top of page
  • Haley Jensen

Ignatius Sancho

Ignatius Sancho (1729?-1780) was born on the middle passage, his mother died shortly after his birth and father committed suicide rather than endure enslavement.

As an orphaned toddler he was sold to a family in Greenwich, England. He met John Montagu the 2nd Duke of Montagu, who was impressed by his intelligence and allowed Sancho to borrow and read his books.

Upon the duke's death he begged the Duke's widow to hire him and free him from slavery. She reluctantly agreed and hired him as a butler. In 1766 he became the families valet. In this position he had access to the Montagu's library and the opportunity to meet the aristocracy and members of the royal family.

He opened a grocery store and was able to become a house holder, allowing Sancho to become the only person of African heritage to vote in parliament elections for representatives of Westminster between 1774 and 1780.

His letters were published after his death in 1780. They expressed opinions on the American Revolutionary War, literature, and theatre.

In these letters he addressed the hypocrisy of Wheatley's wealthy audience and masters who praised her writing but denied Wheatley's humanity by allowing her to remain a slave.

Sancho was unaware that Wheatley was manumitted (freed from slavery) after her trip but was aware of Wheatley's struggle with poverty at this time.

Letter from Ignatius Sancho to Jabez Fisher, January 27, 1778

"Phyllis's poems do credit to nature- and put art- merely as art- to the blush.- It reflects nothing either to the glory of her master- if she still his slave- except he glories in low vanity of having his wanton power a mind animated by Heaven- a genius superior to himself- the list of splendid- titled- learned names, in conformation of her being the real authoress.-alas! shews how very poor the acquisition of wealth and knowledge are- without generosity- feeling- and humanity. These good great folks- all know- and perhaps admired- nay, praised Genius in Bondage- and then, like the Priests and the Levites in sacred writ, passed by- not one good Samaritan amongst them".

Ignatius Sancho Engraving, Phillis Wheatley, Black Authors, 18th century, slavery
Ignatius Sancho, made in 1802, by Francesco Bartolozzi, From the Met Museum, Engraved copy of Thomas Gainsborough painting in 1768


The letter above is quoted from Vincent Carretta's novel Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage, On page 171. Published by the University of Georgia Press in 2014.

For a more detailed biography on Sancho please click this link for a biography on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

bottom of page