Ignatius Sancho

British composer, writer and grocer

Ignatius Sancho (c. 172914 December 1780) was a composer, actor, and writer. He is the first known Black Briton to vote in a British election. He gained fame in his time as "the extraordinary Negro", and to 18th-century British abolitionists he became a symbol of the humanity of Africans and immorality of the slave trade. The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, edited and published two years after his death, is one of the earliest accounts of African slavery written in English by a former slave of Spanish and English families.

Ignatius Sancho


  • My friend L___ is in town, and intends trying his fortune among us- as teacher of murder and neck-breaking, alias, fencing and riding.
(from vol 1, letter 17: Charles Street, London, 26 Nov 1774, to Mr S___ ).
  • ..."the only intrinsic nett worth, in my possession, is Mrs. Sancho- who I can compare to nothing so properly as to a diamond in the dirt- but, my friend, that is Fortune's fault, not mine- for, had I power, I would case her in gold."
    • (from vol 1, letter 21: probably summer 1775, to Mr R___ ).
  • Self-love, my friend, bewitches parents to give too much indulgence to infantine foibles;- the constant cry is, "Poor little soul, it knows no better!" If it swears, that's a sign of wit and spirit; if it fibs, it's so cunning and comical; if it steals, 'tis only a paw trick- and the mother exultingly cries, "My Jacky is so sharp, we can keep nothing from him!"
    • (from vol 1, letter 28: 4 Oct 1775, to Miss L___ ).
  • We are in great hopes about poor Lydia.- An honest and ingenious motherly woman in our neighbourhood has undertaken the perfect cure of her, and we have every reason to think, with God's blessing, she will succeed- which is a blessing we shall owe entirely to the comfort of being poor, for had we been rich, the doctors would have had the honor of killing her a twelvemonth ago.
    • (from vol 1, letter 28: 4 Oct 1775, to Miss L___ ) [sadly, little Lydia Sancho died in 1776]
  • I am one of those people whom the vulgar and illiberal call "Negurs."- 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.
    • (from vol. 1, letter 35: Jul 1776, to Mr Sterne [i.e. Laurence Sterne who died in 1768- date should be 1766]).
  • ... how comes it that- without the advantages of a twentieth generationship of noble blood flowing uncontaminated in your veins- without the customary three years dissipation at college- and the (nothing-to-be-done without) four years perambulation on the Continent- without all these needful appendages- with little more than plain sense, sheer good-nature, and a right honest heart- thou canst,
"Like low-born Allen, with an aukward shame,
"Do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame."
    • (from vol 1, letter 38: 1 Sep 1776, to Mr M___ ) [the quotation is from Alexander Pope's poem "1738" (now usually known as "Epilogue to the Satires, dialogue 1"), referring to postal reformer and philanthropist Ralph Allen]
  • Could I new-model Nature, your sex should rule supreme, there should be no other ambition but that of pleasing the ladies, no other warfare but the contention of obsequious lovers, nor any glory but the bliss of being approved by the Fair.
    • (from vol 1, letter 46: 15 Aug 1777, to Miss C___ ).
  • Dame Sancho would be better if she cared less. I am her barometer- if a sigh escapes me, it is answered by a tear in her eye; I oft assume a gaiety to illume her dear sensibility with a smile- which twenty years ago almost bewitched me; and mark! after twenty years enjoyment, constitutes my highest pleasure!
    • (from vol 1, letter 53: 24 Oct 1777, to Mr S___ ).
  • Old folks love to seem wise- and if you are silly enough to correspond with grey hairs, take the consequence.
    • (from vol 2, letter 1: some time in 1778, to Mr J___ W___e ).
  • 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 with the hellish means of killing and kidnapping. But enough- it is a subject that sours my blood
    • (from vol 2, letter 1: some time in 1778, to Mr J___ W___e [actually Jack Wingrave, a young man recently gone to work in India, who was distressed by the corruption he found there]).
  • Poverty and Genius were coupled by the wisdom of Providence for wise and good ends, no doubt
    • (from vol 2, letter 9: 4 Oct 1778, to Mr S___ ).
  • A wise economy- without avaricious meanness, or dirty rapacity will in a few years render you decently independent.
    • (from vol 2, letter 13: 29 Nov 1778, to Mr S___ in Madras) [this Mr S___ was Julius Soubise, former London playboy, who slowly made a new life for himself in India after fleeing England in 1777 due to a rape accusation]
