Do You Know Who Ignatius Sancho Is?

Ask yourself that question. Who is Ignatius Sancho? Do you know? I certainly didn't. When I saw his name trending on Twitter this morning, I just assumed he was a brother of Jadon Sancho who Manchester United had snapped up for their academy instead. Being a football person, and assuming it was Jadon's brother, I clicked the name to find out what was going on.

Ignatius Sancho is not Jadon's brother. In fact, it is embarrassing that I was unaware of this man - but I am sure I am not alone.

Charles Ignatius Sancho was born in 1729 aboard a slave ship. His mother died shortly after the birth and his father committed suicide, preferring to end his life on his own terms rather than be a slave. Raised in Greenwich, Sancho displayed a high intellect as he grew up, enough to impress John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu, who lent Sancho books from his own personal library, encouraging him to read and educate himself.

Unable to bear his lack of freedom, in 1749 Sancho ran away to live with the much more accomodating Montagus. He worked - receiving payment - as a butler there and immersed himself in poetry, music, reading and writing. When Mary Montagu died in 1751, he received an annuity of £30 and a year's salary (£30 equates to around £7000 today, which is incredible).

We could carry on talking about Sancho (go read his Wikipedia, it is fascinating), but there is one thing he did that stands above all else. By the 1760, he was a very accomplished man, which, of course, was extremely rare for a black man in those days. By 1774, he was a financially independent male householder, living in Westminster - and this meant that he was qualified to vote in elections, which he did in 1774 and 1780. To this end, he is the first known man of African origin to vote in a UK election, long before slavery was abolished. That is quite some achievement.

Now this is a music website, and by this point you may be wondering what any of this, as amazing as it all is, is doing on this website. Well, as mentioned earlier, he immersed himself in music - and in doing so, Sancho became a composer. He became the first man of African descent to have his pieces published, marking yet another milestone of his extraordinary life.

That said, how extraordinary was it? Sancho's reputation is based on being the first known man of African origin to both vote and have his music published, but outside of that, he was a working man, with a family, who owned a shop towards the end of his life. It's incredible - and also sad - that a man doing such normal things creates so much history, simply because the racism of the time stacked the odds against him.

Not much of Sancho's work is known, but his most famous set of pieces, 'Minuets', can be found below. It is a beautiful piece, and if music truly is an expression of the soul, we can safely assume that Ignatius Sancho had a brilliant soul indeed. Be sure to have a listen.

Sancho is today's Google Doodle as we enter Black History Month. It is astounding that he is not on the UK curriculum; given his achievements, he absolutely should be. Children don't need five years of Romans and the Tudors, they need history like this as well. Sancho is one of the most iconic men of black British history, and deserves to have his name known. Let's celebrate him today, and not forget him tomorrow.


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