Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

One Man’s Reply To An Offer Of Employment

Since I came across this a couple days ago, I have been forwarding it to near everyone I know. I am now sharing it with all of you. Some of you may have seen it already, it really has spread like wildfire…and rightfully so. It is, quite simply, the best thing I have read in a very long time.


What I have been forwarding is a letter from one Jourdon Anderson to his former owner.

Yes, owner…Jourdon and his wife were both slaves.

The letter was written in reply to Colonel P.H. Anderson’s (note the last name) request that Jourdon and his wife return to Big Spring, Tennessee to work for him. Needless to say, heading back to the old plantation was not high on Jourdon’s list of things to do.

I found myself cheering for a man long deceased…cheering for his family and hoping that they lived long and prospered. Hoping that his fighting spirit and beautiful wit live on in his descendents.

Follow me below the fold to read Jourdon’s letter in full…let me know if you find yourself rooting for him as well. /grin

I don’t really have anything else to add. I will let Jourdon’s own words speak for him.

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.

–  The Freedman’s Book, Project Gutenberg

The letter was dictated, which leads one to assume that, unlike his children, Jourdon could not read or write…but, his words leave no doubt at all that he was a smart man. Delightfully so.

Apparently there have been some grumblings of doubt as to the authenticity of the letter. Folks have done some digging though and found several bits of historical evidence to support the veracity of it.

According Rob Baker of The Historic Struggle, Jourdon shows up again in historical records:

Five years after the letter was written, Jordan Anderson shows up on the 1870 census in Dayton, Ohio. He is listed as a Hostler, which is an occupation dealing with horses like a stable boy. He is listed as forty-five years old alongside his wife Amanda (Mandy) at thirty-nine. Along with Jordan and his wife are five children: Amanda; James; Felix; William; and Andrew. The entire family with the exception of William and Andrew are listed as having been born in Tennessee where P.H. Anderson has his farm. All children are listed as going to school as mentioned in the letter except for Andrew who is one at the time of the census.

Both Colonel P.H. Anderson and George Carter also show up in Tennessee Census records.

And this, from a comment from the same site:

There is a an obituary or death notice for a Jordan Anderson in the Dayton Daily Journal for April 19, 1905, that gave the deceased man’s age as 79, which would have been about right for this man.

And here is the letter as printed in the August 22nd, 1865 edition of the New York Daily Tribune:


His is but one voice…but it speaks loud and proud across the distance of time.

Good on ya, Jourdon!


  1. fogiv

    in a comment yesterday or day before, and it was just begging for a diary.  thanks for doing this — the thing was so unfrickinbelievably awesome.

  2. spacemanspiff

    I found myself smiling and a huge goofy grin never left my face. I would like to add more but I can’t really express how I felt. All I know is that I’ve read it at last 5 times already. Amazing.    

  3. Thanks for posting some corroborating evidence. I read the comment thread for this letter on I was not surprised to see a lot of comments that labeled the letter a fake. The user names and comments seemed to show that conservatives were far more likely to doubt the legitimacy of the letter. Do they doubt it because they don’t want it to be true?

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