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Ignatius Sancho (c1729-1780): The Composer

Ignatius Sancho was a composer, actor and writer. He was a neighbour and friend of Ottobah Cugoano. Sancho was born in 1729 on a slave ship and spent the first two years of his life enslaved in Grenada. His mother died when he was very young and his father killed himself, rather than become enslaved. When he was two, his owner brought him to England.

He worked as a servant in Greenwich and then for the Duke of Montagu. Sancho taught himself to read and spoke out against the slave trade. He went on to compose music and write poetry and plays. In 1773, Sancho and his wife set up a grocer's shop in Westminster. Sancho was very well known and his shop became a meeting place for some of the most famous writers, artists, actors and politicians of the day. As a financially-independent householder, he became the first black person of African origin to vote in parliamentary elections in Britain (1774 & 1780).

After his death in 1780, Sancho's letters were published in a book, which became an immediate best seller. Five editions of the book were published and his writing was used as evidence to support the movement to end slavery.  Sancho had mentioned slavery in many of the letters he had written to friends. In 1778, for example, he commented that the main aim of all English navigators was ‘money-money-money'. Sancho also made people aware of how the lives of Africans were made miserable by the Slave Trade. The following extract his from one of the letters published in 1782 shows the power of his arguments

"... the Christians' abominable traffic for slaves and the horrid cruelty and treachery of the African Kings - encouraged by their Christian customers who carry them guns to furnish them with the hellish means of killing and kidnapping."

hear the extract


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