Monday, October 25, 2010

A former slave writes his master--this just caught my heart.

I checked snopes and other places and this appears to be real.

Jourdan Anderson

Annotation Jourdon Anderson, an ex- Tennessee slave, declines his former master's invitation to return as a laborer on his plantation.

1865 Text Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee


Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday- School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, "The colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.


As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free- papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly- - and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty- two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good- looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

<>P.S. -- Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson
Source: Cincinnati Commercial, reprinted in New York Tribune, August 22, 1865.

6 comments:

Frosty Duncan said...

Wow powerful. Thank You for sharing.

Peni R. Griffin said...

Oh, that is marvelous, and a model to all of us as a way to talk to those who have wronged us.

It is probable that the letter was gussied up a bit for the newspaper audience, but it doesn't have quite the ring of a propaganda piece from the era (which you get accustomed to reading if you go through those newspapers).

kathleen duey said...

Thanks Frosty, and Peni, yea, I went looking for accusations of fraud, and yes there were so many articles that included "Letters" which were really campy op-eds. Literacy among African Americans in that part of the country was rare, but not unheard of. And he could have had someone take down his dication, perhaps even one of own kids?

If you find it to be a hoax, please do tell me.

Peni R. Griffin said...

Well, the very first thing people who got out of slavery did with their freedom was learn to read and write. They understood that this had been withheld from them for a reason, that the illiterate were powerless, and that this was the best way to prove that they were fit for something better. And since 19th century diction, particularly public diction, was more formal than modern public diction, both the reading and the writing they learned may seem phenomenally high grade-level to us. Also, for a document of this sort, a man wanting to put his best foot forward would want to consult with an editor, probably his teacher, and we all know how valuable that is.

The voice and the content are so strong and individual, the incidents and emotions so specific, the sarcasm so subtle, when compared to what you see when white newspaper editors used black sock puppets to support whatever side of the issue they supported, that the letter is inherently convincing. Taking the writer as a character, he was not modeled on Uncle Tom!

kathleen duey said...

I think it's real. And I looked pretty hard. You are right about the language formality and the character of the drama-opeds that were intended as satire back then This one rings true.

C.R. Evers said...

Wow! gives me goose bumps. I love how you give research and perspective into such things.

You're an inspiration.