Isn’t it great when you can put a picture to a story! You may recall the story we did last year about a sarcastic slave who wrote to his former master basically telling him to go to HELL!
The famed letter was written by an ex-slave JORDON ANDERSON in response to his former master’s (SEEN BELOW) request that he return to the plantation, soon after the end of the Civil War.
Check it out below:
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 Jordon, 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,
WHO IS JORDAN ANDERSON?
Anderson was a former slave who was freed from a Tennessee plantation by Union troops in 1864 and spent his remaining 40 years in Ohio. He lived quietly and likely would have been forgotten if not for a remarkable letter
written by the ex-slave in response to his former master’s request that he return to the plantation, soon after the end of the Civil War. It was published in a Cincinnati newspaper shortly after the Civil War.
Treasured as a social document, praised as a masterpiece of satire, Anderson’s letter has been anthologized and published all over the world. Historians teach it, and the letter turns up occasionally on a blog or on Facebook.
Anderson’s words, a timeless kiss-off to a hated boss, are also a puzzle: How could an illiterate man, newly released from bondage, produce such a work of sophisticated satire?
From documents and in interviews with scholars, Anderson emerges as a very real person and the very real author of his story — though, from the beginning, it was reported to have been “dictated.” His letter is an outstanding testament to the ability of slaves to turn horror into humor.
“It is that wonderful combination of serious thought and satirical chastisement,” said Yale University history professor David Blight, who loves to read the letter during a lecture class on Reconstruction. “It represents so many definitions of freedom — dignity, access to education, family. And in the end, it also meant wages.”
According to available records, Jordan Anderson was born in Tennessee about 1825 and by age 7 or 8 had been sold to a plantation owned by Gen. Paulding Anderson in Big Spring, Tenn. Patrick Henry Anderson was one of the general’s sons and by the mid-1840s owned Jordan and other slaves. Jordan Anderson married Amanda McGregor in 1848 and they apparently had 11 children.
Union troops camped on the plantation, and Jordan was freed in 1864 by the Provost-Marshall-General of the Department of Nashville.