A letter written by a freed slave to his former master has surfaced again after almost 150 years and is creating a lot of buzz. The letter was written by former slave Jourdon Anderson to his master Colonel P.H. Anderson in August 1865.
According to Letters of Note, Colonel Anderson had written his former slave, asking him to return to work as a freeman on the farm on which he had spent 30 years as a human tool.
The former slave's response to his former master's request (see full text of the letter below) surfaces again after the book, The Freedmen's Book, compiled by Lydia Maria Child almost 150 years ago, was reissued this month. According to Daily Mail, Child was born in 1802. Her husband David Lee Child, was an abolitionist who also campaigned for Indian rights and women's rights.
'There was never pay-day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows'
Jourdon, in the letter he dictated, replied his master that he and his family had moved from Big Spring, Tennessee to Ohio, after being emancipated and now he had a job and was being paid, for the first time, for his labor.
According to Letters of Note, the New York Daily Tribune published the letter on Tuesday, August 22, 1865.
New York Tribune
Letter from a freedman to his old master
Jourdan began his letter by politely thanking his former master for inviting him back "although you shot at me twice before I left you." Jourdon tells his former master proudly that living conditions for his family have improved since he left him. Now he is a freeman having received his "free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville." Now he works for his living and receives wages, $25 a month, for his labor, a sharp contrast to the years of his servitude on the Colonel's estate where "there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows." (To this comment, he adds bitterly: "Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.").
Henry P. Moore
James Hopkinson's Plantation slaves planting sweet potatoes (c. 1862/63).
A touching statement in the letter that reveals the psychic trauma of slave identity was when he said: "Sometimes we overhear others saying, 'Them colored people were slaves' down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks." But Jourdan attempts to mitigate the blight. He says, "...but I tell them (the children) 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."
Then Jourdan gives his response to his former master's request: He would return to work for his former master as a freeman only if he and his wife were compensated for the combined total of their 52 years of servitude which, at his $25 per month wage rate, he estimated at $11,680 ("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")
Timothy H. O'Sullivan
Family of slaves on Smith's Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1862.
Jourdon told his former master: "If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future." Jourdon added: "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."
The letter ends with a revealing allusion to the sexual exploitation of slave girls on the plantations: "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."
Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. Original caption: "Overseer Artayou Carrier whipped me. I was two months in bed sore from the whipping. My master come after I was whipped; he discharged the overseer. The very words of poor Peter, taken as he sat for his picture."
The full text of the letter 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,