Slavery, Racism, and the letter of a freedman to his former master

You probably saw this letter making the rounds this week. It’s a remarkable thing, from a former slave in response to the request of his former master that he come back to work for him. Among the choicest bits:

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.

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.


When the letter was posted to yahoo, the comments thread focused on the impossibility of it being authentic. I won’t link to that, but it’s what the “racism” in my post title refers to.

Others have dug more deeply into the letter’s provenance. It was dictated by Anderson, and published in The Freedmen’s Book. Others have discovered that Anderson was living in Ohio as late as the 1900 census, and they have also discovered much of his family tree. Fascinating stuff.


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