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Ignatius Sancho’s Subscribers

A black and white drawn portrait of Ignatius Sancho, shown on a book

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

“Ignatius Sancho’s Subscribers” examines the financial relationships underlying the publication of the first book by a Black Briton, Letters of the late Ignatius Sancho, an African (1782). Sancho’s book, like many in the eighteenth century, was published “by subscription,” a process much like a contemporary Kickstarter. Prospective readers paid or pledged money in advance, and were thanked by name in a list of subscribers printed within the book. Subscription lists rhetorically situate books among select audiences, and they also offer “data” about the social networks which support publishing in the eighteenth century. For Black Britons, the process of attracting subscribers was particularly complex, since most potential patrons would be white and some might derive their wealth directly from slavery. Sancho was remarkable for the length of his subscriber list: forty-one pages of names precede his letters. This project examines these 1,181 names to identify his subscribers’ ties to abolitionist movements—and to slavery. The subscriber listed as “Lady Abdy,” for example, would be Mary Anne Abdy née Gordon, daughter of the slave-owning James Brebner Gordon, Chief Justice of Antigua. How might she, and other subscribers, have reconciled their embeddedness within an economy where the spoils of slavery and colonialism are never far removed? And addressing the eighteenth-century more broadly, how can “following the money” change our understanding of the works that are published?

Principal Investigator

Lawrence Evalyn, Faculty, English


Chinma Nnadozie-Okananwa, Research Assistant, English ; Alisa C. Chen, Research Assistant, English


“Who Financed Black Books? Ottobah Cugoano, Ignatius Sancho, and Publishing by Subscription in the Eighteenth Century.” Lawrence Evalyn and Chinma Nnadozie-Okananwa. Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing. Conducted virtually, June 26–29, 2023.

“Ignatius Sancho’s Subscribers: Monetary Networks in Eighteenth-Century Publishing and Slavery.” Lawrence Evalyn. American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Saint Louis, MO, March 9–11, 2023.

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