Letter from a former slave to his master

By Legal Eagle

Today I came across an interesting post, via Letters of Note, which details a letter which a former slave, Jourdon Anderson, wrote to his former master, Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee. Colonel Anderson had written to Jourdon Anderson, requesting him to come back to work on his farm. According to sources of the time, Jourdon Anderson dictated his reply.

(Image from Wikipedia)

It is an amazing letter, and you have to read the whole thing, particularly the last line. All I can say is that I have immense admiration and respect for Jourdon Anderson’s polite, firm and beautifully pointed response.

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,

Jourdon Anderson

I don’t know whether Colonel Anderson replied! I suspect not. Wikipedia tells me that, having failed to get his slaves back, Colonel Anderson was forced to sell his land for a pittance to meet his debts and two years later, he died. (Dare I say karma?) Apparently Colonel Anderson’s descendants were still angry at the slaves when contacted in 2006.

The Emancipation Proclamation had been declared by President Lincoln in September 1863 to cover slaves in Confederate States, whereupon Jourdan and his wife had been among the approximately 4 million slaves who been able to get their ‘free papers’.

Kottke has a summary of what subsequently happened to Jourdon and Mandy Anderson and their children.

This is also the Saturday chit-chat post.


  1. Marlowe
    Posted December 1, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Well-written letter. I am always interested in US Civil War trivia.

  2. Holden Caulfield
    Posted December 1, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Oh that has made my day. How simply divine and fiddle-dee-dee!

  3. Posted December 1, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Jeepers Marlowe, that ain’t no trivia
    it was brilliant philosophy, politics and justice. If there had not been the genealogy backup I would have thought it too good to be true, and it still could be but it’s great anyhow. My McColough*ancestors fought for the Union before heading to Bendigo.
    Thanks SL for leading me to Kottke.org, it was all wonderful. Being a names-freak as well as a genealogist, I did enjoy the Scharlet- Charlotte-Scarlett-Lottie sequence.
    Have to remind all that the British enslaved Africans before Americans did.

  4. kvd
    Posted December 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    It is a great letter LE, but looking at the Wikipedia ‘Talk’ page there is discussion as to its authenticity. There via a Metafilter link, it seems it goes back to a publication in 1865 by a Lydia Maria Child; a collection of letters and writings which may possibly have been produced for what we would call today ‘spin’ – to whit:

    “During and after the Civil War, Child focused not only the elimination of slavery but on racial prejudice. In 1865, she wrote The Freedmen’s Book, which was designed to foster the freedmen’s racial pride and promote their literacy.”

    Anyway, I agree beautifully written (which raises another suspicion, unfortunately) and is worthy of the very wide internet circulation it has since achieved.

  5. kvd
    Posted December 1, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Yes LE, I agree with everything you’ve said and surmised. I spent a bit of time on Snopes, and the UK Daily Mail (which actually answered the main query I had about how the ‘owner’ was able to maintain contact with the freedman, some 350 miles distant; seems the son in law of the banker who probably took the dictation was a surgeon in a hospital in Tenessee where Jourdon first worked after freedom, before moving to Ohio, and into the banker’s employ.)

    The only other thing I’d note is the spelling of ‘darkeys’ in your reprint, which seems to come from the Child’s publication, and not accurately transcribed from the newspaper which as you note preceded it, and also the last sentence was a PS but lifted into the letter.

    Anyway wonderful story, told many times over now, and quite deservedly so! But I will leave you with the $25 per month since age eight for him, as opposed to $8 per month for Mandy. Yet one more inequality to surmount 🙂

  6. kvd
    Posted December 2, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    A publican has sworn that I passed a counterfeit sixpence at his house on the same day; this witness, as well as the first, must be mistaken in my person: for I do most solemnly declare my innocence of these two charges, never having been in either of the witnesses’ houses. I have been in his Majesty’s service for upwards of twenty-three years, and in the event of the Jury finding me guilty, I throw myself upon the Mercy of the Court: who, I hope, will take into consideration the length of time I have been in his Majesty’s service, and that I have a wife and three helpless children.[Monday, July 12.] GUILTY – DEATH . Aged 40

