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).
- The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, 1782, Volume I and Volume II
- Ignatius Sancho: African Man of Letters
(The frontispiece to The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi, based on a painting by Thomas Gainsborough)