Thomas Gainsborough
Ignatius Sancho
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Writer. Actor. Composer. Businessman. Abolitionist. He was 18th-century Britain’s symbol of black possibility.

Ignatius Sancho
c. 1729–1780, b. on a slave ship en route from West Africa to South America
Worked in London

I am sorry to observe that the practice of your country (which as a resident I love) . . . has been uniformly wicked in the East and West-Indies—and even on the coast of Guinea. The grand object of English navigators—indeed of all Christian navigators—is money—money—money . . . In Africa . . . the Christians’ abominable traffic for slaves and the horrid cruelty and treachery of the petty Kings [are] encouraged by their Christian customers who carry them strong liquors to enflame their national madness—and powder—and bad fire-arms—to furnish them with the hellish means of killing and kidnapping.
—Ignatius Sancho, letter to Mr. Jack Wingrave, 1778

I am Sir an Affrican—with two ffs—if you please—& proud am I to be of a country that knows no politicians—nor lawyers—no—nor Thieves.
—Ignatius Sancho, letter, c. 1776–80

· Brought to England in childhood, Sancho learned to read; he devoured books.
· Sancho and his wife set up a shop in Westminster, giving him the right to vote in parliamentary elections. He was the first Black man to vote in Britain.
· His letters, published posthumously, were one of the earliest accounts of slavery in English. They became a rallying point in the growing abolitionist movement.


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