    – which comes from here. But the thing which intrigued me was a reference to “the liberty of the Clink” – which sent me off a-roaming around the Liberties of London generally, but that Clink one was quite a doozey:

    In 1161 the bishop was granted the power to licence prostitutes and brothels in the liberty. The prostitutes were known as Winchester Geese, and many are buried in Cross Bones, an unconsecrated graveyard. Similarly, to “be bitten by a Winchester goose” meant “to contract a venereal disease”, and “goose bumps” was slang for symptoms of venereal diseases.

    … oh, those entrepreneurial Bishops! But then, just as diverting is the wiki entry for ‘goose bumps‘ – because it seems an almost universal thing to describe that phenomenon in terms of bird skin.

    Offered for your chit-chat in the hope that the weather, and politics, has basically been done to death 🙂

  7. Posted December 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    now that’s trivia. Manchester born Terry Britten must have known that when he wrote the #1 hit ‘Goosebumps’ for Christie Allen, and

    When AC/DC wrote She’s Got The Clap, they didn’t care that handclapping used to indicate the presence of an infected person.

  8. Posted December 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    back from your informative link now, and thinking the author should have referred to ‘Chicken-skin Music’ by Ry Cooder.

    That Bishop of Winchester sure was wily. Did he get a % I wonder. Part taken in kind also a thought.
    I thought ‘in the clink’ was the slammer, hoosegow, jail, the pen etc.

  9. kvd
    Posted December 2, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    now that’s trivia

    [email protected] the pursuit, and delight in, trivia used to be regarded as a quite worthy occupation.

    On the other hand, a statement such as “there are no roads in London” probably could be regarded as trivia. Or not 🙂

  10. Posted December 2, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    I used to delight in genuine trivia much more than I do since the emergence of this www. It annoys me that ‘Trivia Nights’ actually comprise mainly General Knowledge questions.

  11. Posted December 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    kvd: my “That’s trivia” was response to your goose thing. Back from your link now, and re its’ – ‘the Old Gypsy Woman in The Wolfman?” (Answer: Maria Ouspenskaya’ and I submit that it used to be trivia for me to know that she also played the budgie woman in Freaks 1932, but now anyone can look her up on the www and find that. no fun now.

    oh LE how great to have the classic convict. I always think that proper defence would have got some of them off. my convict was a machine smasher of the 1832 swing riots and his 3rd offence ,

  12. Posted December 2, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    poor little George only 15. I would have countered that the owner of a handkerchief worth the same as 12 loaves of bread, provoked the theft by not keeping such a valuable item in a more secure place than his pocket. a shilling is a lot of 1790 money.

  13. JKUU
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    Thanks LE, an interesting story to read as the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation approaches. As you know, petitions of secession have been organized by citizens of many states disgruntled by the continuing presence of a black man in the White House. I note from a WashPost article that several of the 11 would-be secessionist states which have achieved the threshold 25,000 signatures for legitimacy, are states of the former Confederacy. Not surprising perhaps, but I wonder if these states would seek to reintroduce slavery should their petitions be successful. On the other hand, maybe the whole secessionist movement is just whistling Dixie.

  14. kvd
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    That’s pretty cool [email protected] Ann’s comment about the pricey handkerchief is interesting; but lots of other cases around that period put the value in the high pennies, so must be right. Also, as the 1s value was the low margin for grand larceny, perhaps we wouldn’t be sitting here today reading the thoughts of Ms Barnett without that 15 year old’s ‘good taste’.

  15. kvd
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    ( /flattery. Sorry – left that off my previous post 🙂

    Lorenzo, I’ve been meaning to ask you about that old measure, the Misery Index and why we are all so basically unhappy? But when I looked it up, I see it is a sum of just inflation and unemployment rates, whereas I had always added in RB base rate. Which got me thinking, and I’m now wondering if an equation such as (inflation+unemployment+borrowing) LESS (GDP_growth+change_in_building_starts) might better reflect ‘on the ground’ economic performance for us mere mortals?

