Skip to comments.To My Old Master
Posted on 01/31/2012 10:12:07 PM PST by iowamark
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.
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 childrenMilly, Jane, and Grundygo 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 starveand die, if it come to thatthan 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,
The letter IS funny. But the fact that it rather quickly found it’s way into several Northern newspapers suggests that it is more the work of some enterprising editor than of a former slave. And that suggests the possibility that it was written with it’s propaganda value firmly in mind.
Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves
“Taken from the records of the Federal Writers’ Project of the 1930s, these interviews with one-time Virginia slaves provide a clear window into what it was like to be enslaved in the antebellum American South”
“From your old servant,
P.S. I am voting for obama in hopes I can be a house slave again. I hear tell that was the good life and as long as I stay near the plantation and vote as I have been ordered the gummit checkbook stays open forever.
I call “bogus” on this. Unless he was a favored house slave and had a lot of opportunities to practice writing, Jourdan would never be able to write so well. A discussion of this letter at snopes.com (http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=45660) turned up the following:
The letter, printed (as others have noted) in The New York Daily Tribune on 22 August 1865 (”Letter from a Freedman to his Old Master,” p. 7), is prefaced with, “The following is a genuine document. It was dictated by the old servant, and contains his ideas and forms of expression. — Cincinnati Commercial.”
So it looks as though perhaps it was dictated to a more educated writer (perhaps white, but we don’t know). Good for him for asking for back wages, though!
Were there any reports on how the slaves were treated in the north?
I recall reading a review of a recent book on the history of slavery in the North but I can’t recall the title just now.
This website might have something of interest to you:
Thank you. If you remember the name of the book I would appreciate it. Thanks again.
I was surprised by the interviews in Weevils. A lot of them seemed to remember their masters with affection and spoke of wanting to see them after the resurrection. A repeated theme was that the slaves down the road had it bad, but they themselves were proud that their own plantation had been a good place. There was only one interview where the former slave absolutely hated her old master. I don’t know if nostalgia colored their memories, but it’s an interesting book.
‘Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery’ may be the book:
For later reading.
I thinks he may have been writin’ this hear letter to Colonel Lingus.
“Dixie” was on Long Island.