A Fabulous Letter

In my research for my 1930s NYC novel, letters are far and away the most evocative and useful primary source. This letter, obviously, is not from my period but since reading it a couple of days ago I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

On the 7th of August, 1865 in Dayton, Ohio, former slave Jourdan Anderson declines his former master’s invitation to come and work for him again:

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find 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 Col. 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 Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

It gets better and better after that. Read the rest of the letter here. (Found via Twitter, though sadly I can no longer remember whose.)


  1. Dream on #

    What a powerful letter. Reading the whole thing really puts into perspective the slave trade and all that. I’m amazed at how respectful, forgiving and polite this letter writer is when he had (has?) every right to be angry at his former master. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Lorin on #

    What an amazing letter! I love how it was polite and yet totally clear on how he really felt.

  3. Veronica on #

    This may be the very best letter I have ever read. Mr. Jourdan Anderson and his wife are unutterably brilliant. My only wish is that there could have been some record of Colonel Anderson’s reaction to reading this.

  4. yinsicle on #

    This is amazing. Thanks so much for sharing this. I only hope the Colonel had the reading comprehension skills necessary to detect the sarcasm.

  5. Justine on #

    Veronica: I imagine that Colonel Anderson would have spontaneously combusted on reading it. At least I hope so . . .

    Yinsicle: Yeah, who says sarcasm is the lowest form of wit?

  6. Katherine on #

    Simply amazing. Just… wow.

  7. Robyn on #

    Wow. What a powerful letter. So much is said with such dignity and grace. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  8. Julia Rios on #

    That is a truly fabulous letter. Thank you for sharing it.

  9. genevieve on #

    Pure Faulkner. Thanks for that J.

  10. Diana Peterfreund on #

    Jourdan Anderson is my hero. The postscript is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen placed on paper.

  11. Shveta on #

    I love this letter so much. Thank you for sharing it, Justine.

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