Jan 312012

To My Old Master

The short form: in August of 1865 one Colonel P.H. Anderson of of Big Spring, TN, a former slaver, apparently wrote to one of his former slaves (now living and working – for a paycheck – in Ohio with his family) asking him to come back. The good Col. claimed that he would pay the slave – Jourdan Anderson – a good wage.

That is ballsy. Chutzpah. Audacity. Something along those lines. For a man who *owned* another human being to watch that human being escape to freedom and then ask for that now free man to come *back* is the height of

But perhaps startlingly, Mr. Anderson replied with a dictated letter of surpassing politeness. But as you read along, the “yes massa” tone the letter starts off with gradually grows into a well-crafted FU. Mr Anderson knows what the value of his labor is, now that he’s getting paid for it, so he wants the slaver to provide assurances that he will actually pay off.And what better way to prove his honest intentions than… BACK PAY. Thirty two years at 25 dollars per week – plus twenty years at two dollar per week for his wife, PLUS INTEREST – worked out to $11,680. Which Mr. Anderson could be paid by Adams Express.


Somehow I expect that the good Colonel probably did not pay up.

 Posted by at 7:09 pm
  • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

    There’s going to be a lot of fussing that no ex-slave could write that well. Well, they could and they did. I spent two summers reading letters send to and from slaves — persons I could identify by outside evidence as being enslaved — and about half of them were quite well-written. There was a lot more education of slaves than anyone seems to like to admit. Most of that education was, strictly speaking, against the local laws. But then the Underground Railroad was illegal, too.

    Ohio was a destination for slaves because of laws prior to the Civil War: In Virginia (and a couple of other states, I’m told) a freed slave had to leave the state in which he was released, within a year.