    What brought this to the fore was a comment on an article about tomorrow’s RBA decision – which said there will be a housing price crash in 2013 – which I’m sure I read about this time last year, and also the year before.

  16. Posted December 4, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    then we can assume he must have evaded the horror of Port Arthur? My convict did, being indentured to the Archer Bros at Woolmers in Longford as a farm laborer. They got filthy rich on free convicts and free land.

    What age did George attain?
    His diet must have been poor for his developing years.
    Hopefully he got attention from The London Ladies Benevolent Society, who attended transportees. They gave each woman a bag with the means to sew a patchwork quilt during the voyage, for warmth when they got here.

  17. Posted December 4, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Great stuff, loved it.
    I was a slave at 15 years of age in the Royal Navy and paid two bob a week. Cheap cannon fodder.

  18. Posted December 4, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    back from the Old B link and that trial should be challenged. Def had no prior advice of hearing, and says he had witnesses who would have been there. The scum cop says he saw ‘attempt to steal’. the hankie owner says the Def was the nearest person to him so it must have been him.
    Cleaver Greene could have got him off.
    George knows his case is hopeless, guilty or not, so while waiting for hearing he realises he could ask for navy or infantry service and thereby get himself fed.

  19. Holden Caulfield
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Yes, poor Mandy, only $8/week. That did rather jump out at me too.

    Maybe she was a “house/porch nigger” and so got relatively luxurious digs, shelter, and the better leftovers from masser’s vittles? Then again maybe they were also the preferred objects of masser’s raping urges.

  20. Holden Caulfield
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    And for who endured a childhood sans the charms of Ms. Allen, her goosebumps, and that mystery man with a “cardiac arrestive stare”, enjoy.

  21. kvd
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    The scum cop says he saw ‘attempt to steal’.

    JOHN NEWMAN sworn.
    I am the constable.
    (Produces the handkerchief, which the prosecutor deposes to.)

    the hankie owner says the Def was the nearest person to him so it must have been him.

    I felt the prisoner take my handkerchief, and saw him go away with the handkerchief in his hand; and I pursued him; it was in my coat pocket: by the assistance of Ryland, I took him; I saw Ryland take the handkerchief from him; I never lost sight of him.

    Cleaver Greene could have got him off

    Have noted that name, should I ever need someone to turn water into wine, or a pig’s ear into a silk purse 🙂

    Poor George didn’t even know it was his trial, and didn’t have his witnesses.

    He did, however briefly, have the handkerchief…

    “I am the Constable (produces handkerchief)” – was really wishing this was followed by “exit, pursued by a bear”. And HC that’s a great video.

  22. kvd
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    And what is it with the handkerchief already? There are 17,569 cases of theft involving a handkerchief – 6,705 of which resulted in transportation. Nary (not ever) a mention of TV’s, Poundland or VCR’s.

    Anyways, it is the result which matters, not how your (perfidous, miscreant, devious, and possibly even lickspittle) ancestor got here 🙂

  23. Posted December 4, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    there is a presumption of innocence until the alleged guilt is PROVEN, and since he had no defence counsel at all, it was not a just trial.
    you don’t know much about cops in courts, then or now.
    *exits, Stage Left, pursued by a bear*

  24. Posted December 4, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Swan: “I felt the prisoner take my handkerchief”,
    Greene for the Defence: “Mr Swan if you were looking down at your own pocket, the alleged theft would have been thwarted. If you were not looking down at your own pocket then you could only have felt Someone take something from your pocket.”

