Monday, February 27, 2012

An Awesome Moment in African American History

Okay, maybe I'm cheating on this as a current events post, but it is currently African American History Month. And this is the coolest piece of black history I've ever stumbled across, so I really wanted to share it. Enjoy this awesome letter from a emancipated slave to his former master. You rock, Jourdon!

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 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 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,

Jourdon Anderson.

So would anyone care to venture a guess as to the colonel's reaction? LOL. I enjoyed a lovely celebration of song, dance, and poetry in honor of Black History Month Friday night. Did you celebrate this month in any special way?


Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion with Whitefire Publishing has just released. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at


  1. Wow! That's amazing! Reminds me of the verse in Proverbs that says, "the righteous are as bold as a lion."

    No celebrations around here. We have, literally, less than ten African-Americans in our community. It's, um, not very culturally diverse, to say the least.

  2. Interesting, Niki. My area is known as a multi-ethnic middle class. Although my neighborhood is on the higher end of middle class, we have plenty of neighbors of all ethnicities. The local schools are very diverse, both in the students and the staff. I love that about Virginia Beach.

  3. I love the last line about thanking the guy for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me. LOL

    Great letter. How did you find it?

    As far as the colonel's reaction? I bet he shredded teh letter, burned it, kicked a cat or two, maybe broke serveral valubables. Or sat and stewed in his anger and being called out by a slave that clearly had more honor than he did.

    I actually forgot it was BHM. Umm, I'll go make some sweet potato donuts in celebration. Not sure how those relate to BHM, but it's what I told Rhyinn we'd make for fun after she got home from school.

  4. Gina, it was circulating among some of my friends on facebook, and I thought it was just too awesome.

    Fried, sweet, southern sounding donuts. I'm thinking African Americans would approve :)

  5. I'm so impressed with this letter on many different levels. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. What a hoot! Somehow I don't think the former slave owner ponied up any cash...

  7. WOW! This is amazing! How clever and poignant.

    Well, the letter didn't get burned by the Colonel because someone found it. But I'm quite shocked it wasn't destroyed.

    Thanks for sharing it, Dina!

  8. Glad you all got as much of a kick out of it as I did.

  9. This made me smile. I love Jourdan! Thanks, Dina!

  10. This is an extraordinary letter from a man who knew his self-worth. I wanted to cheer as I read, but kept remembering why he had to write it in the first place.

    I would have like to read the response although it probably would have used unpublishable language - if indeed his former owner even considered answering such a request.

    Thank you, Dina.


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