Letters offer a window into the lives of black men in 18th-century London

On August 7, 1768, Mr. M had a headache. Luckily, his friend Ignatius Sancho offered him a cure.

“The best recipe for your headache (if not the only thing that will relieve you),” the Englishman wrote in a letter, “is to cut your hair.”

Of all the known recipients of Mr. Sancho’s letters, Mr. M was one of the most frequent. In a letter sent a month after the headache was cured, Sancho thanked Mr. M for the gift of a pig. In another, he begs her to gossip: “What sketches have you done?—What books have you read?—Which girls did they court?” In a letter dated August 12, 1776, Sancho apologizes for not having written earlier; on February 9, 1777, he complains that Mr. M has not written.

Such is the portrait that Sancho paints of his own rich life as a black man living in eighteenth-century England. Over the course of 150 letters to Mr. M and many others, Sancho describes himself not as a character in a stereotypical black narrative of the time, but rather as an avid letter writer who rubbed shoulders with the upper echelons of British society. His letters narrate his friendships, his sense of humor, his travels and his daily existence.

And now, thanks to a research project at London’s Northeastern University mapping her writing to the UK and beyond, her letters have been rediscovered in a new light, which could change the way we think about the black experience. under the British crown.

Leave a Comment