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Ignatius Sancho’s London: A Digital Map of Eighteenth-Century Black London

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780) was a Black letter writer, valet, business owner, musician, and abolitionist. Though likely born enslaved, Sancho lived and worked as a free man in eighteenth-century London. Sancho came to occupy a unique position in London society that straddled the elite social worlds of the aristocracy and the everyday life of the city. These experiences are narrated in The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African (1782), an amazing collection that reveals a man who was at once a husband, father, entrepreneur, musician, abolitionist, literary writer — and the first documented Black person to vote in a parliamentary election. These correspondences have been the basis of the team’s research, as they provide a rich view of eighteenth-century London’s political, cultural, and economic life. 

By plotting the locations of Sancho and his correspondents, these letters have served the team to build a map of London in the eighteenth century, focalised through the eyes of a Black man and the experiences of his family. Historical mapping provides users with an understanding of the spatial nature of communities, especially in urban settings where various populations interact on a daily basis for a multitude of reasons. At a time when Britain was debating the end of the country’s slave trade, the ability to view the interactions of the various members of British society — from free Black Londoners to white slave traders — is especially significant. 

The project has produced a Story Map outlining Sancho’s life that reveals the complexity of the Black urban experience during the colonial era and its implications for the London we know today, featuring several exciting new archival discoveries. These discoveries were picked up by actor-turned-writer Paterson Joseph, who the team worked with to inform some of the historical content of his debut novel, The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho, which was released in October 2022. Alongside this, the project published an interactive map which users can freely explore to view London through Sancho’s lens. 

Co-Principal Investigators:

Dr. Oliver Ayers

Dr. Nicole N. Aljoe

Graduate Students: 

Kasya O’Connor Grant (PhD in World History)

Undergraduate Students: 

Odile Jordan

Ellen Valente

Amouraé Bhola-Chin

Libby Collard

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