ignatius sancho

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Paterson Joseph as Charles Ignatius Sancho in the play he wrote about him called ‘Sancho: An Act of Remembrance.’

Charles Ignatius Sancho was born on a slave ship in the early 18th century. After a career as a famous musician, composer, author and actor.  In 1774 he became the first black Briton to vote.  He ended his days running a grocery store in Westminster. [x]

The painting in the background is a copy of the one painted of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Thomas Gainsborough. [x]

October is Black History Month in the UK.

Black people have lived in the British isles for centuries contributing greatly to society.

This portrait is of Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729 – 14 December 1780) who was a composer, actor, and writer. He is the first known Black Briton to vote in a British election.

Much love and appreciation to all British Black people!
✊🏿❤️✊🏾❤️✊🏽❤️✊🏼❤️✊🏻❤️

Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729 – 14 December 1780) was a composeractor, 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.[citation needed] 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 by a former slave in English.

Reading Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho in Contemporary Britain

My research into the cultural manifestations of debates around race and antiracism in contemporary Britain requires me to keep abreast of new novels, poetry, plays, films and so on, but I find also that looking to work from ages past can allow for equally interesting ways into characterising our current moment.

Within the black communities of eighteenth-century Britain lived two extraordinary writers: Ignatius Sancho and Olaudah Equiano. Sancho was a Mayfair grocer who associated with the likes of Lawrence Sterne and David Garrick. His Letters, which were posthumously published in 1782, show him commenting on the political and cultural issues of his day, offering advice to young people, and complaining about the lot of an overweight London shopkeeper.

Equiano’s Interesting Narrative is an autobiography detailing his kidnap from Africa, and his life as a slave and then free man sailing on the transatlantic trade routes. The book first appeared in 1787 and enjoyed a good deal of success.

Each of these remarkable works tells us something about the eighteenth-century world in which they were written, but fascinating insights into more recent times can be gathered by looking at how these books have been read by successive generations of critics, and how their authors have been depicted. Equiano and Sancho are screens on which can projected a variety of meanings.  In the changing concerns of literary criticism in this area over the last few decades we see a microcosm of the shifts in the politics of race more generally.  

In an early study of ‘race relations’ in Britain, published before the much-commemorated arrival of Caribbean immigrants on the Empire Windrush in 1948, the anthropologist Kenneth Little mentions both writers as ‘notable 18th century blacks’ although he labels Equiano as the less ‘distinguished’, regarding him as slightly less accomplished than the dandyish Sancho. 

It’s not until Paul Edwards’s 1967-69 editions of both the Narrative and the Letters, however, that a real flowering of interest in the writers can be seen. We also see here an inversion of the values that Little had found in the men: for Edwards, Sancho is ‘a man thoroughly assimilated into the middle-class English society of his day’ and Equiano as ‘preoccupied’ with the theme of ‘his and his people’s insecurity’. Edwards doesn’t push this characterisation towards a polarised view of Equiano as a politically aware black hero who stands out in stark opposition to the race-traitor Sancho, but the same cannot be said of some subsequent historians who work from his premises: in Norma Myers’ opinion, for example, Sancho is to be read as ‘apologetic, complaisant [and] self-debasing’, indeed as little more than an embodiment of the ‘sambo stereotype’.

For Folarin Shyllon in 1978, Olaudah Equiano appears as ‘the acknowledged leader of the African community’ in Britain and Shyllon freely admits that his reading is indebted to the concerns of his present moment. His championing of the qualities of ‘leadership’ and ‘community’ are directly related to the needs of the anti-racist struggle in Britain at that time as the ‘second-generation’ descendants of the Windrush immigrants fought against discriminatory employment practices, police harassment and continual racial violence. The centrality of resistance to black British identity leads to the creation of a particular version of Equiano. Interestingly, by 1983, Edwards (now writing alongside James Walvin) revised his earlier picture of an ‘assimilationist’ Sancho and argued that the grocer he may have in fact been more similar to the idealised version of Equiano then popular: ‘it must have been a common experience of the black population […] to adopt postures of submission and respect whilst in a state of contained anger’.

But as we move from the 1980s and towards the new century, and the dominant concerns of black cultural politics in Britain shift from the need to resist racism to the exploration of the many different ways in which one might be black, the readings of these writers seem to shift again. Equiano is less regularly praised for his political courage, and more often the literary devices that make up his text are dwelt upon and his stylistic constructions examined. Concurrently, Sancho’s humour and playfulness receive greater praise. For Sukhdev Sandhu, Sancho is able to express the dynamics of black life more clearly than his contemporaries and ‘show that black literature […] needn’t always be a species of protest literature [and can] be more than a crudely utilitarian discourse that exalts “relevance” or “resistance” at the expense of charm or aesthetics’; Sancho becomes ‘an imp, a freestyler who’s constantly jamming and improvising.’ The emphasis is no longer on the shared voice of a politicised community but on individual style.

More recently still, it seems Equiano has reassumed the position of dominance, with the Narrative now available as a Penguin Classic, while Sancho’s Letters are hard to find. We might speculate on the reasons for this most recent reassessment. All writing of history is driven to some extent by ‘political’ concerns and literary criticism always re-evaluates the texts of the past in the light of contemporary concerns. As our interest in the black British past gradually starts to reveal its own history, we get a better sense of why readers might have reacted in the way they did in relation to the broader cultural currents of their times. Each generation of readers of Equiano and Sancho creates its own version of the men and their books: paying attention to how and why they do this can tell us much about our own age.  

David Gunning, School of English, Drama and American and Canadian Studies, University of Birmingham, UK

Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729 – 14 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 [citation needed] 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 died from the effects of gout on 14 December 1780, and became the first African to be given an obituary in the British press. Two years later, Frances Crewe arranged for his letters to be published; these appeared as the two-volume The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African The book sold very well, and his widow received over £500 in royalties

Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729 – 14 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’ is one of the earliest accounts of African slavery written in English by a former slave.