Feb 18 2012
09:09 pm
By: CE Petro  shortURL

Taking a moment to catch up on some news, I was scanning the KNS, and this popped up.

Which reminded me of the letter from a former Tennessee slave to his old master, Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee, at letters of note I saw recently. Please do read this through.

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 that 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 Colonel 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 that 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 twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks 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, "Them 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 Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, 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 were 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 twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have 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's 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 poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come 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.

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

The letter is truly amazing. Oh, and it was supposedly dictated! I keep wondering if Jourdan ever heard back from his old master or received his back wages. I highly doubt it though. But how he works in being shot at, that he's already free, his girls being safe and educated, and the back wages are true genius!

redmondkr's picture

I read this the other day

I read this the other day too. It is indeed a beautifully written letter.

lovable liberal's picture

Seems too good to be true,

Seems too good to be true, but a great, restrained kiss-off.

rocketsquirrel's picture

When we were working on the

When we were working on the Historic North Knoxville book, we found an important WPA slave narrative from an ex-slave turned "employee" of the Peters and Bradley Mill. He described working for the Peter family, whose mill on First Creek stood across Broadway from the present Fellini/Broadway Kroger. Many of them lived in Mucktown, so named for a white preacher, Reverend Muck. It's in the book.

Dustin.T's picture

I am sure this letter was

I am sure this letter was dictated. I mean it is nearly perfect and if he was writing that perfectly then he definitely missed his calling. I loved how many times he mentioned being shot at.


When people can read the best letters from slaves to their masters after the freedom of slaves it really makes us wonder what things were really like.

redmondkr's picture

I first read the letter at

I first read the letter at the Huffington Post. Their article has more about it here.

The professor said that Jourdan Anderson could not read or write, according to 1870 manuscript census. But the letter could have been written by his 19-year-old daughter, Jane, who was listed as literate in 1870.

cafkia's picture

I just reread that post and

I just reread that post and the letter. I don't know how I missed it the first time but, clearly the opening of the letter is an implied threat. He is saying that he knows things that Union authorities would not take kindly to. I would imagine he is saying that so as to dissuade any attempts to effect his return stronger than the letter of request.

CE Petro's picture

Being that we don't have the

Being that we don't have the letter Jourdan is responding to, his opening paragraph could also be a defensive move, that was my initial impression.

Later in his letter he mentions his freedom, the implication that the Col is offering Jourdan freedom if he returns -- to which Jourdan sets the Col. straight, he received his free-papers already. So, I don't think it much of a stretch to imagine the Col. making some sort of threat, (veiled or otherwise) if Jourdan doesn't return. I saw that opening, more of a "hey, you want to threaten me, well I know a lot about you, too."

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