Tucked away in the wall in the far south-western corner of Greenwich Park are a pair of memorial stones, it is easy to miss them. The first is to mark the location of Princess Caroline’s bath at Montague House, the second is a memorial to Ignatius Sancho.
The story told of Ignatius Sancho’s early life is generally that from a biography by Joseph Jekyll in 1782 who describes him being born on a slave ship bound for Cartagena in the Spanish colony of New Granada (now in Columbia) soon after it left Africa, his mother died in labour and his father committed suicide rather than spend the rest of his in slavery. He was brought to London effectively as a slave where he was owned by three sisters in Greenwich, who called him ‘Sancho’ as they thought he resembled Don Quixote’s squire.
However, more recent research suggests that he was more likely to have been born in Africa rather than on a slave ship and casts doubt on the route to London too. However, with the strong links of south east London to the slave trade, via the Deptford dockyards, it is perhaps not surprising that he ended up working as a servant/slave in Greenwich.
‘Sancho’s’ later life is a little clearer, he eventually ended up at Montague House after being befriended by John, later to become, 2nd Duke of Montagu who encouraged him to read and lent him books from the library at the House. He became a butler to Lady Montagu, and and on her death in 1751 he received an annuity of £30 and a year’s salary which he seems to have frittered away in George Best style. During the 1760s Sancho married Ann Osborne and began to have influence amongst the Georgian intelligentsia on the issue of slavery. This included Laurence Sterne who wrote about the subject in ‘Tristram Shandy’ . Sancho returned to the employment of the Montagus before they set him up with a shop in Mayfair.
Whilst Ignatio was in the employ of the Montagus his portrait was painted by Gainsborough in 1768 – the Duke and Duchess had portraits painted at the same time.
Source – Wikimedia Commons
As a male property owner in Westminster he was entitled to vote in Parliamentary elections, and in 1774 became almost certainly the first person of Black African origin to cast a vote in Britain – he voted for the prominent Whig politician and anti-slavery campaigner Charles James Fox who stood in Westminster in that election. ‘Sancho’ was also the first Black African to have an obituary written about him in Britain.
He is perhaps most remembered for his letters which were published posthumously on slavery and British political and social life in the late 18th century.