Slavery in America: Letter From a Free Man

A former slave sends his “Old Master” fierce words, dry wit—and a bill.

from lettersofnote.com

Slavery in America: Letter From a Free ManAP Photo
January 1, 2013, marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. One man who took full advantage of his new freedom was Jourdon Anderson, a slave who fled his abusive “Master,” Col. Patrick Anderson, in Tennessee, to settle in Ohio as a free man. Shortly after the Civil War, the colonel beckoned Jourdon back to the failing plantation. Jourdon sent a droll reply in his place.

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

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. 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.

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  • Your Comments

    • salim

      one thing that came to mind through reading the article is a book that includes little-knows dealings during this time in trying to helpd the south cause & at the same time planning getting lincoln killed long before he became president.
      you can read it free online, just search for The Secre Terrorists, authored by Bill Hughes.
      be blessed!

    • Ms. B.

      I am a history teacher and I intend to use this letter in my class when we learn about slavery.  I am very grateful to the Reader’s Digest for making it available. There is nothing as good as hearing something “straight from the horse’s mouth.” We certainly get a glimpse into what Jourdan Anderson’s life was like, and his words make history come alive.

    • J Reid

      My question is on the age and dates.  If I read correctly, the land owner, Mr Anderson, died at age 44 and the latter from Jourdan Anderson the former slave, when figuring what he was owed, had worked for him for 32 years.  That would have made the land owner 12 years old when he as a farmer, land owner and slave owner.

      I agree that that were attrocities during the time of slavery but there were attrocities all over the world at that time and they were not all in/from Africa.  There are many cases where persons were bought at the slave market to SAVE them from a live of misery and to keep families together

      We need to focus on the present and what we can do to make life better for all.  STOP FOCUSING IN THE PAST.
       

      • Toni Johnson

        “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

        P.S. There’s no need to take the narrative of the article personally to the point of yelling on a public forum.

    • J Reid

      My question is on the age and dates.  If I read correctly, the land owner Mr Anderson, died at age 44 and the letter said the former slave, when figuring what he was owed, had worked for him for 32 years.  That would have made the land owner 12 when he was farmer, land owner and slave owner. 
      I agree there were attrocities during the time of slavery but there were attrocities all over the world at that time and they were not from Africa. 
      We need to focus on the present and do what we can to make it better for all.  Stop focusing on the past. 
       

    • J Reid

      My question is on the age and dates.  If I read correctly, the land owner Mr Anderson, died at age 44 and the letter said the former slave, when figuring what he was owed, had worked for him for 32 years.  That would have made the land owner 12 when he was farmer, land owner and slave owner. 
      I agree there were attrocities during the time of slavery but there were attrocities all over the world at that time and they were not from Africa. 
      We need to focus on the present and do what we can to make it better for all.  Stop focusing on the past. 
       

      • http://www.facebook.com/stclared St Clare D. Avery

        We learn from the past to not create the same errors in the future.

    • J Reid

      My question is on the age and dates.  If I read correctly, the land owner Mr Anderson, died at age 44 and the letter said the former slave, when figuring what he was owed, had worked for him for 32 years.  That would have made the land owner 12 when he was farmer, land owner and slave owner. 
      I agree there were attrocities during the time of slavery but there were attrocities all over the world at that time and they were not from Africa. 
      We need to focus on the present and do what we can to make it better for all.  Stop focusing on the past. 
       

    • William W. McCollum

      I did not intend to criticize Jourdon Anderson.  I believe he was an intelligent and determined man who followed through and made sure his children got the education he was denied.  If the census was accurate about his illiteracy, it is quite likely that one of his children took down his words and conveyed them in the letter.  Either way, I agree that the message was witty and unmistakable. 

      • Anonymous

        @William W. McCollum – Census Takers can be biased and manipulate the data they collect. It happened to me during 2000 Census. I truthfully & acurately filled out & mailed back the long form. Several weeks later… I arrive at home after work to find a Census Taker sitting on my porch waiting. She claimed that my form had not been received and demanded to do it then, she filled out a new form and gave different classification than what I had put on original form. It was a VA County. So I can relate how in 1870 in OH, the census taker could be biased to newly freed slave and their level of literacy. Census is to get a headcount of citizens, other than that, it can be manipulated.

    • http://twitter.com/kamorzan kathie rosello

      @William W. McCollum…..Does it really matter whether J.A. wrote the letter?  If he dictated it, wrote it or whistled it,I’m sure he got his point across to his low leveled “EX-master”.

    • William W. McCollum

      Jourdon Anderson may have dictated this letter, but he did not write it.  He was enumerated in the 1870 census of Dayton, Ohio as a 45 year old hostler who could neither read nor write.  He did have adult children in his household who were literate  

      • http://www.facebook.com/stclared St Clare D. Avery

        And SO??? At least someone was there to write his convictions!!

      • no more violence

        Is a person unable to learn to read and write once they reach the venerable age of 45? And were census takers always honest in their estimation of others’ abilities?