|Letter from former slave to former master found|
|Friday, February 3, 2012|
By PATRICK HALL
The Wilson Post
“This is a genuine document.”
So began the introduction to a letter appearing in the Aug. 22, 1865 edition of the New York Daily Tribune dictated by a Jourdon Anderson to a Wilson County landowner, Col. P.H. Anderson.
Jourdon Anderson was a former slave. Colonel P.H. Anderson was his former master. The Colonel lived in Big Spring, Tennessee, a small community in East Wilson County in the area of Old Rome Pike and Big Springs Road.As you read the letter included with this article, keep in mind a few historical facts: The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865; the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect Jan. 1, 1863; and slavery was officially outlawed by the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in December 1865. I found this remarkable piece of local and U.S. history thanks to the Internet and my soon-to-be brother-in-law, who read about it in a blog. The website, www.lettersofnote.com, posted this letter in its entirety on Monday.
My inner historian immediately went to validate a suspicion that this letter was written from a man who used to work in fields probably not far from where my family lived upon moving to Wilson County. Our home was on Old Rome Pike, surrounded by old rock walls that could have been built there by the hands of Jourdon Anderson himself.
According to The History of Wilson County, Its Land and Its Life edited by Dixon Merritt in 1961, Big Spring may have been “one of the most prominent county villages” of Wilson County. The book also said a man named Paulding Anderson was a large landowner in the area.
Searching through another book, Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans by William S. Speer, published in 1888, I found reference to General Paulding Anderson, who lived in Wilson County and served in the state legislature.
His son, according to this book, was Col. Paulding Anderson, who served in the Confederate army “with conspicuous gallantry.”
This document is in fact a genuine piece of Wilson County’s history that paints an image of our home in the larger context of a national struggle that divided our nation almost 150 years ago.
We can’t know all of Jourdan Anderson’s personality from this one letter, but I admire him, his determination, character and above all his humanity.
While writing to a man who once apparently tried to shoot him and owned him as a piece of property, Anderson was glad to hear his former master was not hurt during the war and that the Colonel had not forgotten him.
We should never forget our history, nor individuals like Jourdon Anderson, who endured terrible hardships, but persevered to rise above that society, his circumstances and prove himself the better man.
The actual letter, in its entirety, unedited…
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.