Ignatius Sancho

Ignatius Sancho

Ignatius Sancho was born on a ship engaged in the slave trade in 1729. His mother died soon after arriving in the Spanish West Indies. His father committed suicide rather than be a slave. His owner brought him to England in 1731 and gave him as a present to three maiden sisters living in Greenwich.

As a young man he met John Montagu, the 2nd Duke of Montagu, who took an interest in his education. In 1749 Sancho ran away and sought refuge with the Montagu family. The Duke of Montagu had recently died but his wife agreed to employ him as butler.

When the Duchess of Monagu died she left him a small legacy and this enabled him to open a grocery shop in Westminster. This brought him into contact with the politician Charles James Fox.

Self-educated, Sancho wrote poetry and a book about music. He was unable to find a publisher for his work but he did meet literary figures such as Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne. In 1878 his portrait was published by Thomas Gainsborough.

Ignatius Sancho died on 14th December, 1780. Two years later a friend arranged for his letters to appear in a book. Sancho was the first African writer to have his work published in England. The book sold extremely well and his widow received over £500 in royalties.

Primary Sources

(1) Ignatius Sancho, letter to Laurence Sterne (July, 1776)

It would be an insult on your humanity (or perhaps look like it) to apologize for the liberty I am taking. I am one of those people whom the vulgar and illiberal call 'Niggers.' The first part of my life was rather unlucky, as I was placed in a family who judged ignorance the best and only security for obedience. A little reading and writing I got by unwearied application. The latter part of my life has been thro' God's blessing, truly fortunate, having spent it in the service of one of the best families in the kingdom. My chief pleasure has been books. Philanthropy I adore. How very much, good Sir, am I (amongst millions) indebted to you for the character of your amiable uncle Toby! I declare, I would walk ten miles in the dog-days, to shake hands with the honest corporal. Your Sermons have touched me to the heart, and I hope have amended it, which brings me to the point. In your tenth discourse, page seventy-eight, in the second volume - is the very affecting passage - 'Consider how great a part of our species - in all ages down to this - have been trod under the feet of cruel and capricious tyrants, who would neither hear their cries, nor pity their distresses. Consider slavery - what it is - how bitter a draught and how many millions are made to drink it!' Of all my favourite authors, not one has drawn a tear in favour of my miserable black brethren—excepting yourself, and the humane author of Sir George Ellison. I think you will forgive me; I am sure you will applaud me for beseeching you to give one half-hour's attention to slavery, as it is at this day practised in our West Indies. That subject, handled in your striking manner, would ease the yoke (perhaps) of many - but if only of one - Gracious God! - what a feast to a benevolent heart! - and, sure I am, you are an epicurean in acts of charity. You, who are universally read, and as universally admired - you could not fail. Dear Sir, think in me you behold the uplifted hands of thousands of my brother Moors.

(2) Ignatius Sancho, letter (January, 1778)

Full heartily and most cordially do I thank thee, for your kindness in sending the books. That upon the unchristian and most diabolical usage of my brother Negroes - the illegality - the horrid wickedness of the traffic - the cruel carnage and depopulation of the human species - is painted in such strong colours - that I should think would (if duly attended to) flash conviction - and produce remorse in every enlightened and candid reader. The perusal affected me more than I can express; - and indeed I felt a double or mixed sensation - for while my heart was torn for the sufferings - which, for aught I know - some of my nearest kin might have undergone - my bosom, at the same time, glowed with gratitude - and praise toward the humane - the Christian - the friendly and learned author of that most valuable book.

(3) Ignatius Sancho, letter (1778)

I am sorry to observe that the practice of your country (which as a resident I love - and for its freedom, and for the many blessings I enjoy in it, shall ever have my warmest wishes, prayers, and blessings): I say it is with reluctance that I must observe your country's conduct has been uniformly wicked in the East West Indies - and even on the coast of Guinea. The grand object of English navigators - indeed of all Christian navigators - is money - money - money - for which I do not pretend to blame them. Commerce was meant by the goodness of the Deity to diffuse the various goods of the earth into every part - to unite mankind in the blessed chains of brotherly love, society, and mutual dependence: the enlightened Christian should diffuse the Riches of the Gospel of peace, with the commodities of his respective land. Commerce attended with strict honesty, and with Religion for its companion, would be a blessing to every shore it touched at. In Africa, the poor, wretched natives - blessed with the most fertile and luxuriant soil - are rendered so much the more miserable for what Providence meant as a blessing - the Christians' abominable Traffic for slaves - and the horrid cruelty and treachery of the petty Kings - encouraged by their Christian customers - who carry them strong liquors, to enflame their national madness - and powder and bad fire-arms, to furnish them

(4) Ignatius Sancho, Letters of Sancho (1782)

I shall take no notice of the tricking fraudulent behaviour of the driver of the stage - as how he wanted to palm a bad shilling upon us - and as how they stopped us in the town, and most generously insulted us - and as how they took up - a fat old man - his wife fat too - and child - and after keeping us half an hour in sweet converse of the - of the blasting kind - how that the fat woman waxed wrath with her plump master, for his being serene - and how that he caught choler at her friction, tongue-wise - how he ventured his head out of the coach-door, and swore liberally - whilst his —— in direct line with poor S——n's nose - entertained him with sound and sweetest of exhalations - I shall say nothing of being two hours almost on our journey - neither do I remark that S——n turned sick before we left G——, nor that the child p—— upon his legs - in short it was near nine before we got into Charles Street.

(5) In a letter to a friend, Ignatius Sancho wrote about the Gordon Riots (1780)

There is at this present moment at least a hundred thousand poor, miserable, ragged rabble, from twelve to sixty years of age, with blue cockades in their hats - besides half as many women and children - all parading the streets - the bridge - the park - ready for any and every mischief. Gracious God! - what's the matter now? I was obliged to leave off - the shouts of the mob - the horrid clashing of swords - and the clutter of a multitude in swiftest motion - drew me to the door - when every one in the street was employed in shutting up shop. It is now just five o'clock. This instant about two thousand liberty boys are swearing and swaggering by with large sticks... Thank heaven, it rains; may it increase, so as to send these deluded wretches safe to their homes, their families, and wives!

(6) J. T. Smith, Nolleckens and his Times (1828)

As we pushed the wicket door, a little tinkling bell, the usual appendage to such shops, announced its opening: we drank tea with Sancho and his black lady, who was seated, when we entered, in the corner of the shop, chopping sugar, surrounded by her little 'Sanchonets'. Sancho, knowing Mr. Nollekens to be a loyal man, said to him, 'I am sure you will be pleased to hear that Lord George Gordon is taken, and that a party of the guards is now escorting him in an old ramshackled coach to the Tower.' Nollekens said not a word, and poor Sancho either did not know, or not recollect, that he was addressing a Papist.