SSLH sponsors William Cuffay at the People’s History Museum

The Society for the Study of Labour History is pleased to announce that it is to sponsor the Chartist William Cuffay as part of the People’s History Museum radical sponsor scheme.

The decision further cements a long-standing relationship between the SSLH and the Manchester museum. Over recent years, the Society has sponsored Henry Hunt, the great radical orator best remembered as the main speaker at Peterloo.

William Cuffay, after William Paul Dowling. Lithograph, 1848. Copyright
National Portrait Gallery.

Cuffay, the son of a former slave of African heritage, was born in Chatham in 1788, and was active in tailors’ trade unions. He came to public prominence in Chartism, however, serving on the Chartist Metropolitan Delegate Council from 1841 and on the National Executive of the National Charter Association from 1842.

By 1848, his standing within Chartism was such that The Times, in talking about the movement in London, could refer to ‘the Black man and his Party’, and at the Kennington Common monster meeting on 10 April, he was among the radical minority who opposed Feargus O’Connor’s decision to dissolve the rally rather than confront the authorities by marching on Westminster.

Cuffay was arrested that summer for his involvement in the ‘Orange Tree’ conspiracy – so named after the public house where some activists met to plan an insurrectionary response to the government’s rejection  of the Chartist demands. Arrested, tried and transported to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), Cuffay once more took up radical politics, remaining active until shortly before his death at Brickfields Invalids Depot in 1870.

Today, the only surviving artefact of Cuffay’s is a copy of Byron’s complete works, presented to him by the Westminster Charter Association ‘as a token of their sincere Regard & Affection, for his Genuine Patriotism & Moral worth’. The book is now held by the People’s History Museum.

Find out more about the museum’s radical sponsor scheme.

Read an account of William Cuffay’s life and see the book presented to him.