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Old 11 May 2009, 12:46 AM
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Icon108 Jourdon Anderson's Letter to His Old Master

Comment: I would like to know if the letter is called "Jourdon Anderson's
Letter to His Old Master" is real. The letter is as follows:

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 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 Col. 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 come back to see you all when I was
working in Nashville, but one of the neighbors told me 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 $25 a month, with victuals and
clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here 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 Col.
Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, 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 at Nashville. Mandy says she
would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely
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 $25 a month for me, and $2 a
week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the
interest for the time our wages has 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 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 comes 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.

P.S. -- 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
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Old 11 May 2009, 12:49 AM
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A site featuring this letter was posted to the main page of Fark today. The traffic quickly overwhelmed the original site, but here is the comment thread which offers some other details. One comment adds the following:

Quote:
The letter was reprinted by Lydia Maria Child in her anthology, The Freedmen's Book. Jourdon Anderson's body now rests in the Woodland Cemetary, in Dayton, Ohio, so it seems that his old captor never accepted his offer. For reference, the back wages he demanded - $11,680 in 1865, before adding interest - would be worth about $162,452 in 2008 dollars.
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Old 11 May 2009, 01:29 AM
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Not living too far from Woodland, I'd be curious to go find his grave.

It doesn't seem to me the speech is quite right for the time it was supposedly written, nor by one who was (as far as I can tell from the part of his history in the letter, likely to be) uneducated.
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Old 11 May 2009, 01:39 AM
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This page cites the letter as being printed in the Cincinnati Commercial, then reprinted in the August 22, 1865 issue of the New York Tribune.
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Old 11 May 2009, 01:50 AM
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There are a couple of cites that claim it was printed in the Cincinnati Commercial and subsequently reprinted in the New York Tribune August 1865.

Sure wish I had Nexis Lexis.


[ETA: Stone cold spanked.]
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Old 11 May 2009, 03:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mags View Post
It doesn't seem to me the speech is quite right for the time it was supposedly written, nor by one who was (as far as I can tell from the part of his history in the letter, likely to be) uneducated.
The letter, printed (as others have noted) in The New York Daily Tribune on 22 August 1865 ("Letter from a Freedman to his Old Master," p. 7), is prefaced with, "The following is a genuine document. It was dictated by the old servant, and contains his ideas and forms of expression. -- Cincinnati Commercial."

I've no particular reason to doubt that this letter is what it's claimed to be -- a letter written by a former slave to his former owner -- but it bears noting that a third party had a hand in its creation, at least to the extent that he or she took down Anderson's words. So, perhaps the writing also reflects corrections and revisions made by the person to whom Anderson dictated the text, though Childs prefaces her reproduction with "[w]ritten just as he dictated it." (How she knows this is unclear.)

Also unclear is how this letter arrived at the Cincinnati Commercial; given the time between the penning of the letter (August 7) and its appearance in the Cincinnati paper (sometime before August 22), a copy of the original (if the original had been sent) must've been handed over by Anderson, the person to whom he dictated the letter, or some advocate on either's behalf, and not forwarded by someone in Big Spring, Tennessee. (I should note that it would be interesting to see the letter that elicited Anderson's response.)

-- Bonnie
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Old 11 May 2009, 06:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bonnie View Post
I've no particular reason to doubt that this letter is what it's claimed to be -- a letter written by a former slave to his former owner -- but it bears noting that a third party had a hand in its creation, at least to the extent that he or she took down Anderson's words.
The inconsistency of the wording is still strange to me, though. It seems that either edited (by the person being dictated to or the newspapers that published it) or original (where the former slave was an educated man), you wouldn't see a vernacular line like, "many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master" next to the polished phrase, "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."

Whoever penned this letter desired to place the author in a positive light, showing both his intelligence and eloquence, but the sudden breeches feel like a contrived attempt to authenticate the voice of a 19th century American slave.

As a comparison, the smoothness of the narrative of Frederick Douglass comes to mind.

Also, would something like the allusion to the sexual abuse of Matilda and Cathrine be published in a newspaper in 1865?
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Old 11 May 2009, 11:47 AM
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Well, it's authentic at least in the sense that it did appear in several U.S. newspapers in the last third of 1865. I've uploaded a copy of the letter as it appeared in The New York Daily Tribune (as well as a page view so that you can see the masthead) on August 22 (p. 7), which represents the earliest printing I've found. (I don't have access to The Cincinnati Commercial before 1867.) For comparison, the letter also appeared in The Agitator [Wellsboro, Pennsylvania] on October 25, 1865.