    Swan: “and saw him go away with the handkerchief in his hand”

    Greene: “with something that looked to you like a handkerchief

    Swan: “and I pursued him; it was in my coat pocket: by the assistance of Ryland,
    I took him; I saw Ryland take the handkerchief from him”

    Greene: “You may have seen Ryland appear to take the handkerchief from the child”
    Swan: ” I never lost sight of him”.
    Greene: “And that hardly matters because
    Is it not true that the boy’s deceased parents were known to Ryland, so conveniently strolling in Smithfield with you, and in a crowd.
    The boy had been persistently stating that Ryland was implicated in their deaths. This Ryland needed to be rid of this pesky boy, and by himself picking Swan’s pocket, and appearing to produce it from the boy, he has caused this charge to protect himself from this poor orphan boy.”

  25. kvd
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    So, Ann, you are now invoking the notorious Gillard defence? But how will you get around the report of the good constable’s evidence, to wit:

    JOHN NEWMAN sworn.
    I am the constable.
    (Produces the handkerchief, which the prosecutor deposes to. Exits, pursued by a bear, in several directions, and all at the once)

    I venture to suggest that there is not much your Mr Greene could do with that lot…?

  26. kvd
    Posted December 5, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    A couple of days ago while driving, the radio station I tuned to was carrying ads from Maurice Blackburn inviting interested parties to contact them with a view to joining in with a proposed class action arising from the 2007 Equine Influenza outbreak. Then this morning, again on a drive, I heard an interview with a solicitor from that firm basically confirming the advertisement, and commenting that the response thus far had been quite ‘enthusiastic’.

    Last week I read an article from The Conversation about class actions, which gave some indication of the economics involved, which (if successful) you might anonymise as something like Settlement $100M (representing possibly 25-40% of assessed losses) plus costs $10M – funded by one of our litigation funding specialists on the basis of maybe a 30% cut of the settlement after costs excluded.

    I should say that my interest in the EI outbreak was personal, as I benefited significantly from a range of clients who themselves were quite badly affected by the restrictions which came into play; but then on the other hand, another client happens to be the chairman of one of our listed litigation funders.

    Now with EI, as I understand it, the party potentially to be sued is the Australian Government (which would be you, me, us) and I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the line there was mention of direct losses, foregone earnings, etc., possibly amounting to maybe $500M. Don’t forget that the horse industry is an enormous employer, even disregarding the various industries (transport, betting, veterinary, etc.) hanging off it.

    So here we have many small (and some large) claimants with a reasonable bundled expectation of upwards of $150M (being 30% of $500M plus costs, say $15M) funded by a litigation funder who might possibly receive 30% of the $150M for providing the MB costs up front.

    It seems to me that firms such as MB (in this area at least) could not provide the services they do without the existence of the litigation funder. And while I recognise that in most cases it is a ‘good thing’ that (is it?) negligence be penalised, and loss compensated, I am wondering if anyone has strong opinions about the rise of this legal ‘genre’? I must state that my own are very confused at this point, so seeking clarity…

  27. Posted December 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    consider the slow painful death of a frightened, beautiful, beloved horse, because a government quarantine inspector came onto your property wearing the same unwashed footwear he had just had on when he plonked around a newly arrived shipment of foreign horses. there is no amount of money that would assuage my grief, so I would not take part.
    I have personal experience of a similar situation.
    Everybody just needs to smarten up their sloppy act everywhere quite frankly, and cla$$ action$ seem to get their attention.

    Silkwood. Erin Brokovich. The Verdict. A Civil Action. Michael Clayton. the theme has been hammered in the movies.

  28. Posted December 5, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Your suggested Misery Index assumes relatively high population growth. Barro’s interest rate weighted Misery Index might work better.

  29. Posted December 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    This legal genre are parasites. They are a blight on society. There is a reason they are known as “sharks” (at best) or “ambulance chasers”.

    It is quite a hoot (as the Americans say) to have one on the phone, or in an exchange in the letters pages.

    They are lower than prostitues, a fact of which they are acutely conscious. The sooner laws are changed to remove this blot on civilisation, the better.

    These people are disgusting parasites, they demean us all. They exist by feeding on their own society.

    Animals don’t come any lower than that.

