In a world where Youtube clips and breaking news is constantly going viral, it’s rare to see old letters and artifacts raise attention. Published in “The Freedman Book” — a collection of notes and letters from emancipated slaves — one letter in particular is getting its due favor. Jourdan Anderson, an emancipated slave who moved to Ohio as a free man, responded to a request from his former Tennessee master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, to return to work.
A few excerpts below:
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.
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…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.
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.
While many debate the authenticity of the letter, historians conclude that many slaves at the time had advanced reading and writing skills, a constrast to the (still) common perception of them. Authenticity aside, what’s magnificent about this letter is Anderson’s crafty way with words and ability to stand up for himself in a dangerous time for Blacks.
Is this letter surprising? Would more artifacts like this change the common perception that slaves were uneducated?