Ignatius Sancho

Ignatius Sancho, composer, writer, slave abolitionist and actor, died on 14th December 1780 and was buried in the churchyard of St Margaret's Westminster. But he has no memorial at the church. All the grave stones (which lay flat) in the churchyard were covered over with grass in 1880 but no inscription was found for him when a record was made of the existing epitaphs.

His life

He was born on a slave ship en route for the West Indies. His mother died of disease and his father killed himself. When he was about two he was taken to England, to a household in Greenwich. They gave him the surname Sancho, after the squire in Don Quixote. John, 2nd Duke of Montagu lived nearby and helped his education. Sancho served his widow as butler and then worked for his son in law.

On 17th December 1758 he married Anne Osborne in St Margaret's and he ran a grocery shop in the City, near to Parliament. Eight children were baptised at the church, but several died young. Elizabeth Bruce was baptised in 1766 and John Ignatius in 1768. Those who were baptised and buried at the church were Mary Ann died 1805, Frances Joanna died 1815, Ann Alice died 1766, Lydia died 1776, Katherine Margaret died 1779 and William Leach Osborne died 1810, who ran the family shop. Sancho's wife Anne was buried on 25th September 1817 aged 84.

He published a couple of plays (now lost) and musical compositions. His letters were published under his own name and under a pseudonym Africanus. He was the first black Briton to vote in an election and have an obituary published in the papers. Thomas Gainsborough painted his portrait and he knew many members of the nobility.

Further reading

Letters of the late Ignatius Sancho...by V. Carretta, 1998

Ignatius Sancho...an early African composer in England by J. Wright (ed.) 1981

Ignatius Sancho: an African man of letters by R. King (ed.) 1997

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

Ignatius Sancho
Portrait of Ignatius Sancho

Thomas Gainsborough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons