by Rob Allen
Ignatius Sancho was born on a slave ship around 1729 sailing between Africa and the West Indies. Little is known about his parents, but shortly after his birth, his mother died and his father committed suicide while Ignatius was still young.,. Baptised Ignatius, he was later given the surname Sancho by his new owners.
At the age of around two years, Ignatius was brought to Greenwich by his master, and given to three maidens as a slave. The Duke of Montagu lived nearby at Greenwich Park. The Montagu family became fond of Ignatius, and he found great comfort in knowing them.
After meeting the Duke of Montagu, he was able to have access to books, and taught himself to read and write. Ignatius’ owners did not approve of this and wanted him to remain in slavery. At around twenty years of age, following the duke’s death, Ignatius asked The Duchess of Montagu for a job. She employed him as her butler.. In 1758, Ignatius married Ann Osborne, a West Indian woman and they had seven children.
When the duchess died, she left Ignatius an annuity of £30. With the money he saved, he was able to buy a small grocery shop in Westminster in around 1773. The storefront was to become a meeting place for some of the most famous writers, artists, actors and politicians of the day.
Ignatius became the first black person to vote in Britain, voting twice in 1774 and again on the year of his death in 1780. Ignatius also enjoyed composing music including “Le Douze de Decembre” and “Les Matadors”.
After his death in 1780, Ignatius’ letters were published. You can see copies of his letters and an example of his sheetmusic at the Greenwich Heritage Centre in our Search room.
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