  • ... as you are not to be a boy all your life- and I trust would not be reckoned a fool- use your every endeavour to be a good man
    • (from vol 2, letter 13: 29 Nov 1778, to Mr S___ in Madras).
  • ... to my inexpressible happiness, she is my wife, and truly best part, without a single tinge of my defects
    • (from vol 2, letter 21: 11 Mar 1779, to Mr S___ ).
  • [written when news was received that a vast French invasion fleet had appeared off the south coast of England ] MA CHERE AMIE, … I awake to fears of invasion, to noise, faction, drums, soldiers, and care:- the whole town has now but two employments- the learning of French, and the exercise of arms- which is highly political, in my poor opinion, for should the military fail of success, which is not impossible- why, the ladies must take the field, and scold them to their ships again.
    • (from vol 2, letter 32: 25 Aug 1779, to Mrs C___ ).
  • ...an awkward loon- whom I do sometimes care about- who has more wit than money- more good sense than wit- more urbanity than sense- and more pride than some princes
    • (from vol 2, letter 42: 9 Oct 1779, to Mr M___ ) [describing a friend]
  • ... confess now- could you lie with the wife of your friend? could you debauch his sister? could you defraud a poor creditor? could you by gambling rejoice in the outwitting a novice of all his possessions?- No! why then thou art a silly fellow, incumbered with three abominable inmates; to wit- Conscience, Honesty, and Good-nature
    • (from vol 2, letter 43: 17 Oct 1779, to Mr M___ ).
  • Were I as rich in worldly commodity, as in hearty will, I would thank you most princely for your very welcome and agreeable letter;- but, were it so, I should not proportion my gratitude to your wants;- for, blessed be the God of thy hope!- thou wantest nothing- more than, what's in thy possession, or in thy power to possess:- I would neither give thee Money, nor Territory, Women, nor Horses, nor Camels, nor the height of Asiatic pride, Elephants;- I would give thee Books
    • (from vol 2, letter 60: 5 Jan 1780, to Mr J. W___e [still in India] ).
  • I do request you to thank Mr. W___ for me, and tell him he has the prayers- not of a raving mad whig, nor fawning deceitful tory- but of a coal-black, jolly African, who wishes health and peace to every religion and country throughout the ample range of God's creation!
    • (from vol 2, letter 62: 17 Jan 1780, to Mr S___ ).
  • [few of Sancho's letters were actually intended for publication, but here is one sample, written during a military recruiting crisis] The vast bounties offered for able-bodied men sheweth the zeal and liberality of our wise lawgivers- yet indicateth a scarcity of men. Now, they seem to me to have overlooked one resource (which appears obvious); a resource which would greatly benefit the people at large (by being more usefully employed), and which are happily half-trained already for the service of their country, by being- powder proof- light, active, young fellows: I dare say you have anticipated my scheme, which is to form ten companies at least, out of the very numerous body of hair-dressers...
    • (from vol 2, letter 65: 29 Apr 1780, to the General Advertiser newspaper)
[Letters 67 to 70, 6-13 June 1780, give eye-witness acounts of the Gordon Riots in London, which had to be suppressed by the use of lethal force (and letter 71, 15 June, on the capture of Charleston by British forces, reports a rumour that the riots were plotted by the French and the Americans)]
  • This- this- is liberty! genuine British liberty!- This instant about two thousand liberty boys are swearing and swaggering by with large sticks
    • (from vol 2, letter 67: 6 Jun 1780, to J___ S___ esq).
  • [this letter concerns the naval duel in which HMS Flora captured the French navy frigate Nymphe] When Capt. Williams had conquered the crew, they found sixty dead upon deck;- the two ships exhibited a scene more like a slaughter-house, than any thing imaginable- These, oh Christians! are the features of war- and thus Most Christian Kings and Defenders of Faith shew their zeal and love for the dying commands of their Divine Master
    • (from vol 2, letter 78: 18 Aug 1780, to J___ S___ esq.).



These quotations are adapted (with very slight modernisation) from etexts of the original two-volume set:

Modern editions, with useful introductions and background notes, are:

  • "The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African", Penguin Classics (1998) ISBN 0140436375.
  • "The Letters of Ignatius Sancho", edited by P. Edwards and P. Rewt; Edinburgh University Press (1994) ISBN 0748604537.
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