Friday, February 3

Letter From Freed Slave to Former Master

My mission this Black History Month is to present you with new faces from our history.  We all know (or should know) the major players: Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks...I mean the list goes on and on.  Don't get me wrong, they are extremely important people who have done significant works, however, I would like for us to expand our data base and find new facts.  

I found this letter written by a freed slave to his former master.  The former master had written him in an attempt to get "his slave" to return to work on his farm. However, since Jourdon left the Anderson farm, he became emancipated, moved his family to Ohio (from Tennessee) and was even working for pay.

I don't want to say too much before you get the chance to read this incredible letter....I want to letter to speak for itself.  It is beautifully penned! 

Leave a comment with your favorite part of the letter.

Here it is...ENJOY! 

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.


Eden Hagos said...

Wow, this is incredible. I am amazed how matter-of-fact the writer is about all of the abuse that he suffered. Rather than being angry or negative about the past he seems to have made his peace with it and be focused on the future. Truly a wonderful example to all of us. My favourite line? Definitely "Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me." :)

Ashley Victoria said...

I am astounded at the words of this letter. There is absolutely no hostility, resentment or hatred. The reason as to why this has spoken to me is after reflecting on everything our people were subjected too...we still to this day understand and value the principle of love and forgiveness. Who can you say throughout mankind's history would be able to write such a sincere genuine letter- stipulating kindness, fairness and understanding...

Tina said...

Wow. Words filled with forgiveness . But not actions not forgotten. Yet sense a bit of contempt for the master having the audacity of assuming this proud black man would even consider such a ludicrous offer. Slavery was not a choice. Raping us from our lands, our mothers and even ourselves did not destroy the essence of who we are . This man stated the obvious as fact; Not hatred. Slavery is built on hatred. This proud descendant of Africans is made in the image of god, which is love. To hate the white man is to eat of the same evil hatred that perpetuates all forms of oppression. This man choose love.
My favorite part is the simplistic purity of all of it. Its like dude, This is what it is, I did not have a choice of my history- but i damn straight have the power to choose my future. He spoke with love & eloquence when speaking of his family and dreams for them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for your insightful comments!!! i do read each and everyone of them! trey.

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