© Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
Ignatius Sancho is the first known person of African descent to vote in a British general election. As an independent male property owner, with a house and grocery shop on Charles Street, he had the right to cast his vote for the Westminster Members of Parliament in the 1774 and 1780 elections.
In the 18th century there was no secret ballot. Voting was a completely open process, and there was a public record of exactly who voted for whom in each constituency. This is a printed Copy of the Poll taken in October 1774, listing Ignatius Sancho (on p. 15) as a tea dealer in St Margaret’s and St John’s Parish in Westminster, London. Alongside Sancho, over 7,000 other men are recorded in this volume, each with their residence and occupation, from cheesemonger to tailor, bricklayer, gentleman and bookseller.
There were four Westminster candidates, and each voter could choose two. Sancho supported Lord Percy and Lord Thomas Pelham Clinton, who stood against Lord North’s governing party and won in this constituency. On the other side, Lord Viscount Mahon and Humphry Cotes stood for Lord North’s party. Lord North gained the most MPs and was re-elected as Prime Minister.
In September 1780, Sancho voted again for another winning candidate (this was Sancho’s last vote as he died in December that year). This time he supported George Brydges Rodney and Charles James Fox, a customer in his grocery shop who personally thanked him for his vote and subscribed to his posthumous Letters. Fox criticised Lord North’s punitive policies in America and later became a prominent anti-slavery campaigner. By supporting Fox, Sancho was voting against Thomas Pelham Clinton, whom he had backed in 1774.