top of page

Charles Ignatius Sancho: Country Dances and Minuets, etc. - June 2020

June's Virtual Communitea Chamber Music Concert



Communitea has re-opened after over three months!

We're celebrating with a tuna melt and a matcha-lemonade! Not only does Communitea LIC have their normal delicious buddha bowls, sandwiches, salads, and drinks but they're also selling their homemade dressings including herb tahini, red wine, and chipotle, their amazing pesto, loose leaf teas, and local hot sauce from Hellgate farms. Please come by and tell them how much you've missed them!!

Let's also Support Kafia and Communitea by donating to the ACLU!


A Note from our harpsichordist, Kevin Devine

"This has been the most difficult installment of Communitea Chamber Music for us to organize. We were shaken to our core by the abhorrent killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the subsequent protests against police brutality and the heart-wrenching realization that countless other BIPOC* people had been murdered in the same fashion in this country and we had chosen to turn a blind eye. We are fully aware that Western Classical music was born of societies which espoused colonialist values of white supremacy and cultural appropriation. These values persist in the systemic racism which has permeated all cultural institutions and enforced barriers which actively exclude and disproportionately affect BIPOC, Western Classical music being no exception. We are working everyday to better educate ourselves and activate the change we want to see in the world. We will continue to strive to bring the music and stories of BIPOC, Women, and Queer musicians and historical personages to our programming and we invite you to learn and discover alongside us. We will continue to seek out collaborators of all walks of life who represent the beautiful diversity of NYC."

*BIPOC= Black, Indigenous and People Of Color


Now let's celebrate Charles Ignatius Sancho's Country Dances and Minuets, Etc.

Charles Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729-1780)

Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough (1768)

Charles Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729-1780) was a british writer, grocer, butler, actor, and composer. He was born on a slave ship crossing the atlantic. His mother died soon after childbirth and his father committed suicide while still on the ship rather than live life in slavery. When he was two, he was taken to England and sold to three unmarried sisters in Greenwich, south of London in 1731. He found a patron and friend in John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu, who helped him learn to read and gave him books from his estate's library while life with the sisters became increasingly intolerable. In 1749 he ran away to John Montagu who sadly died that year. Ignatius worked as a butler for his wife, Lady Mary Montagu, where he was able to further educate himself. Unfortunately in 1751, she also died.

Ignatius Sancho was fortunate enough to be remembered in Lady Mary's will and given an annuity of £30 and a year's salary. He soon married Anne Osborne, from the West Indies and they had seven children. £30 pounds was not enough to live off of and so Sancho went back to work for the Montagus, now serving as valet to George Montagu, 1st Duke of Montagu, John Montagu's son-in-law.

Lady Mary Montagu Set: Lady Mary Montagus Reel, Minuet No. 11 - Plaintive Piano and Hornpipe in B flat Major from Minuets, Etc (1779) and Country Dances (c. 1779)

Francis Liu, violin, Sarah Stone, cello and gamba, and Kevin Devine, harpsichord


Lady Mary Montagu (1689-1751) Engraving by John Simon

Even while working as a valet (which he did until 1773), Ignatius Sancho became well-connected through his letter-writing. His most publicized correspondence was with Irish clergyman and abolitionist Laurence Sterne. Ignatius wrote Sterne a letter asking him to use his huge platform to lobby against the slave trade and sterne responded:

"There is a strange coincidence, Sancho, in the little events (as well as in the great ones) of this world: for I had been writing a tender tale of the sorrows of a friendless poor negro-girl, and my eyes had scarce done smarting with it, when your letter of recommendation in behalf of so many of her brethren and sisters, came to me—but why her brethren?—or your’s, Sancho! any more than mine? It is by the finest tints, and most insensible gradations, that nature descends from the fairest face about St. James’s, to the sootiest complexion in Africa: at which tint of these, is it, that the ties of blood are to cease? and how many shades must we descend lower still in the scale, ’ere mercy is to vanish with them?—but ’tis no uncommon thing, my good Sancho, for one half of the world to use the other half of it like brutes, & then endeavor to make ’em so."

It was through this and other published letters that Ignatius became known as an intellectual of his day. His social circles included the great shakespearean actor, David Garrick, violin and composer Felice Giardini, the painter Thomas Gainsborough, and Charles James Fox, Abolitionist, Politician and Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire's suspected lover.

The Duchess of Devonshires Set: The Duchess of Devonshires Reel, Air in D Major, and Richmond Hill from Minuets, Etc (1779) and Country Dances (c. 1779)

Francis Liu, violin, Sarah Stone, treble and bass viol, and Kevin Devine, harpsichord 


Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) 

Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough (c. 1785)

After retiring from his position as a valet, he opened a greengrocery, selling coffee, tea, and sugar and was part of the free-produce movement, boycotting goods produced by slaves. As a landowner, he was the first documented African person to have ever voted in Britain. His son became a printer and with his printing press, Sancho published two plays and a Theory of Music.

Ignatius died on December 1780 from gout. He was the first African person to be given an obituary in the British press and was immortalized by his son, who published The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African two years after his death. 

All of One Mind Set: All of One Mind, Minuet No. 12, and Gavotta in D Major

from Minuets, Etc. (1779) and Country Dances (c. 1779)

Francis Liu, violin, Sarah Stone, cello, and Kevin Devine, harpsichord

Thank you for joining us for this Virtual Communitea Chamber Music Concert about Ignatius Sancho! We hope to see you again for our new program released on Friday, July 31th @ 7 PM. Until then, please stay safe and healthy!


bottom of page