Sass with Class- a Note from the Past, a Former Slave to his Master

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Jordan Anderson was a newly freed slave in 1865, having spent 40 years of his life in servitude to the Anderson family in Tennessee. Jordan, sometimes spelled Jordon or Jourdan, was sold into slavery in 1865, when he was around 7 or 8 years old. While we don’t know much about his roles during his years as a slave, we do know that he was sold to General Paulding Anderson and given to his son Patrick “Henry” Anderson.

Henry was close in age to Jordan so it is likely that they were playmates during Jordan’s formative years. As Jordan and Henry both grew older, Jordan began to work on the Big Spring, Tennessee plantation as one of Henry’s ablest workers. During his time as a slave to the Anderson family, Jordan married Amanda McGregor, also a slave, and had 11 children with her.  They both worked on the plantation until they were freed by passing Union soldiers in 1864.

SEE ALSO: Fort Sumter: Bookends of the Civil War

Official papers from the Provost Marshal General of Nashville sealed the deal of Jordan’s freedom and he left the plantation immediately, along with every other slave. This so angered his former master that Henry grabbed his pistol and began shooting at Jordan, vowing to kill him if he ever saw him again.

Jordan and his family moved to Dayton, Ohio and lived a quiet life until July 1865 when he received a nearly frantic letter from his former master. Jordan was illiterate, but his father-in-law, Valentine Winters, was an abolitionist in the city and educated. Valentine read the letter to Jordan. In the letter, Henry described the plight of the plantation as dire- they were deeply in debt and in disrepair and he needed help. He was asking as kindly as he could for his former slave to return to work on the plantation as paid help.

In August, Jordan dictated a response to Valentine. The hilarious and compassionate letter was published in the Cincinnati Commercial and then republished in the New York Daily TribuneIn the letter Jordan remarks kindly to his former master, but asks for proof of his promises of fair treatment and freedom, even asking if a school had been built down in the neighborhood that his children could attend. Read the letter below to see Jordan’s clever response for yourself:

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 Jordon, 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,

Jordon Anderson

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