Ignatius Sancho

Born: 1729

Died: 14th December 1780

Birth Place: United States

Known for: Being a composer and writer.

He is the first known African person to vote in British elections.

His letters were published as a bestselling book.

He fought to end slavery by writing to, and befriending, powerful people.

A wise economy – without avaricious meanness, or dirty rapacity -- will in a few years render you decently independent.

Ignatius Sancho

Life story


Early years


Ignatius Sancho was born into enslavement, and given to three unmarried sisters living in Greenwich, South-East London. He was taught to read by the Duke of Montagu, who lived nearby and encouraged him to learn.


After the Duke died, Sancho ran away from his enslavement and asked the Duke’s wife to give him a job.


With her support, Sancho began to write poetry, stage plays, and songs. He was a very talented musician, and developed his own ideas about music, which he later published in a book. After the Duchess died, Sancho left the household and married Anne Osborne. The Duchess had left Ignatius some money in her will, allowing him to start a new life.


New life


Together with his wife, Sancho set up a grocery store in Westminster, meeting lots of famous people whilst there. In 1766, Sancho began to write letters to a well-known author, Laurence Sterne. He told Laurence his story and asked him to support the abolition of slavery.


These letters were published in 1775, bringing Sancho to the attention of the British public. Later in life, Sancho became a well-known social commentator, as well as an abolitionist. After he died, his letters were published in a book titled The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African.


Sancho became a symbol of the humanity of Africans, and the immorality of the slave trade.

What was the significance of Ignatius meeting the Duke of Montagu? Why do you think Ignatius’s letters to Laurence were published? Why do you think Ignatius’s other letters were only published after his death?

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