The Morning Call: In 'Sancho: An Act of Remembrance,' Paterson Joseph plays Charles Ignatius Sancho, a slave who went on to become the first black person to vote in Britain. The show will be presented at the Williams Center for the Arts in Easton on Dec. 14. (ROBERT DAY / CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)
EASTON — The story of the first black person to vote in Britain will play out on the stage of Williams Center for the Arts in Easton.
Actor Paterson Joseph presents his one-man show, "Sancho: An Act of Remembrance," on Dec. 14.
In his original play, Joseph tells the life of Charles Ignatius Sancho, who was born on a slave ship in 1729.
"Ten years ago I had the idea of doing a costume drama with a black protagonist," says Joseph, who is featured in HBO's "The Leftovers."
During his research, he came across a painting of Sancho by English portrait painter Thomas Gainsborough.
"The painting was very striking," Joseph says, "but I had never heard anything about him."
He found information about him in the book "Black England" by Gretchen Gerzina, and discovered Sancho had been a musician, composer, actor and inveterate letter writer.
"I fell in love with him," Joseph says. "He was grossly fat, had a speech impediment and suffered from gout. But he was this African man in the 18th century who accomplished so many things."
Hollis Ashby, director of the Williams Center for the Arts Performance Series, was fascinated by a play about "this very real individual who, frankly, most of us know nothing about."
"I was intrigued by what Paterson Joseph had to say about the necessity of investigating the lives of black Britons to understand his own history, and how those lives have shaped identity in black Britain today," Ashby says. "Charles Ignatius Sancho had a fascinating life and holds a significant place in British history."
Joseph didn't think of himself as a writer, but was so inspired by what he found that he began to write what would become his first play.
"It was a pretty daunting task," he says. "The details of his life are very sketchy."
Sancho's mother likely died in childbirth. He was eventually sent by his owner to live with three spinsters in England, where Joseph says he was treated as "a kind of a pet."
He then was taken in by the Duke of Montagu, who "liked his cheekiness" and made him his valet, Joseph says.
In the Duke's household, Sancho learned to read, play music and speak French. He started writing music and plays and even wrote for the Shakespearean actor David Garrick.
When he retired, the Duke helped Sancho open a grocery store. It was as a proprietor of a business that Sancho became eligible to vote, in 1780, Joseph says. He also was vocal about his political opinions.
"He became a real hero," Joseph says.
In writing the play, Joseph relied on Sancho's many letters to capture the man's "voice and wit."
"He was such a raconteur," he says. "He made up words and told jokes."
The play also provides historical perspective on why abolition in England was so slow in coming. Although England abolished the slave trade in 1807, the country continued to use slaves, Joseph says.
"The British had this idea they were heroes in the anti-slavery movement but they also were beneficiaries of the slavery trade," he says. "It was a bit of a thorn in the flesh."
'SANCHO: AN ACT OF REMEMBRANCE'
•What: A one-man play written and performed by actor Paterson Joseph about the first black man to vote in Britain.
•When: 8 p.m. Dec. 14
•Where: Williams Center for the Arts, Lafayette College, 317 Hamilton St., Easton
•How much: $29