This is a terrific letter from a Mr. Jourdon Anderson to his former master Colonel P.H. Anderson. The date of the letter places the events immediately after the Civil War and is in response to the Colonel's letter requesting Jourdon to come back and work on his land. Jourdon's reply letter is quite hilarious. Enjoy.
LETTER FROM A FREEDMAN TO HIS OLD MASTER.[Written just as he dictated it.]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,
Upon some further research; this particular letter is a hot piece for many that are studying the Civil War era and concentrating on the issue of slavery. However, to say the least, the provenance of the letter is a bit shaky. The letter was originally reprinted in L. Maria Child's The Freedmens Book in 1865. The letter also appears in newspapers around the same time which can be seen here. Child, the author of The Freedmen's Book is no stranger to the issue of black people in bondage publishing several books on the topic. Her noteworthy publications include: An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans; the short story "Slavery's Pleasant Homes: A Faithful Sketch"; and Isaac T. Hopper: A True Life.
There are some who claim or might claim that given Child's history in advocating slave emancipation that there is a motive to write such articles/letters out of thin air to advance an 'agenda.' There is also the noticeable dialect that a former seemingly uneducated slave seems to have right after the end of the war. Jourdon did not write the letter himself which is indicated by the dictation note. It does seem very proper. Looking at census records around that time reveals some information that might shed some light on the subject.
According to U.S. Census records [below], there was only one P.H. Anderson in Wilson County Tennessee in 1860. In Wilson County there is a 'community' today known as "Big Spring." It appears that it is a town that is no longer in existence. According to the 1860 census, P.H. was thirty-seven in 1860 making him roughly forty-two at the time of Jourdon's letter. He had a personal estate of $92,000 making him a very wealthy 'farmer' as the census shows. "Miss Mary" (Wife) and "Miss Martha" as said by Jourdon appear on the census as well as five other children. One of these being Patrick H. Anderson Jr. We can assume from this that the P. in Colonel Anderson's initials stands for Patrick. Patrick Jr. is listed at thirteen years of age at the time making him eighteen in 1865 when the letter is written. It is likely that Jourdon's use of the name "Henry" applies to Patrick Jr. as the letter is directed at the Colonel. To add one more detail to establish the validity of Jourdon's letter is the mention of George Carter at the end of the letter. According to the U.S. census there is only one George Carter living in Wilson County in 1860, who holds the occupation of carpenter. The use of real people in this section of the letter indicates a case for validity.
Five years after the letter was written, Jordan Anderson shows up on the 1870 census in Dayton, Ohio. He is listed as a Hostler, which is an occupation dealing with horses like a stable boy. He is listed as forty-five years old alongside his wife Amanda (Mandy) at thirty-nine. Along with Jordan and his wife are five children: Amanda; James; Felix; William; and Andrew. The entire family with the exception of William and Andrew are listed as having been born in Tennessee where P.H. Anderson has his farm. All children are listed as going to school as mentioned in the letter except for Andrew who is one at the time of the census.
As historians we would like nothing better than the smoking gun but more often than not we are left only with the trail. This trail suggests that the letter is real. The people are real and are in the right locations as presented in the letter. The only thing that seems to be missing from the evidence are the original letters. But even without the originals we are able to use the copies which appear at the same time and trace the story backwards. The theory presented here is that the letter is legitimate, written by Jourdon, intended for Colonel P.H. Anderson and not just advancing an emancipation agenda. As always, this is open to debate and improvement.
|Jourdon Anderson Census|
|P.H. Anderson Census|
|George Carter Census|
 Child, L. Maria. The Freedmen's Books. Boston, (Ticknor and Fields, 1865). p266. [Retrieved from, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/38479/38479-h/38479-h.htm#Page_265]
 U.S. Census, Wilson County, Tennessee 1860
 U.S. Census, Wilson County, Tennessee 1860
 U.S. Census, Dayton City, Ohio 1870
UPDATE: The comments below contain excellent information regarding the lives of P.H. Anderson and Jourdon/Jordan Anderson.