Thursday, July 19, 2012

Former Slave Letter Signed "Brother Jourdon Anderson" A Hoax or is it?

The Brother Jourdon Anderson letter has surfaced again, this past weekend, with the AP claiming it as a recent discovery.  Thankfully unlike the Observer's Slave Children photo, they have apparently elected not to fill their new columns with the hoax.

The story of the slave telling his former owner where to put his offer of employment and security has again appeared with seemingly authoritative support as to its authenticity.  Except, there is something overly convenient about the letter and the commentary.

First there is the census validation that proves that all the named parties in the letter appear as detailed and to where their residence was described as well.

Second while there is support that the letter could have been written, there is not a copy of the letter itself or a copy of the letter from his former "master".

The letter is not a new find, recently in February of this year it made an appearance on Huffington Post, and prior years of 2007 and 2009.  It has been traced as far back as 1979 (Pre-Internet) when it was included in the Pulitzer winning book "Been in the Storm So Long" by Leon Litwack.

A copy of the reported scan of the paper is here and the letter follows:

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.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson

PS. Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

Cedar's Take: It is a hoax, while sentiments might be real and the players named are actual people who lived during that period one thing stands out. Why would Mr. Anderson pen or even dictate such a letter?

In my opinion he would not have. Today's sense of dry humor and wit, wasn't common place in the mid 1800's. It could be that someone at the paper tried their hand a little Mark Twain style of humor, but Twain wasn't well known until after his "Jumping Frog" story which was written until November of 1865.

Nevertheless, a recently freed black man, would not have done anything that would have even the slightest hint of sarcasm, for fear of risking his freedom and safety.

So, as to the possibility that the letter was created by the paper to promote the editorial abolitionist slant of the Ohio press at that time, I'll concede.

No comments: