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The Sancho Letter

In the September issue of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, I printed some excerpts from a letter written by a slave named Sancho.  The letter is one of the hidden treasures in the archives. It is part of the H. A. C. Walker Papers in the Wofford Archives. It’s a fascinating, painful, and moving story of suffering and forgiveness.  As I’ve noted earlier, part of the mission of the archives is to preserve our past and to connect us to our past. As difficult as it is, we as South Carolinians and Methodists should always remember that not everything in our history is happy. Still, stories such as this can teach us about strength in times of suffering as well as grace.  I did not have room for the entire letter in the Advocate, but on the web, space isn’t quite so limited, so here’s the entire letter.  

The first page of Sancho's letter

I Sancho was born in the city of Cowbo, Africa and I was raised by my parents in the fear of God, the same God that I now adore. My father worshipped him before me. The name of God was Ala and the name of Christ was Mamudda, in my native language.  At about 12 years of age my father sent me to England for the purpose of giving me schooling under the care of Mr. Price, but alas for us we were overtooken by robbers, captured and carried to Jamaica.  We remained there one year. The captain of our vessel was hung.  After remaining there one year, I was brought over to South Carolina and fell into the hands of a Mr. Canada, a Roman Catholic. About fifteen or twenty years after I lived in South Carolina, I embraced religion. I got powerfully awakened under the labors of Bishop Ashbury in Charleston and never gave up the struggle until I was happily converted to God, through the mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Now my troubles began. My master Canada hated from his soul the Methodists and I was most cruelly treated on that account. Only God who knows all this knows the suffering that I endured with that man for seven years oft times being so washed in my blood and made to pull him in his sulky instead of a horse every evening with a double-barreled gun in his hand to shoot me down if I should (  run or ____).  Yet amidst all of this severe treatment I rejoyce in it and my soul was happy. At the end of seven years he died.  He sent for me to pray for him during his illness.  After his death a captain Randall bought me.  He was an Episcopalian and I told him I was a Methodist.  He also hated the Methodists.  I held prayer meetings on his plantation.  He heard of it and called for me and told me he heard that I held meetings on his plantation and told me if I do the like again, he would slay me down with his sword. But blest be the name of God, I found that threats of swords burned fires and Lions are no obstacles in the way of souls on fire with heavenly love.  I still held prayers on his plantation.  He came and found me praying and he had a sword and pistole in his hand and made a threat at me with his sword.  But the sword broke in his hand.  But he took me and had me tied to an apple tree and one hundred and fifty lashes put upon me and told me to call upon Christ to take it off.  And also said that __ Christ himself.  He then put me in the barn in storks and a chain fixed upon my neck.  I told him he could rile my body but could not hurt the soul.  I laid in that situation all night covered with blood in storks neck with chain fixed upon it and O Paul I know the reason why you and your comrade sang praises to God in midnight when you was in prison as one might suffering for Jesus is a happy time for the sufferer.  When I came out next morning he was ashamed and some of the people fainted at the sight of me. But I felt happy and bold and strong.  I told him that he hated God and he hated the word of God and I heard in my own country that the people in this country was a barbarous peoples.  He drove me off his plantation.

He sold me to Dr. Cooper so that he should broke me of my religion.  I had many conversations with him about religion.  He said he liked the Methodists and said that his father had died a Methodist and that he himself was a Methodist. He however tried my faith and also my honesty and found me an honest and upright and faithful servant. For the religion of our blessed Lord and Saviour acts these traits to a man’s character and makes him shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.  After trying me in various ways and still finding the same consistent servant he allowed me great privileges.  He allowed me to sing praises and pray and hold meetings in and through his yard.  He also made me steward over his yard.  I was made the principal purchaser of the necessaries of his yard not regaining any in numeratory with me for moneys spent.  But under this great exhortation.  I did not get proud but still kept my heart under subjection giving honor and praise unto his holy name that he calls me a lonely and poor African in a strange land to gain the confidence of my earthly master in surpassing my heart with that religion that makest wise the simple and is a friend to the friendly and the poor.  I love the Methodist church.  I love her ways.  I have been fighting under her banners for fifty-three or –four years as far as I can recollect, and by the grace of God I intend to stand with her untill life’s latest hour. Any prayers shall be offered in her behalf while I have breath to breathe.  When I consider the great kindness and considerations she sent, the sacrifices she makes of health and property in sending her ministers through thick and thin, through hot and cold, through the ditches of the rice fields and cotton patches, that the poor untutored African may have the gospel preached unto him and his soul pointed to Christ. O thou church of my God, go on in thy labor of love and many stars shall be added to thy crown.

I have heard of the shouts of the dying African as he blessed God that he ever raised up such a company of men as to care thus for their souls.  I feel my time now drawing to an end and I bless God that I feel able to say with an apostle for I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give me at that day and not to me only but to all them also that have love his appearing.  This may be the last conference year that I ever expect to spend this side of eternity.  It is my prayer day and night that God would pour out his spirit and that he would revive his works abundantly and that it may extend to all people both white and black.

By Phillip Stone

I've been the archivist of Wofford College and the South Carolina United Methodist since 1999. I'll be sharing college, Methodist, and local history, documents, photographs, and other interesting stories on this blog, which I've been keeping since December 2007.