Jourdon Anderson's Life and His Letter to Former Master

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In August 1864, soldiers of the Union Army freed Jourdon Anderson and Amanda, his wife, from a life of slavery. They spent all 32 years on the plantation where they served their master. The couple fled to Ohio in hopes of a paid job opportunity, but just a year later, Patrick Henry Anderson, Jourdon's previous master, wrote to him asking him to save the business by working for him again. Jourdon's life has never been close to the life of a white man, but his response to the one who deprived his enslaved family of vitality was full of grace and goodwill, despite the way the Master treated him for 32 years in a row.

Jourdon Anderson's Life and His Letter to Former Master

Jourdon Anderson was an African American slave freed by the abolitionist Union Army in 1864 during the American Civil War. He lived in slavery for nearly 39 years, being sold to Paulding Anderson to be later passed to his son Patrick Henry Anderson. To P. H. Anderson, Jourdon addressed his iconic letter in particular in 1885, 21 years after being freed. The reason for the letter was rather ironic as the former slave owner requested Jourdon Anderson to return to his plantation and help P. H. Anderson rebuild the farm devastated by the war (Fessenden). The response from Jourdon Anderson was more than reasonable and generally outlined the overall attitude of former slaves towards their masters as well as their state at the end of the American Civil War.

This letter deals with several different issues, for example, Jourdon expresses his skepticism that his former master would actually change his attitude towards his slaves. The treatment of African Americans during the entire period of time was the nature of cruel. Jourdon boldly declares that no slave ever liked to be under the control of a white master, because they were often beaten and from time to time executed. He also believes that mutual trust did not exist, and as an indicator of true trust and gratitude, he favors money for his previous service. Also, due to rage, the response is expected to be relentless and harsh. In the letter, Jourdon does not oppose the proposal, but he questions welfare and safety if he intends to return, as they are currently living stable lives (Fessenden). Throughout the letter, Jourdon lists a number of real people who either suffered from slavery or were the initiators of such suffering. The letter, thus, demonstrates a plain intellectual and humorous approach to a former slave owner, which was relatively rare at the time, especially considering that the letter was written by a former slave.

During this time, freed slaves had to exist in a world that opposed them, and they had no choice but to be brave. The concept of free labor was absurd to some white people, and life of inequality brainwashed many slaves as they had never known another life. In conclusion, Jourdon Anderson never returned to serve his master, and in 1907, at the age of 81, he died. Six years later, his wife was also buried next to him. In exchange for grace and forgiveness, the one who controlled his life for 32 years, Jourdon lived a long life surrounded by the people who mattered most to him (Cohen and Pearson 242). The letter, thus, demonstrates not only the strength of the human spirit that was not broken by slavery but also provides a valuable lesson, underlining the important things in every person’s life. Apparently, Jourdon placed freedom, family, and the ability to develop personally as his major priorities, oppressed for many years by the slave owners of the United States.


In August 1865, Colonel Andersen of Big Spring, Tennessee, wrote a letter to his former slave, Jourdon Anderson, demanding that he return and continue working on the farm. Jourdon himself, after being freed from slavery, moved to Ohio and found work to support himself and his family. He sent a reply letter to his former owner, most likely Jourdon Anderson was illiterate. After all, the newspapers of that time reported that he dictated a letter, but the style of the letter strikes with the nobility and dignity of a free man, even taking into account possible corrections by the person who wrote down his words.

Works Cited

Cohen, Robert, and Janelle Pearson. "Jourdon Anderson And The Meaning Of Freedom In The Aftermath Of Slavery". Social Education, vol 75, no. 5, 2011, pp. 241-244. Social Studies, Accessed 13 May 2022.

Fessenden, Marissa. "A Free Man's Letter To A Former Slaveowner In 1865". Smithsonian Magazine, 2015,

June 09, 2022
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