I don't really think this letter is a fabrication, but I do suspect that Anderson's letter was likely a collaborative effort between the former slave and a party seeking to give support to the post-war freedmen's movement (hence its relatively rapid appearance in The Cincinnati Commercial). Whether this help entailed simply transcribing Anderson's reply or whether this person assisted in reworking the letter (possibly with Anderson's knowledge) is unclear. (Again, I'd be interested to see the first letter, presumably sent by Col. P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee.)

-- Bonnie
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Old 11 May 2009, 11:57 AM
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Ponder

Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Pink Pill View Post
It seems that either edited (by the person being dictated to or the newspapers that published it) or original (where the former slave was an educated man), you wouldn't see a vernacular line like, "many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master" next to the polished phrase, "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."
By the way, I think the juxtaposition (or the dual appearances) of such sentiments (extreme deference vs. business-like attitude concerning back wages) could be viewed as representing a sarcastic streak that speaks to how Anderson and his former comrades really felt about P.H. Anderson and serves to notify the former master that his former slave is perfectly capable of thinking things like this through.

-- Bonnie
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Old 12 May 2009, 06:03 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bonnie View Post
I've uploaded a copy of the letter as it appeared in The New York Daily Tribune (as well as a page view so that you can see the masthead) on August 22 (p. 7), which represents the earliest printing I've found. (I don't have access to The Cincinnati Commercial before 1867.) For comparison, the letter also appeared in The Agitator [Wellsboro, Pennsylvania] on October 25, 1865.
Well, that certainly answers that part of the question. Thank you for posting those!

Quote:
I don't really think this letter is a fabrication, but I do suspect that Anderson's letter was likely a collaborative effort between the former slave and a party seeking to give support to the post-war freedmen's movement (hence its relatively rapid appearance in The Cincinnati Commercial).
This is pure supposition, but if it was a collaboration, I wonder if the criticism of works like Douglass', written 20 years prior (that such eloquence could be produced by a former slave), would have influenced the extent any possible perfecting, or de-perfecting, done to this letter.

Quote:
By the way, I think the juxtaposition (or the dual appearances) of such sentiments (extreme deference vs. business-like attitude concerning back wages) could be viewed as representing a sarcastic streak that speaks to how Anderson and his former comrades really felt about P.H. Anderson and serves to notify the former master that his former slave is perfectly capable of thinking things like this through.
Certainly. But it isn't the change in mood that I find striking, it is the change of voice. While the wit is consistent, the articulation isn't, and the sarcasm is more sophisticated than the editing.
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  #11  
Old 31 January 2012, 01:33 AM
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Default census confirmation

As further support of the authenticity of the letter and its contents, I direct the reader to the 1870, 1880, and 1900 federal censii for Dayton, Ohio which show Jordan Anderson (b Dec 1825 in Tennessee) in a household with his wife Amanda (b Oct 1829 in Tennessee). In the 1870 census, five years after the letter was published, they were listed with four of their children -- 19 year-old Jane, 12 year-old Felix (Grundy?), 5 year-old William, and 1 year-old Andrew. Over the years, Amanda had had eleven children, only six of whom were still living in 1900. Three of the children we were living with them 1900, including their 29 year-old son Valentine, a physician. In the years of the censii, Jordan lists himself as hostler, a coachman, and a butler. He cannot read or write, and Amanda can only read, but all of his children attend school in the records shown.

Patrick Henry Anderson Sr., born 1823 in Tennessee, merchant and farmer of Wilson County, Tennessee, appears in the federal censii of 1850 and 1860, with his wife Mary Ann, and his children Patrick Henry Jr., Martha, Pauldin, Timis, Edgar Poe (Allen?), and Mary. The slave schedules of 1860 show him as the owner of thirty-two slaves, including a 34 year-old male who could be Jordan. There's a three-year old boy who could be Felix and a ten year old girl who could be Jane, but Amanda doesn't seem to be in the list, unless her age has been mis-recorded. As genealogists will know, slave schedules did not include the names of the slaves, just their age, sex, and whether they were black or mulatto (of mixed ancestry). Notably, seven of the slaves, all of them minors, were listed as mulatto, however the distribution of ages of slaves (in particular the lack of female slaves of the correct age to be mothers) suggest that many of the younger slaves came from different owners originally.

