A Slave To His Former Master

Recently,  a letter reportedly written by a black, former slave to his white, former slave master, in regards to “returning to the plantation to work,”  has popped up in the blogosphere. While there are questions concerning its authenticity, it’s making headlines for its “ironic” tone, showing that not all slaves, or former slaves, were Uncle Toms, stupid enough to continue participating in their own submission against better judgment.

In the letter written in 1865, the year slavery ended in the United States, the former slave, Jourdon Anderson, mocks his former master, PH Anderson, who asks him to return to the plantation to work. Jourdon demands pay for three decades worth of unpaid wages, while referencing other cruel acts put upon him and his family on the plantation of his former master.

Read for yourself.

Dayton, Ohio,

7 August, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel PH Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee


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


About TCDH

Blogger with an opinion.
This entry was posted in Black people, History, Internet, People, race. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Slave To His Former Master

  1. sanabituranima says:

    Wow. That guy is pretty freakin’ awesome, assuming the letter is real.

  2. remy says:

    great letter…. I hope It was real… whites owe the colored….

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