  30. kvd
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    Thanks Lorenzo. It must have been Barro’s proposition which has been stuck in my head rather than the one I linked to. For interest’s sake, his formulation (using per cap GDP) results in the following values:

    1990-28.93 1992- 24.25 1994-17.23 1996-18.5 1998-11.82 2000-14.86 2002-12.78 2004-11.78 2006-14.02 2008-15.19 2010-13.18 while, a pure guess, 2012 might be in the range of 8-9?

  31. kvd
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    Dunno, Steve. As Ann says a useful service is performed which would not otherwise be possible. But I think it’s more the quantum of their ‘reward’ about which I am uncomfortable. Maybe it’s an area of law which could be pursued as a ‘public interest’ suit – which in this case would result in the government prosecuting itself, on behalf of the affected parties?

    And Ann, it is probably more likely that the virus escaped with a visiting owner, groom, trainer or some such, rather than a vet I would think. But your point I otherwise agree with.

  32. Posted December 6, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    kvd with all respect, being a horsey girl since Pat Smythe was the equivalent of LadyGaGa, I followed the story from the first instance, and it was actually published (yes I know, I know) that a government quarantine inspector had looked at racehorses from Japan without changing or disinfecting his boots before moving on. As a result, hundreds of competitors at a Qld show were stuck for days with their horses, short of money clothes and food.

    re lawyers, as with firearms, drugs and alcohol, there is Good use, and Bad use. The mesothelioma families would never have managed to engage the level of representation required, nor the Interim Disbursements. What we need is for them not to get $50 every time they speak on the phone, since they are already billing $160 per hour, more than a brain surgeon gets, and for the client to not pay $1500 for photocopying. etc etc

  33. Posted December 6, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    @ Ann Odyne:
    99% of lawyers do give the rest a bad name.

  34. kvd
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    [email protected] I accept your close interest, as was mine – with clients affected both through the lockdowns at Narrabri and Centennial Park, and also a hopeful Olympic rider. As far as I can see this brief summary states the findings of the official enquiry:

    However, the report does not make a precise finding on how equine influenza made its way into the country and spread but says the most likely way was through people or equipment leaving Sydney Eastern Creek quarantine station.

    Having imported animals twice myself, and once more as agent for a friend, I had visited Eastern Creek a dozen or so times in the decade before this emergency. While your absolute belief may in fact be correct, there are many, many human and transport vehicle movements, apart from vets, associated with that facility which may have been the means by which the virus was transported.

    As to the lawyers, I don’t share the low regard, believing they are an honourable profession, providing valued service. My interest was more in the ‘adversarial process’ by which those who suffer have their entitlements/reparations seemingly whittled away; this applies as much to the other worthy causes and cases you have mentioned.

  35. kvd
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Ah the Scots! Yet another reason to dislike The Trumpet, but this time he attacks Glenfiddich, so it’s now quite personal 🙂

  36. Posted December 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I’d ban Glenfiddich because it is rubbish.
    I see & somewhat sympathise with Trump’s point.
    However, I suspect Trump’s ostentatious public personality is behind this as a publicity stunt, more than anything else.

    The stuff I’d really ban is of course Bundaberg Rum. (It is likely Trump doesn’t sell that to begin with!)

  37. Posted December 6, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    @kvd: A noble profession it may be. However it has far too many ignoble practitioners for its name to be unsullied.
    Furthermore it is an administrative profession: A simple change of some laws & there will be less need for lawyers, thus releasing a cohort of intelligent & capable people who may then go forth & work toward the advancement of civilisation, rather than feeding off it parasitically.

    One of my litigators, a senior partner in a national firm, stated often that the country’d be the better for scrapping half the laws that exist, and it wouldn’t matter which half, and the same applied to lawyers, that is you could shoot half them and we’d be better off, and that it really wouldn’t matter which half you shot.

    Something that runs salaciously through my mind whenever I see two or more lawyers together, (present company excepted of course)

  38. Henry2
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    LE did you get a gurnsey to attend the soiree at the lodge? You are an influential blogger after all!!!

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