According to other published and online records of his family tree, P.H. Anderson died in 1867. His son, P.H. Jr, the Henry mentioned in the letter, appears in censii in Wilson County as late as 1880.

There are multiple George Carters in Wilson County in the period in question, but the likely one is a carpenter who appears in censii in 1850, 1860, and 1870 in the same township as the Andersons. Before the war he owned two slaves, and each was mulatto.
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Old 03 February 2012, 12:01 AM
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Thanks for posting this, pdbg. Your research is interesting and I know it took quite a bit of time to put the data together. I appreciate your effort!

-- Bonnie
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  #13  
Old 03 February 2012, 04:56 AM
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Default Jourdon Anderson source

Allow me to refer readers to a hugely reliable source in which Jourdon Anderson's letter was included and critiqued, that being Leon Litwack's Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning "Been in the Storm So Long", published in 1979. (This seminal work also includes Depression Era interviews of ex-slaves by the Federal Writers' Project, which are amazing.) I cannot say for sure that this was the first compendium in which the letter was reproduced, but it well might have been. I had the pleasure to hear Prof. Litwack read the letter (one of his favorites, he always pointed out) in his class at UC Berkeley, and to discuss it with him in a forum for secondary school history teachers. Hoping not to mischaracterize his analysis, Prof. Litwack's strong feeling is that -- while based on a real person's experiences, and perhaps even on anecdotal evidence drawn from direct interview(s) with Mr. Anderson -- the letter itself was almost certainly written by one of the professional writers of the Cincinnati Commercial, a daily that ran from the 1850's to the 1860's with a strong abolitionist bent. This in no way takes away from the power of the letter, which strongly hits home very real experiences that were widespread. If Jourdon Anderson himself did not have the literacy skills to write it, that says much about the system that denied him the opportunity to gain those skills, and certainly does not mean that he would not have written it had he had that opportunity.
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Old 03 February 2012, 05:09 AM
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Default Further thanks to pdbg

Ditto on the kudos for the research -- truly fascinating. I don't remember Prof. Litwack making reference to the genealogical records, and would be very interested to know if he's familiar. I intend to ask him, and will report back.
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Old 04 February 2012, 02:25 AM
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Thank you to all of you for the research. These are exactly the questions that came to mind when reading this powerful letter yesterday in a related Snopes post: Book Corner: Letters of Note: Correspondence deserving a wider audience.
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Old 04 February 2012, 04:55 AM
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Censuses. Not censii. But yes, excellent research. Thank you.
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Old 08 February 2012, 04:44 PM
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When I first read the letter, my reaction was the same as Professor Litwack's--it sounded like something written by a staff writer on a 19th century newspaper. However, I have revised my opinion.

I now think the author is named in the letter: Mr. V. Winters Esq. of Dayton Ohio.

Valentine Winters was a banker, a leading citizen and a leader of the Presybyterian Church in Dayton. That he was an important person in Jourdan's life is suggested by the fact Jourdan named one of his children "Valentine." That he was an abolitionist is suggested by his involvement in bringing Abraham Lincoln to Dayton in 1859 and his bank's support for the Union's war effort. Lastly, doesn't it sound like a banker to calculate the lost earnings due to a man from a life in slavery?

For more information on Valentine Winters:

http://books.google.com/ebooks/reade...r&pg=GBS.PA545

http://www.worldcat.org/title/mr-lin...oclc/434871741
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Old 17 July 2012, 04:57 AM
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Read This! Freed slave who penned sarcastic letter to old master pictured for first time

After the letter resurfaced online earlier this year, along with questions about its authenticity, The Associated Press sought answers.

From documents compiled by the AP and in interviews with scholars, Anderson emerges as a very real person and the very real author of his story — though, from the beginning, it was reported to have been 'dictated'. His letter is an outstanding, but not unique, testament to the ability of slaves to turn horror into humor.

Jordan Anderson’s collaborator — to whom he reportedly dictated the letter — was a Dayton banker named Valentine Winters.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...work-farm.html
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Old 18 July 2012, 04:39 AM
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A thorough, well-referenced and informative article from the Daily Mail! Truly, we are living in the age of miracles.

Seriously, though, thanks for sharing that - the story of this letter continues to be a fascinating slice of history.
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  #20  
Old 18 July 2012, 06:48 AM
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Read This!

Nope, it's from the Associated Press.
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