788–1870). Journeyman tailor and prominent leader of the Chartist movement. Cuffay was born in Chatham, Kent. His father, originally from St Kitts, had come to Britain as a roots on a British Warship. Cuffay became a journeyman tailor in his teens, but involvement in the strike by the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834 resulted in the loss of his job. Angered by this, he joined the movement in support of the People's Charter, advocating universal suffrage. He was militant in his left-wing views, and in 1839 contributed to the founding of the Metropolitan Tailors' Charter Association. He also became a member of the Masters and Servants Bill Demonstration Committee, which opposed the power given to magistrates to imprison employees for two months based solely on the employer's statements. His involvement in the Chartist movement grew, and in 1842 he was elected the president of the London Chartists. He was one of three London delegates to the National Chartists' Convention in 1848, which sought to organize a march in London to present a Chartists' petition to the House of Commons. The march was called off, much to Cuffay's dismay. Later that year he was accused by government spies of planning to set fire to buildings to signal an uprising. He was convicted and sentenced to 21 years in Tasmania (then Van Diemen's Land). Although he was pardoned three years later, Cuffay chose to remain in Tasmania, involving himself in trade unions and radical politics. He died in poverty in 1870.

From The Oxford Companion to Black British History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: British History.


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