It’s a nice little coincidence that, as we embark on Black History Month, the latest thing to go viral on the internet is a historical artifact and not something of the “hide ya kids, hide ya wife” variety.
Letters of Note is a site that gathers old correspondence, and their research has turned up a letter from a former slave, Jourdan Anderson, to his former master, Colonel P.H. Anderson. The correspondence appeared in the August 22, 1865 edition of the New York Daily Tribune and was in response to the Colonel’s request that Anderson leave his new post-emancipation home in Ohio and come back to work for him in Tennessee — yes, he had that much nerve. The letter, which was dictated by Anderson, is a fascinating snapshot of the attitudes and struggles of a post-emancipation black family, and sheds an interesting light on the relationship between former masters and slaves. The highlight:
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.
You gotta wonder what Colonel Anderson’s face looked like after reading this…and if he ever responded.
Read the entire letter at Letters of Note.