A Slave’s Response to His Former Owner

Escaped Slaves

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.

Letter courtesy of Letters of Note
What say you of this letter?
BB-IDAHO did some added research on this letter and presented his findings in “Comments”. You might find his added input very interesting. I know I did.

Categories: Education, Ethics and Morality, History, Politics | Tags: , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “A Slave’s Response to His Former Owner

  1. I’d say the gentleman understood sarcasm quite well!

  2. The Griper

    it is quite a letter, isn’t it? one can read and then reread it finding something new in the attitude of the man each time you read it.

  3. BB-Idaho

    Did a little background reading on this; some folks think the writer who took the dictation from the former slave worded it in a post-abolutionist framework. As the the historicity of the letter, you may find interesting the conclusions of another investigator:
    “As further support of the authenticity of the letter and its contents, I direct the reader to the 1870, 1880, and 1900 federal censii for Dayton, Ohio which show Jordan Anderson (b Dec 1825 in Tennessee) in a household with his wife Amanda (b Oct 1829 in Tennessee). In the 1870 census, five years after the letter was published, they were listed with four of their children — 19 year-old Jane, 12 year-old Felix (Grundy?), 5 year-old William, and 1 year-old Andrew. Over the years, Amanda had had eleven children, only six of whom were still living in 1900. Three of the children we were living with them 1900, including their 29 year-old son Valentine, a physician. In the years of the censii, Jordan lists himself as hostler, a coachman, and a butler. He cannot read or write, and Amanda can only read, but all of his children attend school in the records shown.

    Patrick Henry Anderson Sr., born 1823 in Tennessee, merchant and farmer of Wilson County, Tennessee, appears in the federal censii of 1850 and 1860, with his wife Mary Ann, and his children Patrick Henry Jr., Martha, Pauldin, Timis, Edgar Poe (Allen?), and Mary. The slave schedules of 1860 show him as the owner of thirty-two slaves, including a 34 year-old male who could be Jordan. There’s a three-year old boy who could be Felix and a ten year old girl who could be Jane, but Amanda doesn’t seem to be in the list, unless her age has been mis-recorded. As genealogists will know, slave schedules did not include the names of the slaves, just their age, sex, and whether they were black or mulatto (of mixed ancestry). Notably, seven of the slaves, all of them minors, were listed as mulatto, however the distribution of ages of slaves (in particular the lack of female slaves of the correct age to be mothers) suggest that many of the younger slaves came from different owners originally.

    According to other published and online records of his family tree, P.H. Anderson died in 1867. His son, P.H. Jr, the Henry mentioned in the letter, appears in censii in Wilson County as late as 1880.

    There are multiple George Carters in Wilson County in the period in question, but the likely one is a carpenter who appears in censii in 1850, 1860, and 1870 in the same township as the Andersons. Before the war he owned two slaves, and each was mulatto.”
    …..sort of putting the thing into concurrent context. Good find!

  4. The Griper

    Thank you, BB. and your added commentary, as usual, just gives the letter greater significance.

  5. It is quite a letter. I am not sure if I could write a letter to my former master after my master tried to shoot and kill me. I thought it was interesting that Jourdan Anderson added up the years of his servitude plus the wages owed him by his master. It gives you a different perspective on slavery. Being owned by another person is bad enough. Not being payed for years of hard labor is also very abusive and cruel. When you think of the wages never payed to the slaves, you can see that slavery was very profitable for many slave owners. The slaves were considered to be property; I think it is interesting that much property (buildings, railroads) was destroyed in the South during the Civil War.

    The Lord judged the United States (North and South) in the Civil War of 1861-1865. Over 620, 000 men died during the Civil War–mostly white men. Definitely a horrible price to pay for 250 years of slavery in America.

    I was hitchhiking in Oklahoma once and this truck driver picked me up and drove me into Texas. He was from Pennsylvania. He read a lot on the Civil War. He said it took two generations for the United States to recover from the Civil War (a generation being twenty years). There were whole towns and villages in New England where there were no males between the ages of 15 and 40 because they were killed in battle or died of disease. The Civil War probably affected virtually every single American family between the Atlantic Ocean and the the Missouri River. If the last major battle fought in the Civil War was in 1864 or 1865 and the next major battle that Americans fought in was 1917 or 1918 (World War I), that truck driver was right on target.

    People tend to shy away from that which traumatizes them. In the Civil War, it was called “Soldier’s Heart”; in World War I, it was called “Shell Shock”; in World War II and The Korean War, it was called “Battle Fatigue”; in the Vietnam War,The Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan it was/is called “PTSD” (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It looks like the United States shied away from big battles between 1865 and 1918. The shedding of blood sears itself into one’s memory much more than words.

    The Lord judges in the affairs of men.

    • I noticed in the above comment that I wrote “payed” and not “paid”. I don’t know what I was thinking.

  6. Now that I have spoken on the Civil War, I would like to say something about abortion. I am a Christian; I am anti-abortion. Abortion is the murder of pre-born humans. Wolves have more rights in the United States than pre-born babies. If you kill a pre-born baby, nothing will happen to you; if you kill a wolf, you may get one year in jail and a $10,000.00 fine. This is a perverse generation.

    Abortion is one hundred times worse than slavery ever was. The United States has legally killed 54 million babies since 1973. I believe the first slave was sold on American soil in 1619; the last slaves to be freed in America probably happened in 1865. Slavery last roughly for 250 years in America. God’s judgment came and over 620,000 men died in the Civil War.

    If abortion lasts for 250 years in the United States, roughly 330 millions babies will have been murdered. Will the Lord judge the United States with another brutal civil war or will the Lord kill off half the population with bubonic plague? I understand some when it comes to God’s Grace, but I understand much less when it comes to God’s Mercy. Just before God’s Mercy runs out on the United States, will the enviro-pagans in this country elect a wolf into the White House?

    The most violent and dangerous place in the United States is a mother’s womb. I would much rather walk in the most battle-torn neighborhood in Iraq during the Iraq War and wave an American flag, praise Jesus, call Mohammed a false prophet and a child molester and tell everyone that The Koran is totally Satanic than be in a mother’s womb in the United States.

    “Guns Don’t Kill People; Liberals Kill People”

  7. The Griper

    with a given a belief that man has a free will I can not say that the War between the States was an act of judgment upon man by God.

    as for the issue of abortion, since this post was not about abortion I will not comment on this issue at this time.

  8. JD

    That certainly is a touching letter. Sad, heartbreaking and inspiring all at the same time. It would be interesting to know if he ever received a response to his requests. Do you know?

  9. The Griper

    have no idea, JD, but considering the premises of this letter, I doubt it.

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