Many of you have probably used the remarkable letter of a former slave by the name of Jourdan Anderson sent a letter to his former master. The roughly 800-word letter, which was a crafty response to a missive from Colonel P.H. Anderson, Jourdan’s former master back in Big Spring, Tennessee. Apparently, Col. Anderson had written Jourdan asking him to come on back to the big house to work. I created the timeline below from internet resources to set the historical context for my students.
Life in Tennessee 1823 to 1864
1823 General Paulding Anderson’s son Patrick Henry Anderson is born in Big Spring, TN (Wilson County)
1825 – Jourdan Anderson is born in December, some place in Tennessee.
1833 – Jourdan Anderson (age 8) becomes the slave of General Paulding Anderson and is given to his son Patrick Henry Anderson (age 10) as as playmate and personal servant
1844 – Patrick Henry Anderson (age 21) married Mary A. McGregor. She brought with her at least two servants, Amanda McGregor (age 15) and her mother, Priscilla McGregor (age 43). Patrick took several of his father’s slaves to his new home, including Jourdon.
1848 – Jourdan (age 23) married Amanda McGregor (age 19), Over 52 years of marriage theuy will have 11 children. The children born in Tennessee “seem” to have been Matilda, Catherine, Mildred (known as Milly) circa 1848, Jane circa 1851 and Felix Grundy, born on March 14, 1859. I use the word “seem” because there are no concrete records that prove Matilda and Catherine were Jourdon and Amanda’s children.
There was a Felix Grundy who served as a US Senator from Anderson’s home state of Tennessee in the 1830s who has a Tennessee county named after him
1860 – According to the 1860 census and slave schedules, Patrick Henry Anderson (age 37) has five ‘slave houses’ on his plantation totaling 32 people (19 males and 13 females) Before the start of the Civil War. P.H. Anderson had a personal estate valued at $92,000 (2.867 million in 2018 dollars)
1861 – April 12th Confederate artillery fired on the Union garrison at Fort Sumter marking the start of the Civil War ; June 8th Tennessee became the last state to secede from the Union. When the Civil War began in 1861, Jordan’s life changed very little and he still continued to dutifully work the plantation for his master with his wife.
1864 – Union Soldiers happened upon the Anderson plantation. Upon encountering Jordan, the soldiers granted him, his wife and children their freedom, making the act official with papers from the Provost Marshal General of Nashville
Upon being granted his freedom, Jordan immediately left the plantation which angered P.H. Anderson’s son Henry (age 18) to such an extent that he shot at Jordan as he was leaving, only ceasing to fire when a neighbor, George Carter, grabbed Henry’s pistol from him. Reportedly, Henry vowed to kill Jordan if he ever set foot on his property again.
Jordan and Mandy worked for a time at the Cumberland Military Hospital in Nashville under the surgeon in charge Dr. Clarke McDermont. Jordan and Mandy, with the help of Dr. Clarke McDermont, relocated to Dayton, Ohio in August of 1864
Life in Dayton, Ohio 1865 to 1905
1865 – Following his departure from the plantation, Jordan worked briefly in a Nashville field hospital, becoming close friends with a surgeon called Dr Clarke McDermont. When the Civil War ended in 1865, McDermont helped Jordan and his family move to Dayton, Ohio and put him in contact with his father-in-law, Valentine Winters, an abolitionist who helped him secure work in the town.
For the most part, Jordan’s life in Dayton was uneventful, with his time spent working with a stoic sense of quiet dignity, supporting his family and making sure his many children received a good education, something the illiterate Jordan was never given the opportunity to have. (In fact, it was noted that while still a slave, when an unspecified white girl tried to teach one of his children to read, the girl was beaten for it and forced to stop.)
As it turns out, following the Civil War, the Anderson Plantation had fallen into complete disrepair, as is wont to happen when your entire workforce leaves pretty much all at once.
Deeply in debt, in a desperate attempt to save himself from total financial ruin, Henry reached out to the only man he knew who not only had the skills needed for the harvest, but also potentially the clout to convince some of the other slaves to return for paid work- Jordan Anderson. The letter also promised that Jordan would be paid and be treated as a free man if he returned.
He is a list of the payments requested by Jourdan from his former master and the 2017 equivalents:
Jourdan – $25.00 ($400.00 in 2017 dollars) per month for 32 years
Mandy – $8.00 ($120.00 in 2017 dollars) per month for 20 years
$11,600.00 ( $175,000 in 2017 dollars) with interest
1867 – A penniless Colonel P.H. Anderson dies of heart attack at age 44
1870 – Census records show Jordon Anderson living in Ohio with Mandy, four children (Jane, Felix, William, and Andrew). Jordan will find work as a janitor, coachman, laborer and sexton.
1905 – The Dayton Daily Journal publishes Jordan Anderson’s obituary. He was 79 years old.
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Freed slave who penned sarcastic letter to old master after he was asked back to farm pictured for first time