This delightful letter has been making the rounds on the internet lately. I share it for your enjoyment. It is a reminder of a time and place and the remaining attitudes in the South that only began to properly dissipate in the sixties with the advent of the civil rights movement. The last of the true believers are now dying out.
The letter itself is amusing in that he nicely spells out a veiled threat, just in case the good Colonel does not get it. That is why it got written in the first place.
The emancipation of humanity is a new idea in world history and it has been making progress in fits and starts now for two centuries. Our own generation, and by that I mean the sixties generation that saw off Jim Crow, also saw the emancipation of women from the tyranny of their bodies that had imposed a social order that strictly limited a women’s choices. We are still working out the consequences of all that.
What is nasty of course is that the rest of the world is not going to be allowed the luxury of working it out over a couple of centuries. They all have to accept these changes in human freedom in this generation and for women in particular.
So perhaps we can be at least understanding if not particularly tolerant when abuses come to the fore and are corrected.
To My Old Master
Monday, 30 January 2012
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.
UPDATE: Head over to Kottke for a brief but lovely little update about the later years of Jourdan and family.
(Source: The Freedmen's Book; Image: A group of escaped slaves in Virginia in 1862, courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
August 7, 1865
To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson,
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
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.,
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,
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