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Ignatius Sancho (1729 - 1780)

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An African man of letters
Known for
Ignatius Sancho
View full size imageIgnatius Sancho. © NMM

Ignatius Sancho was a self-educated slave and the first African prose writer to publish his work in England.

He wrote poetry, stage plays and composed music.

A collection of his letters was published in 1782, two years after his death in 1780. They proved to British society that an untutored African may possess abilities equal to a European.

Port Connection

Ignatius was brought to Greenwich as an orphan at the age of two. He was owned by three sisters who did not believe in the education of enslaved Africans. Ignatius taught himself to read and write. He developed his talents as a writer and a musician with the encouragement of his benefactor, the Duke of Montagu. When the Duke died, Ignatius ran away from the demanding sisters and worked as a butler for the Montagus in Blackheath.

He retired from domestic service due to ill health and opened a grocery shop on Charles Street in Westminister. Here he settled into family life with his Caribbean wife and two children, William and Elizabeth.

Interesting Facts

Ignatius acquired the name ‘Sancho’ from the three sisters in Greenwich, who thought he looked like Don Quixote’s Squire.

Ignatius embraced the London’s literary and artistic scene. He was painted by Gainsborough in 1768 and became friends with historical painter John Hamilton Mortimer and writers Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne.

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Life Story
1729Born on a slave ship crossing the Atlantic
1731Brought to England at the age of two
1731Given to three strict spinster sisters, who did not believe in educating Sancho
1749Sancho's benefactor, the Duke of Montagu, dies. Sancho flees the sisters to become a butler at the Montagus.
1751Sancho finds the position of Butler so profitable that he briefly lapses into gambling
1759Attempted a stage career playing Othello, he failed due to defective articulation
1766Inspired by Laurence Sterne's writings of slavery in 'Tristram Shandy', Sancho starts corresponding with the author
1768Gainsborough paints Ignatius’ portrait
1773Leaves the service of the Montagus due to ill health and opens a gorcery shop in Westminster with his family
1773-80Sancho continues to write to his influential and artistic friends
178014 December dies in his shop in London
1782Letters are published by former correspondent, Miss Crewe
1803William Sancho publishes the second edition of his father's letters
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