Born on a slave ship enroute to the West Indies, orphaned by the age of two and taken to England by his owner, Ignatius Sancho rose from servitude to include among his friends noted artists, writers, actors, and prominent politicians. Sancho first gained celebrity when one of his letters appeared in the novelist Laurence Sterne's Letters (1775) and, inspired by the editor's desire to show "that an untutored African may possess abilities equal to a European", two volumes of Sancho's letters were published shortly after his death.The literary quality and the historical importance of the letters endure, revealing a man of sensitivity, intellect, and charm, while also presenting an unusual chronicle of the times. Sancho offers young men fatherly advice on their futures; writes flirtatiously to young women; relates the joys and sorrows of family life; swaps literary jokes; and comments perceptively on the issues of the day. His thoughts on race and politics -- including his criticism of British imperialism in India, the complicity of Africans in the slave trade, and the blatant racism that flourishes in his adopted homeland -- will be of particular interest to twentieth-century readers. While some letters may have been abridged because of the original editor's concerns about public sensitivities, they remain a powerful testament to the injustices of racial discrimination.
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Ignatius Sancho was born aboard a slave ship in 1729; by the time he died in 1780, he was not only a free man but a respected member of British society. He entertained the cream of literary and artistic London, served as a butler for the Duchess of Montague, and was the first black man to vote in a British election.
This collection of his letters, first published in book form in 1782 to enormous popular acclaim, documents his extraordinary life with wit and insight, and features correspondence with many famous names of the day, including the actor Garrick, the Montague family, the sculptor Nollekins, and the writer Laurence Sterne.
As a London celebrity, Sancho was a rallying point for British abolitionists, and his writings continue to provide an invaluable and unusual first-person perspective on the experience of free blacks during the slave trade.
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