35. Letters from the Heart: Ignatius Sancho and Benjamin Banneker

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Ignatius Sancho and Benjamin Banneker make their mark on the history of Africana thought through letters that reflect on the power of sentiment.



Further Reading

• I. Sancho, Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, An African, ed. V. Carretta (Peterborough: 2015).


• W. Andrews, "Benjamin Banneker's Revision of Thomas Jefferson: Conscience vs. Science in the Early American Antislavery Debate," in V. Carretta and P. Gould (eds), Genius in Bondage: Literature of the Early Black Atlantic (Lexington: 2001), 218-41.

• S.A. Bedini, The Life of Benjamin Banneker: The First African-American Man of Science, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: 1999).

• C. Cerami, Benjamin Banneker: Surveyor, Astronomer, Publisher, Patriot (New York: 2002).

• M. Ellis, "Ignatius Sancho's Letters: Sentimental Libertinism and the Politics of Form," in Genius in Bondage, 199-217.

• T. Jefferson, The Portable Thomas Jefferson, ed. M.D. Peterson (New York: 1975).

• R. Newman, ""Good Communications Corrects Bad Manners": The Banneker-Jefferson Dialogue and the Project of White Uplift," in J.C. Hammond and M. Mason (eds), Contesting Slavery: The Politics of Bondage and Freedom in the New American Nation (Charlottesville: 2011), 69-93.

• F.A. Nussbaum, "Being a Man: Olaudah Equiano," in Genius in Bondage, 54-71.

• S.S. Sandhu, "Ignatius Sancho and Laurence Sterne," Research in African Literatures 29 (1998), 88-105. 

• K. Sandiford, Measuring the Moment: Strategies of Protest in Eighteenth-Century Afro-English Writing (Selinsgrove: 1988).

• H. Woodard, African-British Writings in the Eighteenth Century: The Politics of Race and Reason (Westport: 1999).

• J. Wright, "Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780), African Composer in England," The Black Perspective in Music 7 (1979), 132-67.  


Thomas Mirus on 15 September 2019


Great episode! I will offer one correction: it isn't true that Thomas Jefferson is "known" to have fathered children with Sally Hemings. All we know is it was a Jefferson male, of which there were quite a number in the area. Thomas's much-younger brother Randolph is a good candidate. A Monticello slave said that he would "come out among black people, play the fiddle and dance half the night." Indeed, though it is often repeated that the oral history of Hemings' descendants says they descended from Thomas Jefferson, it is actually the case that many family members grew up hearing that they descended from an uncle, cousin or other male relative of Thomas. Not only that, but the story's origin as a slander in a local newspaper occurred years before the first of Hemings' children was born. I could say more but suffice it to say that this is not an established fact we are dealing with here.

In reply to by Thomas Mirus

Peter Adamson on 15 September 2019

Jefferson and Hemings

Hm, interesting. Well I am not an expert on this and Chike may know more about it than I do. Just looking around on the internet it looks like there is a controversy but Monticello and the TJ Foundation accept that he was the father. I am not sure it matters that much for the point we were making - if not him but his close family members were fathering children with his slaves, then how would that be any less evidence of his hypocrisy?

In reply to by Thomas Mirus

Chike Jeffers on 16 September 2019

Fine to be careful

I disagree with Peter about whether Jefferson could be called hypocritical in the second way mentioned in the episode if it were a close family member rather than he who fathered Sally Hemings' children (and if there is no other evidence of him having sex with black women). I don't think decrying something your brother does is hypocritical. Now, as Peter points out, it's easy to see that the dominant opinion today is that Jefferson fathered the children, so I'm not worried that we made a major blunder here... but I would nevertheless be fine with us re-wording to something more conditional such as "if it is true that Jefferson fathered six children with his slave Sally Hemings, he is once again hypocritical here." 

In reply to by Chike Jeffers

Thomas Mirus on 18 September 2019

Right. I just think it is

Right. I just think it is important to be careful, especially at a time when some people think it suffices to say "Sally Hemings" to dismiss Jefferson's entire legacy. Of course that is not what you were doing.

Adding to Chike's point, we might imagine Jefferson using his writings as a passive-aggressive say of criticizing his brother. Who knows...

In reply to by Chike Jeffers

Thomas Mirus on 18 September 2019

And to get philosophical, it

And to get philosophical, it seems as though saying he is "known" to have done this is an even stronger statement than if you had just asserted that he did it.

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