Ignatius Sancho (1729 -1780)
Writer, composer and critic, he lived at the centre of London literary society. The first black man to vote in an election as a businessman and property owner in Westminster.
He is said to have been born on a slave ship, baptised at Cartagena (Spanish America) and brought to England when two years of age. Sancho was then given to three sisters in Greenwich as a slave-servant and describes this part of his life thus:
“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, more fortunate.”
His plight was noted by John, 2nd Duke of Montagu. Sancho’s first biographer Joseph Jekyll noted the 2nd Duke “brought him frequently home to the Duchess, indulged his turn for reading with presents of books and strongly recommended to his mistresses the duty of cultivating a genius of such apparent fertility.”
Links to the Montagus and Buccleuchs’
He entered service with the Montagu family in 1749/50 and rose to become butler – when the Duchess of Montagu died in 1751 he was left an annuity of £30 a year. Having left the household, he is noted as becoming profligate with his money, both on gambling and women but gaining a large circle of friends in the theatrical world.
According to his biographer, he was extravagant and had to join the household of Lady Cardigan, the Duke’s daughter as a senior domestic servant. He was witness to Lord Cardigan’s (later Duke of Montagu) money loans between 1756-1769 and acted as his valet, having his own room at Windsor Castle. Sancho was able to marry Anne Osborne on the 17th of December 1758. Throughout this period, he was able to take advantage of the families enthusiasm for art, literature and music and he produced and published several works himself.
A Man of Letters
1766 saw the publication of a letter to Laurence Sterne and he became widely known as a “man of letters”. Cardigan paid for his daughters christening 1761 and bought his music in 1767.
He was painted by Thomas Gainsborough in about 1768 and would finally retire from service in 1773. Sancho then set up a business as a grocer, with a shop at 19 Charles Street, Westminster. He had varied callers to his shop including many aristocrats and other patrons.
As a financially-independent male householder living in Westminster, he qualified to vote in parliamentary elections of 1774 and 1780, and is the first known black person of African origin to have done so in Britain
He died on December 14th 1780, receiving an obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine and in 1782 his Letters were published to great success with 1181 subscribers including the Prime Minister, Lord North.
The family, in particular, Elizabeth, Duchess of Buccleuch (daughter and heir of the Cardigans) continued to support Ignatius’s son William in his career as a bookbinder and bookseller.