Reynolds' tribute to William Cuffay

Reynolds's Political Instructor – 13 April 1850
WILLIAM CUFFAY, loved by his own order, who knew him and appreciated his virtues, ridiculed and denounced by a press that knew him not, and had no sympathy with his class, and banished by a government that feared him, has achieved a celebrity that fully entitles him to a place in our Portrait Gallery.

He was bom in the year 1788, on board a merchant ship, homeward bound from the Island of St. Kitts, and is consequently sixty- two years old. Cradled on the vast Atlantic, he became by birth a citizen of the world, a character that, in after life, he well maintained. His father was a slave, born in the Island of St. Kitts; liis grandfather was an African, dragged from his native valleys in the prime of his manhood.

On arriving in England, himself and his parents became free, and during his services in the cause of Democracy, he, the stern man, has often shed genuine tears of gratitude for this boon, and declared that the sacrifice of his life and his liberty if needed, was due to the complete emancipation of that nation which had inscribed his name upon the list of free men, and this burst of generous feeling has been, as events have proved, no idle boast, nor has it fallen without producing its effect upon the hearts of his fellow toilers.

Soon after his arrival in England his father procured a berth as cook on board a man-of-war, and Cuffay spent the years of his childhood with his mother at Chatham: though of a very delicate constitution, he took great delight in all manly exercises. As he advanced toward manhood, he entered the ranks of the proletarians as a journeyman tailor, and was reckoned a superior workman.

He was thrice married, but has left no issue: his only child, a boy, died in its youth. Scrupulously neat in his person, he carried a love of order and regularity even to excess in all his transactions, whether social or political, this characteristic procured him much esteem and adapted him to fill offices which men of greater talents sought for in vain; during his whole career, he occupied an active post in the ranks of his own trade and was never found wanting in any of the requisites essential to the maintenance of a character for sterling and unflinching integrity.

In a letter written by one who has known him upwards of forty years, he says, "Cuffay was a good spirit in a little deformed case : I have known some thousands in the trade, and I never knew a man I would sooner confide in : and I believe this to be the feeling of thousands in the business to this day. It was always his great delight to take young men by the hand and instruct them, not only in the trade, but mentally."

He disapproved of the Trades' Union movement in 1834, and was nearly the last of his society in joining the lodge; but ultimately he gave way, and struck with the general body, remaining out until the last, thereby losing a shop where he had worked for many years; since which time he has had but very partial employ.

He early saw through the deception of the Reform Bill, and from 1839, when the struggle for the Charter commenced, until his banishment, dedicated his whole energies as a worker to the task of enfranchising the millions; in 1840 he was elected as a delegate from Westminster to the Metropolitan Delegate Council, an office which he ably discharged during the long and energetic existence of that body in 1842, when the Chartist Executive, with the exception of Morgan Williams, were arrested; he was elected by acclamation, together with Thomas Martin Wheeler, John George Drew, and James Knight, to supply that vacancy.

In 1845 he was appointed one of the auditors of the National Land Company, which office he held until his arrest: he was a member of nearly every Convention which was called into existence during these exciting times, and fulfilled his duties with honour to himself and satisfaction to his constituents.

Elected as one of the delegates for Westminster to the National Convention and Assembly of 1848, he allowed his enthusiasm to overcome his usual cool judgment, and was singled out by the press for ridicule and vituperation: he bore it unflinchingly, he even seemed to glory in it.

As early as 1842 he had been especially singled out by the Times as a leader of the opposition in London to the Anti-Corn League, which facetiously denominated the Chartists as the "Black man and his Party."

Entrapped by the infernal spy-system into an almost involuntary attendance at the so called insurrectionary meetings in the autumn of 1848, he fell a victim, but he shrunk not: flight was open to him, but he refused to avail himself of it, and during his confinement, both prior and after his sentence, his spirits maintained their usual equilibrium.

Notwithstanding the Government punishment of transportation for twenty-one years, it has been intimated that on reaching his destination he will receive a ticket of leave giving him his freedom in the colony.

We trust this is a fact; but whatever may be his after fate, whilst integrity in the midst of poverty, whilst honour in the midst of temptation are admired and venerated, so long will the name of William Cuffay, a scion of Afric's oppressed race, be preserved from oblivion.

George W. M. Reynolds