cover image The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho

The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho

Paterson Joseph. Holt, $27.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-250-88037-6

Actor and playwright Joseph draws from his one-person show, Sancho: A Remembrance, for this thoroughly engrossing portrait of a historical Englishman who escaped from slavery and made inroads with the royal court. Born to two enslaved African people crossing the Atlantic in 1729, Charles Ignatius is soon orphaned and sent to three spinster women in Greenwich, England, who name him Sancho. One day, Sancho runs away and is rescued from the clutches of the local slavecatcher by John, Second Duke of Montagu. The duke, noting Sancho’s quick mind, brings him to his estate, teaches Sancho to read and write, and gives him a job as a butler. Among Sancho’s accomplishments, he composes and publishes music, plays the lead in a local production of Othello, and is painted by celebrated portraitist Thomas Gainsborough. At his lowest ebb, suicidal over gambling debts and enduring painful attacks of gout, he’s befriended by a supportive group of free Black Londoners, and later marries one of their daughters, a fellow abolitionist. Toward the end of his life, he buys a shop and becomes a grocer. The purchase makes him a free male landowner, and he becomes the first Black man to vote in Great Britain. Joseph channels the writing style of the day and draws on the real-life Sancho’s diaries to give voice to his hero’s rich interior life. Readers shouldn’t miss this exhilarating and rewarding account of a man living at the cusp of world change. (Apr.)