This was the 2nd of our 35th anniversary series of short talks and we were treated to Victor Keegan's personal research into the unique and intriguing C18th Thorney Island resident, Ignatius Sancho. 

Reading like a guest list to a royal garden party, Victor highlighted the numerous aristocrats of the day who subscribed to a book of Sancho's letters published after his death by Joseph Jekyll.  The book became a bestseller which was quite extraordinary at the time for the memoirs of a black man born on a slave ship whose mother died of disease and his father from suicide.  At 2 years old he was given to 3 sisters in Greenwich whose treatment and regard for him is not very complimentary and it was they who named him Sancho. 

It was not until he met the Duke of Montague who took him under his wing, he learned to read and write and he flourished as a thinker of the day.  He worked for the Montague family for many years until after the Duke's death and with money from the family, he moved to Charles Street, now King Charles Street (between the Treasury and the Foreign Office) and opened a small grocery shop.  Married at St Margaret's Westminster, he lived with his wife and 6 children, not all of whom survived.  They would have walked over Westminster Bridge, the only bridge in the area and strolled through St James's Park. 

He had many important acquaintances and was a prolific letter writer to politicians, newspapers and reknowned thinkers and authors of the day.  He urged them to talk and write about the abhorrant slave trade.  He also wrote poems, plays and music.  It was clear that this extraordinary man had a unique life in London at a dangerous time, at the height of the trade, when he could have been press-ganged, kidnapped or deported at any time.  Clearly highly regarded, his portrait was painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1768 and he is buried in what is now Christchurch Gardens and has no known decendents.

Ignatius Sancho, Short Talk by Victor Keegan - February 2020