Home Around the Web Must Read: Letter From Escaped Slave To His Former Master

Must Read: Letter From Escaped Slave To His Former Master

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You see me chillin with my feet up ... what in the hell would make you think I'm coming back?

So I was clicking around the internet today and came across this awesome blog that publishes interesting old letters in hopes of getting them more recognition. Yesterday they posted a letter from a former Tennessee slave named Jourdan who’d escaped to Ohio and started a new life. Apparently, his master, aware of his new home, wrote to Jourdan to try to convince him to come back to the plantation.

The former master who was a Colonel in the south’s army of traitors, promised to treat Jourdan and his family much better should he return to Tennessee.  Jourdan’s response is spot on.

So many things worth discussing here – check it out and let us know what you think.



Originally published in The Freedman’s Book

 

 

 

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.

This right here is exactly what I mean when I say stay low and keep firing.

See Also:  Life is Good

Comment(37)

      1. I agree. It seems "wrong" or a little off center in the sense that the "former master" wants Mr. Anderson to go back to the place that oppressed him. Obviously the man is in a better place where he can work, and get paid for it, ya know being free and all. It's also just tickles me that dude had to write a full letter and explain in so many words that he ain't goin' back, but he writes it in such a way that is still cordial; dispite everything he's been through.

  1. Wow.

    "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." <<<<<< HOLLERED!!!!

    And the nerve of the "master" to write him requesting that he return…after shooting at him for trying to leave!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    You just tried to kill me. Are you serious right now? Is this a joke?

    Wow.

  2. This paragraph right here though:

    "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."

    Awesome.

  3. This has to be the most polite kiss my tail letter I’ve ever read. I can imagine the self satisfied grin Mr Anderson held as he mailed the letter. Its not too often that a former slave could successfully document the actual trials of slavery, documented from a firs person perspective, & at the same time give his former master the proverbial finger. To imagine his reaction when he recieved that letter, the carefully worded response. The investigation of an attorney to represent their estate should the master make good on his promises. The succinct refusal of his claims to be a kind and good master. And finally the word laced with intellect and wit denouncing any claims that a black person is a slave physically and mentally.
    I smiled the whole time and cheered for his victory.

  4. The mentality that we had in those days and times seems to be lost in a media driven world that portrays images like those in "Real House & Basketball Wives" and other media outlets.

    What a perfect way to start Black History month or at least to discuss where we are going and where we as a people have come from.

    #DatIshKray
    My recent post 2012

  5. I love this letter. The sad part is this was written by a person who had probably recently learned how to read and write, and yet this is written better and more eloquently than a noticeable percentage of our generation can write today.

  6. This is so awesome!!! That will $11,680, plus interest. Oh feel free to deduct the rags you let us wear, the THREE doctor visits in 32 years that you allowed me to have and pulling my wife's tooth!

    This was the best line, "If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future."!!!

  7. I agree that this letter is very well written, and it kind of gets me inside because my last name is Anderson.

    Besides that, I think there are a few valuable lessons to be learned:

    1. The importance of education…. J. Anderson seems to have gained some kind of education, reading and writing skills at the least, and expects nothing less than a good education for his daughters, which for him had long since been denied.

    2. The importance of marriage and commitment. Not only did he and his wife work together for 20+ years as slaves, they continued to lived together and they raise their children together.

    3. The importance of respecting women. Anderson spoke respectfully about his wife and his master's wife. Acknowledging their presence and work.

    I think the aforemntioned valuable lessons found in J. Anderson's letter is EXTREMELY lacking in today's society, especially by our young black men and women, and hopefully this will Inspire, Encourage, or Uplift those who continue to feel oppressd by their environments.

  8. This terrible war; this terrible time in history; human against human could have been avoided in three ways. First the tribal wars in Africa would not have resulted in Africans selling Africans to slavers, Next, Lincoln would have been successful with Congress in having them agree to send all slaves back to Africa for $30 a piece. Third, the South would have agreed to pay slaves wages to include housing, food, and whatever else they needed in exchange for work. Earning your living is truly the only way to self-esteem.

    1. Right, and if they stopped H!tler in Munich history would be a whole lot different right? They didn’t, and the three things you mentioned above didn’t happen either.

      And I’m not a fan of the “send us back to Africa” suggestion. First of all, by that time we’d already been for close to 350 years. We’d already shed blood in helping free this country from the tyranny of England, we’d already shed blood in the war of 1812 and most importantly, we’d already helped set this country on the path toward being the most powerful nation in the world. So unless Lincoln wanted to send us back to Africa with back wages equivalent to cover the 300 years of subjugation and half the GDP of the US for the next 50 years – as Mr. Anderson suggests above – I’ll pass. Thanks. Would rather fight a civil war, endure the KKK and another 100 years of Jim Crow while fighting to reclaim what’s rightfully mine than give it all back to them for nothing.

      Secondly, when Lincoln initially pontificated that, the African slave trade had been over for nearly two generations. Those slaves working then were American Citizens – even if the country had yet to fully recognize their citizenship. You can’t just deport people because they’re a problem.

      Lastly, there’s this little thing called “self-determination” … “Kujichagulia” for my Kwanzaa celebrating folks. It’s the idea that one of the most vital things blacks in America strive for is the ability to write our own destinies here in this country. The idea of “sending” us back to Africa goes against that notion. Our people put us in bondage, sold us to them, then they take us to America and force us to work for free for 300 years, then when our free labor is no longer worth the “hassle” that comes with it, they wanna “send” us back to a place those of us who are alive now have never been. Yeah – thanks but no thanks – we’ll pass. Just give us our freedom and stay out of our way.

      All of this is why I don’t like historical hypotheticals. They minimize the importance of understanding, in totality, exactly what was happening at the time.

      Thanks for the comment though.

      1. And also, I'ma need folks to stop bringing up the role our African ancestors played in the slave trade. They got swindled. They thought they were selling one single person, usually a debtor or a criminal. They didn't grasp the concept that they were selling that person and all of his future offspring and their offspring and their offspring.

        1. Our African ancestors treated slaves way much better than they were treated in the plantations. Slaves married and had children, even had a chance of redeeming themselves and getting integrated into the families they worked for after several years of service.This is the same concept some of those chiefs who sold their kinsmen had in mind.

          Awesome letter.

  9. Thank you for sharing this! Reading this made my day! I had to read it twice, because it brought me so much joy. Talk about the epitome of staying classy and killing 'em with kindness.

  10. I wonder why this didn’t come in my inbox yesterday. Anyway awesome letter! I love how he was like you owe me back pay sucka!

  11. I have grown to love sbm, and been stealing (with acknowledgements most of the time) most of your stuff to share with my friends ..and there's no way this one will escape my claws..

  12. I saw this letter during my nightly msn crawl on my phone before I went to bed and it just very emotional for me. I was proud of Mr. Anderson and at the same time sad for what he had to go through.

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