William Cuffay was one of the principle leaders of the Chartist movement, the first mass political movement of the British working class. He was born in Chatham Kent in 1788, the son of an African Slave. Cuffay became a journeyman Taylor.
Involving himself in politics, he became the delegate of the Westminster Chartists to the Metropolitan Council. 1842 Cuffay was elected the President of the Metropolitan Delegate Council.
He was mocked by the press of Britain’s ruling classes. ‘Punch’ called him ‘ The black man and his party’ .? Cuffay was involved in fighting the Masters and servants bill , which would have given the magistrates the right to imprison a neglectful worker for up to 2 months. He also took part in supporting the chartists land scheme, which donated a two acre ploy of arable land to poor families from London’s’ Slums.
In 1848 the National Chartists Convention took place, its main task was to organise a march to London to present a chartists petition bearing around 2,000,000 signatures to the house of commons.? The ruling classes feared this march so much that they took some dramatic precautions. The Queen was sent to the Isle of Wight, All valuables removed from Buckingham Palace. The Foreign Office boarded up its windows, the British Library was armed with muskets and /cutlasses and the Bank of England was reinforced with sandbags. In addition to these precautions all bridges were sealed off, and guarded by over 500 police, 7000 soldiers and heavy gun batteries were deployed along the embankment, thousands of shopkeepers, lawyers and government clerks were enrolled as special constables.
At the last minute the march was called off, Cuffay was furious denouncing the leaders as cowards.? Cuffay became elected as one of the commissioners to promote the charter again after its rejection from parliament.? Police spies filed reports that an uprising in london was planned and that Cuffay was one of the organisers..he later denied this.
On 16~August 1848 11 activists were arrested for allegedly preparing to fire certain buildings as a signal for the uprising. read his speech from the dock
Cuffay was sentenced to transportation to Tasmania where he continued his political involvement until his death in 1870.
Two other prominent black Chartists were David Anthony Duffy, and Benjamin Prophitt. They were the leaders of another demonstration in 1848 both were arrested and transported.
Cuffay’s Speech from the dock
I say you ought not to sentence me,first, because this has? been a long and important trial,? it has not been a fair Trial and? my request was??not complied with to have a jury of my equals.? But the jury as it is I have no fault to find with; I daresay they have acted conscientiously.
The next reason, that I ought not to be??? sentenced is on account of the great prejudice?? that?? has been raised?? against?? me, in particular, for months past.? everybody that hears me is convinced that almost the whole press of this country, and even other countries, has been raising a prejudice against me.? I have?? taunted by?? the press, and it has?tried to smother me with Ridicule,?? and it has done everything in its power to crush me? I crave no pity? I ask no mercy…. As I have certainly been an??? important figure in the Chartist movement, I laid myself out for something like this from the first.
I know that a great many men of good moral character are now suffering in prison only for advocating the cause of the charter;? but, however, I do not despair of it being carried out yet.? There may be and I? have a self approving conscience that will bear many victims. I am? not anxious for martyrdom, but I feel that, after what I have gone through his week. I have the fortitude to endure any hardship your lordship can inflict upon me, I know my cause is good me up against anything, and that would bear me up even to the scaffold; therefore I? think I can endure any punishment proudly.
I feel no disgrace at being called?a felon… Any act that has been brought forward for the good of the country has been delayed and great time has been?lost in attending to it, and indeed most of them have been thrown aside or put off to the next session; but anything to abridge the rights of the working classes can be passed in a few hours.? I have done my lords.