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Ignatious Sancho: The First Man of African Diaspora To Vote In UK Elelctions

Charles Ignatius Sancho was the first Black person to vote in the UK in 1774 and 1780. He would have been amongst 5 % of the population who were eligible to vote at the time.

This was a time when voting was very much restricted, based on “wealth,” defined as either property ownership or rental at a certain value. If someone met that criteria alone, they got a vote, regardless of race or gender. (Interestingly, it was only when voting was “reformed” in the early 19th century that women were excluded from voting.)

A grocer by trade, it is from his occupation as a shopkeeper, with a steady income and financial independence, that Sancho derived his entitlement to vote.

As an adult male householder and ratepayer, he would have met the 'scot and lot' franchise requirement for the constituency of Westminster where he lived. He was entitled to vote in the 1774 and 1780 general elections. We know that he voted for the Whig candidate Charles James Fox in 1780. He died later the same year in December 1780.

There are varying accounts of Ignatius’ early life. A biography called 'The Life of Ignatius Sancho' was published by Joseph Jekyll, a budding lawyer acquainted with the Sancho family in 1782: The biography is historically unreliable, or at least unproven, in parts; claiming that Sancho was born to an enslaved mother on a slave ship making the Atlantic crossing.

However, Sancho's own letters states that he was born in Africa and implies that he has no family ties related to the American slave trade. It is not clear if or how he came to be orphaned or how he arrived in England.

What is known is that in his early years in London, Sancho worked in domestic roles in aristocratic households.

Highly self-educated, he read widely, started composing his four collections of music and agitated for an end to the slave trade, corresponding with the great novelist Laurence Sterne.

His became a greengrocer when he retired from domestic work and despite illness, he continued to flourish; publishing books, meeting the great and good and writing into the letters pages of newspapers on subjects he felt strongly about.

These and other letters were published posthumously, making Sancho a public figure and positive representative of working class London in the 18th century.

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