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To My Old Master

In August of 1865, a Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee, wrote to his former slave, Jourdan Anderson, and requested that he come back to work on his farm. Jourdan — who, since being emancipated, had moved to Ohio, found paid work, and was now supporting his family — responded spectacularly by way of the letter seen below (a letter which, according to newspapers at the time, he dictated). Rather than quote the numerous highlights in this letter, I'll simply leave you to enjoy it. Do make sure you read to the end.


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.


(Source: The Freedmen's Book; Image: A group of escaped slaves in Virginia in 1862, courtesy of the Library of Congress.)


Added: Feb-2-2012 
By: badMother
In:
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Tags: letter, slave, slavery, USA, Master, letter,
Location: Ohio, United States (load item map)
Views: 3132 | Comments: 54 | Votes: 4 | Favorites: 3 | Shared: 0 | Updates: 0 | Times used in channels: 1
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  • Slavery in America.
    Ended by Republican's, fought for by the Democrat's.
    Democrat's also founded the KKK incidentally.

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • Sounds like a "Kiss my ass" letter and rightly so! LOL

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • This is the most polite 'Eff You' letter I've ever read.

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • cool read

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • Holy shit, Jesus Christ and boy howdy! If that's real, that is the most incredible letter I can recall ever reading!
    If that doesn't warm and freeze your blood at the same time, nothing can.
    MOST outstanding.....and I hope to hell his kids, grandkids, great-grandkids and all future offspring did well for themselves.
    Very cool.

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • poor blacks.

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • Awesome reading from history if it is authentic. Tough times and events indeed.

    Good to see the slaves from the South make something of their new lives in the new country.

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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    • @mphatik Freedom is now associated with welfare so who really wins? If the letter is authentic I really doubt he would be pleased with the way things are in America today, he seemed to value hard work and education and not murder, robbery, drug dealing and such as a ways to make a living.

      Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • A fine letter. Basically saying. "Fuck you very much". ha ha

    I'm from Tenn. and I have never heard of Big Spring(s), Tenn.

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • haha would have loved to have seen the old slave master's face when he read the part about the back-pay and interest. Good on the freed man for this.

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • P.S. Kiss my ass too!

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • Reader's digest condensensed version:
    Fuck you!

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • john henry hammond 1865

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • Now weese all slaves tu da massers behind da cutain.

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • Funny letter but doubtful authenticity. I've read of real incidents like this before but I think this example is satire. It first appeared in the Cincinnati Commercial in 1865 and was reprinted in the New York Tribune the same year. If there is a hand-written original then nobody has located it yet. A cursory web search reveals no Confederate officers named P.H. Anderson from Tennessee.

    The biggest issue, though, is that the language used in this letter in 1865 would have landed a freedman in h More..

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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    • @john1054
      Thats a shame, I was hoping it was real.

      Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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    • @john1054
      I can't confirm the authenticity -found it somewhere on the web while looking for 'cost of freedom' and got fascinated by this text. Still a great text nevertheless IMHO

      Thanks for your comment.

      Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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    • @badMother you fell for a hoax...its as simple as that.

      you wanted it to be real but because you are ignorant to the reality of slavery and the disposition of black people, you just got suckered...simple as that.

      Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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    • @VikingRapeSquad
      "you wanted ... because etc. etc. etc. "

      Assumptions, more assumptions and difficulty to see distinction between cause and effect. Simple as that.

      Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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    • @badMother

      Actually, I just found out I'm wrong. The letter has been bouncing all around the internet for a few days and some researcher at Snopes did some deeper digging that I accomplished. They found records for both a slaveholder named P.H. Anderson who died in Tennessee in 1867 and of an illiterate Tennessee native named Jordan Anderson who settled in Dayton Ohio in 1865, raised a family, and had a son become a physician a few years later. So the letter was very likely a legitimate dicta More..

      Posted Feb-6-2012 By 

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  • Comment of user 'nuckelhedd' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
  • Seemed like a request for reparations.........

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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  • Comment of user 'ZazzMazta' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
  • Comment of user 'GraveMatter-' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
  • Comment of user 'esauistheend' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • @esauistheend all men of all colors are guilty see you in hell bro

      Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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    • @esauistheend
      The bible nor Jesus condemn slavery. So as far as punishment goes, it won't be for that.

      The Exodus verse talks about kidnapping, not slavery BTW.

      Here's that same chapter, but an earlier verse:
      Exodus 21:2-21
      If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bear More..

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    • Comment of user 'esauistheend' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • Comment of user 'esauistheend' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • @esauistheend
      That's not God speaking in Psalms there, that is Asaph, king David's (another monster) music director who wrote songs and music for Psalms. Asaph wrote that as a song about God destroying the non-believers, back when ancient hebrews were looking for a divine excuse for the slaughter and enslavement of tribes and kingdoms to gain territory for Isreal.

      So that (Psalm 50) was not God speaking to or through David's music director.

      Posted Feb-7-2012 By 

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  • blacks in America this day could not spell half the words in this letter much less dictate it in clear english.

    Emancipation Fail. Their new MASTERS are democrat politicians, promising crumbs for votes.

    Posted Feb-2-2012 By 

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