Sancho's Views on Empire and Slavery
This is an extract from a letter written to Jack Wingrave, the son of Sancho's friend John Wingrave, the London bookbinder and bookseller. It was written at some point in 1778, and contains Sancho's strongest attack on empire, and some of his most outspoken views on slavery. The letter is long one, containing pleasantries and news of friends. This extract gives the first three paragraphs and the footnote: extracts from Jack Wingrave's letters which clearly angered Sancho.
To Mr. Jack Wingrave, 1778
Your good father insists on my scribbling a sheet of absurdities, and gives me a notable reason for it, that is, Jack will be pleased with it'.—Now be it known to you—I have a respect both for father and son—yea for the whole family, who are every soul (that I have the honour or pleasure to know anything of) tinctured—and leavened with all the obsolete goodness of old times—so that a man runs some hazard in being seen in the W[ingrav]e's society of being biased to Christianity.—I never see your poor Father—but his eyes betray his feelings—for the hopeful youth in India—a tear of joy dancing upon the lids—is a plaudit not to be equalled this side death!—See the effects of right-doing, my worthy friend—continue in the tract of rectitude—and despise poor paltry Europeans—titled—Nabobs.—Read your Bible—as day follows night, God's blessings follow virtue—honour—and riches bring up the rear—and the end is peace.—Courage, my boy—I have done preaching.—Old folks love to seem wise—and if you are silly enough to correspond with grey hairs—take the consequence.—I have had the pleasure of reading most of your letters, through the kindness of your father.—Youth is naturally prone to vanity—such is the weakness of Human Nature, that pride has a fortress in the best of hearts—I know no person that possesses a better than Johnny W[ingrav]e—but although flattery is poison to youth, yet truth obliges me to confess that your correspondence betrays no symptom vanity—but teems with truths of an honest affection—which merits praise—and commands esteem.
In some one of your letters which I do not recollect—you speak (with honest indignation) of the treachery and chicanery of the natives. [*] - My good friend, you should remember from whom they learnt those vices:—the first Christian visitors found them a simple, harmless people—but the cursed avidity for wealth urged these first visitors (and all the succeeding ones) to such acts of deception—and even wanton cruelty—that the poor ignorant Natives soon learnt to turn the knavish—and diabolical arts which they too soon imbibed—upon their teachers.
I am sorry to observe that the practice of your country (which as a resident I love—and for its freedom—and for the many blessings I enjoy in it—shall ever have my warmest wishes—prayers—and blessings); I say it is with reluctance, that I must observe your country's conduct has been uniformly wicked in the East—West Indies—and even on the coast of Guinea.—The grand object of English navigators—indeed of all christian navigators—is money—money—money—for which I do not pretend to blame them—Commerce was meant by the goodness of the Deity to diffuse the various goods of the earth into every part—to unite mankind in the blessed chains of brotherly love—society—and mutual dependence:—the enlightened Christian should diffuse the riches of the Gospel of peace—with the commodities of his respective land—Commerce attended with strict honesty—and with Religion for its companion—would be a blessing to every shore it touched at.—In Africa, the poor wretched natives—blessed with the most fertile and luxuriant soil—are rendered so much the more miserable for what Providence meant as a blessing:—the Christians' abominable traffic for slaves—and the horrid cruelty and treachery of the petty Kings—encouraged by their Christian customers—who carry them strong liquors—to enflame their national madness—and powder—and bad fire-arms—to furnish them with the hellish means of killing and kidnapping.—But enough—it is a subject that sours my blood—and I am sure will not please the friendly bent of your social affections.—I mentioned these only to guard my friend against being too hasty in condemning the knavery of a people who bad as they may be—possibly—were made worse by their Chritian visitors.—Make human nature thy study—wherever thou residest—whatever the religion—or the complexion—study their hearts.—Simplicity, kindness, and charity be thy guard—with these even savages will respect you—and God will bless you.
* Extracts of two letters from Mr W[ingrav]e to his father, dated Bombay, 1776 and 1777.
1776. I have introduced myself to Mr G——, who behaved very friendly in giving me some advice, which was very necessary, as the inhabitants, who are chiefly Blacks, are a set of canting, deceitful people, and of whom one must have great caution.
1777. I am now thoroughly convinced, that the account which Mr G—— gave me of the natives of this country is just and true, that they are a set of deceitful people, and have not such a word as Gratitude in their language, neither do they know what it is—and as to their dealings in trade, they are like unto Jews.
About this extract
Sancho's correspondence with Jack Wingrave first appeared in The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, published in 1782.
Sancho's Letters was published in five different editions between 1782 and 1803 before going out of print until the 1960s. The book is now available in several editions, including a paperback edition with notes and an introduction, edited by Vincent Carretta and available from: