Voices from the 18th Century: The Obituary of Ignatius Sancho



Brief and unassuming, Ignatius Sancho‘s obituary in The Gentleman’s magazine (London, 1780) tells us very little about a man who accomplished much.

“In Charles-str. Westminster, Mister Ignatius Sancho, grocer and oilman ; a character immortalized by the epistolary correspondence of Sterne.”

The obituary itself is unprecedented—it’s the first in Britain to mark the death of a black man—and one of nearly thirty obituaries in the December issue of the magazine which listed “considerable Persons” who were important (or wealthy) enough to be mentioned.

Sancho is clearly a businessman. He owned a grocery and oil supply business.

There’s also a reference to the well-known correspondence that Sancho had with Laurence Sterne, Irish novelist and clergyman, about the slave trade.

In spite of the omission, Sancho is best remembered a composer—the first in Britain of African descent.

Among his works, Sancho published a collection of sixty-two songs, two sets of instrumental minuets and country dances, and another set of dances entitled 12 Country Dances for the Year 1779 (London).

Learn more:

(The frontispiece to The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi, based on a painting by Thomas Gainsborough)

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  • Many thanks, William. I enjoyed exploring the AfriClassical website.

  • AfriClassical is happy to link to this post. The original obituary is an important reminder of the extensive historical record of Ignatius Sancho.