Tuesday, April 28, 2009

white quotation of the week (jourdon anderson)

When American slavery ended, some former slaves returned to their white "owners," lured by offers of payment for the work that they'd previously done for free. In the following letter, a freed slave named Jourdon Anderson replied to a written request for his return.

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 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 Col. 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 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 $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here 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 Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, 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 are sincerely 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 $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has 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 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 Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve--and die if it comes 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 letter appeared in The Freedman's Book, a collection of writings by "colored authors" compiled in 1865 by the abolitionist Lydia Maria Child. These words appear above the letter: "Written just as he dictated it."]

Update: Thanks to commenter ZacMatic, who found the entire scanned book at Google Books; it's actually called The Freedmen's Book. Also, the letter was published in two different newspapers, the Cincinnati Commercial and then the New York Tribune, before appearing in Child's book.

Update II: There's a thorough, passionate discussion of the likelihood that Anderson actually produced this letter at Rad Geek People's Daily.


  1. Wow that is a great letter. Be even better if he did get paid but I imagine that kind of money was a very large sum back then especially for someone on the losing side of the war.

  2. I believe that is what is known as "total pwnage"

  3. Thanks for posting this. This book has been scanned in whole and made available on Google Book Search. It is fascinating!

  4. I'm very proud of Jourdon Anderson and will probably do some further research to learn what became of him and his family.

    I agree with Stella, Jourdon completely PWNed his former owner.

  5. People just don't know wit and sarcasm until they read something like that.

  6. I agree, Moviegirl, it's um, "master"ful. (Talk about turning the tables on someone!)

    ZacMatic, I tried to find The Freedman's Book in Google Books, but had no luck. Can you provide a link or URL?

    thelady, I've been trying to find information about Jourdon Anderson too. If you find anything, please let us or me know. I did find this information about him here: "Jourdon Anderson is resting at the Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio. Apparently his old Master never accepted his offer."

  7. Oh man, I was holding it in until I read the last line--and then I just busted up laughing! LMFAO!!


  8. I doubt the letter is genuine. How many slaves had such good writing and math skills?

  9. "How many," Greg? Did it have to be a lot? And is the math in the letter really all that complicated?

    Regarding his writing skills, the printed version of the letter in Child's book also includes these words: "Written just as he dictated it."

  10. Macon, it's actually called The Freedmen's Book:


  11. Thank you, ZacMatic. (Here's a link to ZacMatic's link.) I see that the Table of Contents contains links to each section in the book too, haven't seen that at Google Books.

  12. There are plenty of examples of slaves being educated by their masters. Phyllis Wheatley is probably one of the most famous cases

    Math skills probably varied based on the work they did on the plantation. A carpenter would need to know more math than a planter.

  13. Mr. Jourdon Anderson's letter is a great read. I love the digs at his former owner especially his request for back pay and his closing words.

    I'd never heard the term "total pwnage" before. Thanks, Stella!

    And thanks for the link ZacMatic. I downloaded the pdf. This type of stuff is so up my alley.

  14. Thanks for this, it was a great read. We often think of situations like this in history abstractly; to hear the thoughts and the corrospondence of someone who actually lived it makes it a little more real. To see the understanding of freedom so clearly articulated is rare these days. It's become a muddy concept, separated from its real meaning and belabored with all kinds of tangentially related ideas. I'll definitely check the book out.

  15. Yes, it's accurate to post this book excerpt under "White quotation of the week". It is obviously a fabricated letter written by the white author of the book. The book is a propaganda piece like hundreds of others published after the war which aimed to establish as fact the falsehood that the war was fought to free slaves.

    There may have been a former slave named Jourdon Anderson, bu the letter he supposedly dictated is most likely a fabrication by a white propagandist for the radical republicans who held control of the government and the military for nearly 20 years after the war.

    Read some of the rest of the book. It's full of laughable nonsense supposedly written by various contributors named "yankee soldier" and the like, but the writing style of all the "contributors" is identical to the silly prose of the author attributed to her name.

    Yes, ZacMatic, the book is fascinating. It's a fascinating comedy of one ahistorical howler after another.

  16. Jourdan/Jordan Anderson was a real person - he is listed in the 1870 Fed. Census with his wife, children and mother in law (named McGregor). The census notes he was a hostler and could neither read nor write. P. H. (Patrick) Anderson lived near Lebanon, TN and did own slaves. Jourdan was married while still a slave in TN. I would love to learn if escaped with his wife and children - and his mother in law - or if they were re-united after the war.

  17. This almost brought me to tears and at the same time filled my heart with joy.


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