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Stroud Scarlet and William Cuffay: An Exploration


We have written before about Stroud Scarlet, the slave trade, and triangles of conjecture. (See point 5 at https://sootallures.wixsite.com/topographersarms/post/a-community-curriculum )

But what of William Cuffay?

William’s mother, Juliana Fox, was born in Kent, whilst his once enslaved father, Chatham Cuffay, made it to Kent from St Kitts. William Cuffay, of mixed-heritage, born in 1788, became a famous Chartist leader in the mid nineteenth century and then an activist after transportation to Tasmania. ( See https://sootallures.wixsite.com/topographersarms/post/william-cuffay for an imaginative reconstruction of William’s life.)

William is one of the first working-class leaders of colour, and possibly the most famous. There is a campaign for a memorial to honour him in the Medway area of Kent:

‘Hi Stuart …

We are working with Medway Afro-Caribbean Association to get a plaque for Cuffay in Medway, hopefully in time for Black History Month. They need at least £3000 and have been talking to Medway Council who have only offered them £1500. This is something the Trade Union Movement could (and should) easily pay for and we will be approaching local branches and national unions for support. It might even encourage them to think about some sort of memorial to Cuffay in London.

There is much more to Cuffay's story than can be put on a plaque so we are also looking to organise some sort of annual event so that Cuffay and the Chartists, a key part of both Black and working-class history, become much better known.’

We intend to raise funds for the memorial by taking some Stroud cloth alongside the Stroudwater Navigation from the slavery abolition arch at Paganhill to Framilode; thence alongside the Severn to Bristol Docks.

We will then ‘sell’ the cloth to ship owners before its imagined eighteenth century journey to north-west Africa.

We shall create triangle poems to leave on our journey so as to recreate the possible consequences of this cloth’s voyage to Benin. These reconstructions of the triangular trade will reflect voyages to Benin, the Americas and thence back to Bristol – and Stroud. The triangles are below. They will keep their shape on www.radicalstroud.co.uk but the format may get changed here.

And who knows? Perhaps Stroud cloth enslaved Chatham and William’s ancestors and took them from the Door of No Return across the crimson-splashed Black Atlantic Archipelago.

So, perhaps you would like to sponsor us on our sixty-mile trip to Bristol?

We would forward the money straight away to Medway Trades Union Council as explained above.

In Solidarity,

Stuart Butler and Bob Blenkinsop

The Stroudwater

Canal and Navigation

A link

Betwixt Stroud

And the River Severn at Framilode

The

River Severn,

A link from Framilode to Bristol Docks

Was

Stroud Scarlet

A cloth-link betwixt

Stroud and Bristol Docks?

Was

Stroud Scarlet

A cloth-link betwixt

Bristol and north-west Africa?

Was

Stroud Scarlet

A cloth-link betwixt enslavement,

Africa, the West Indies and the Americas?

Was

Stroud Scarlet

A cloth-link betwixt enslavement,

Tobacco, sugar, cotton, rum, the West Indies,

Bristol, Clifton, Bath, refinement, and the Age of Elegance?

Stroud

Scarlet,

A cloth-link from

Bristol Docks and on to Stroud?

The

River Severn,

A link from Bristol Docks to Framilode.

From Framilode,

The Stroudwater Navigation,

The canal, wends its way to Stroud,

Past Stroud Scarlet stretched on tenterhooks.

And so

Triangles of speculation

Complete their conjectural voyage,

Where they began, at the slavery arch in Paganhill.

All Ship-shape And Bristol fashion’: With river, canal and turnpike, Cloth could be carried down to Bristol, bound for Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, Benin, Angola, Gambia.


Then The Door Of No Return: The Middle Passage, Nevis, Barbados, Jamaica, Virginia, Haiti and South Carolina. They fill the hold with sugar, cotton, tobacco: Commodities that still cast a ship-shape shadow.

From Where else Did this nation’s 18th century boom time come?

War, Slavery, Enclosure, Exploitation Mechanisation, And the British Empire, But the most lucrative of all Was the shark’s feeding frenzy.

And Stroud lies Hidden within the Long decayed ledger books Of Bristol merchants at their quayside, Stroud Scarlet bought and sold in the damp Teasled mill air of the tenter hooked Five Valleys, Before exchanging use and life for human life and death On the Middle Passage for the West Indies and the Americas.

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