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You are in: Kent > Abolition > William Cuffay: A Chatham son

Colin Allen researching the Cuffays

Colin Allen researching the Cuffays

William Cuffay: A Chatham son

William Cuffay was born in Chatham and went on to become one of the leading figures in the Chartist movement, the first mass political movement in Britain. Colin Allen F.S.G. from the Kent Archives has been researching the story.

In 1772 one 'Chatham Cuffay' was baptised in the town of the same name at the age of 17. It has always been assumed that he was a slave, but as there is no record of his name before he was baptised this can only be speculation. Linda Myra Cuffay, Chatham's mother, was baptised at the same time.

Chatham Cuffay's marriage certificate

Chatham Cuffay's marriage certificate

Records from 1779 show that Chatham Cuffay had a job in the dockyard. He was looked after by Captain Proby who was commissioner of the yard at the time. All of Captain Charles Proby's naval service seems to have been in the Mediterranean and there are no records of him having sailed in the Caribbean. The folklore surrounding Chatham Cuffay points to him originating from St Kitts and having probably served as Proby's onboard cook.

How he came to be on Captain Proby's ship is uncertain.

Records in the National Archive show he worked in the dockyard continuously until his death, and he is buried locally.

His son, William, trained as a tailor, probably working in Chatham High Street. He moved to London, where, in 1819, he got married to Ann Marshall. She died in 1824 and was buried in St Jame's Westminster. He then married again, in 1825, to Anne Broomhead, who died in childbirth in 1826. His daughter was baptised immediately after birth but also died shortly afterwards. In 1827 he married Mary Ann Manwell.

William Cuffay

William Cuffay

The Reynolds Political Instructor described William was somewhat stunted, small and thin, although most tailors, given the position they worked in, were "bandy legged", and their low salaries and poor living conditions didn't encourage particularly good health.

In 1834, William got caught up in the tailors' strike, which gave him a taste for politics and radicalism. He became involved through the Metropolitan Tailor's Guild, and he ended up being a delegate at one of the Chartist's conferences.

William became an auditor to the National Land Company which was founded by Fergus O'Connor who was, himself, one of the leading Chartists which were fighting for one-man-one-vote, equality, and all the rights we take for granted today.

In 1848 he was arrested by the police and was sentenced to transportation for 14 years. After spending some time in prison in England he was sent to Tasmania on the ship Adelaide, which arrived in Hobart in November 1849.

In Tasmania he was given a "ticket of leave" which meant that he could ply his trade. In 1856, he, like most convicts in Tasmania, was given his freedom. His wife had been able to join him in 1853 and together they lived a comfortable life in Tasmania.

He got involved in politics and would also provide entertainment by singing traditional songs in public.

His wife died in 1869 in the Hobart General Hospital and one year later William died a pauper in the workhouse.

last updated: 01/04/2008 at 13:47
created: 12/03/2007

You are in: Kent > Abolition > William Cuffay: A Chatham son

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