Did you know that when African-American former slave Jordan Anderson was asked to come back and work for his old master, he replied with a deadpan letter asking for 52 years’ back pay as proof of good faith.
In July 1865, a few months after the end of the Civil War, Colonel P. H. Anderson wrote a letter to his former and now freed slave Jordan Anderson asking him to come back and work on the Tennessee plantation which had been left in disarray from the war. Harvest season was approaching with nobody to bring in the crops; the colonel was making a last ditch effort to save the farm. On August 7, from his home in Ohio, Jordan Anderson dictated a letter in response through his abolitionist employer Valentine Winters, who had it published in the Cincinnati Commercial. The letter became an immediate media sensation with reprints in the New York Daily Tribune of August 22, 1865 and Lydia Maria Child’s The Freedmen’s Book the same year.
In the letter, Jordan Anderson describes his better life in Ohio, and asks his former master to prove his goodwill by paying the back wages he and his wife are owed for many years of slave labor, a total of 52 years combined. He asks if his daughters will be safe and able to have an education, since they are “good-looking girls” and Jordan would rather die “than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters… how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine.” The letter concludes, “Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.”
The people mentioned in the letter are real and include George Carter, who was a carpenter in Wilson County, Tennessee. “Miss Mary” and “Miss Martha” are Colonel Anderson’s wife, Mary, and their daughter, Martha. The man named “Henry”, who had plans to shoot Jordan if he ever got the chance, “was more than likely Colonel Patrick Henry Anderson’s son, Patrick Henry Jr., whom everyone called Henry, and who would have been about 18 when Jordan left in 1864.” The two daughters, “poor Matilda and Catherine” did not travel with Jordan to Ohio and their fate is unknown, it is speculated that whatever befell them was fatal, or they were sold as slaves to other families before Jordan had been freed. V. Winters in the letter was Valentine Winters, a banker in Dayton, and founder of Winters Bank, whom Jordan and his wife felt a respect for since in 1870 they named a son Valentine Winters Anderson