A remarkable letter written by an escaped slave living in Dayton to his former master was the subject of a public program recently at Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum.
Jordan Anderson (spelled Jourdan in some documents) and his wife Amanda, escaped slavery from a Tennessee plantation in 1864 and eventually made their way to Dayton.
After the Civil War, the slaveowner, Col. Patrick Henry Anderson, contacted Anderson and asked him to return to work on his farm.
Anderson’s reply, dated Aug. 7, 1865, was addressed “to my old master,” and published in the Cincinnati Commercial newspaper and then reprinted in the New York Daily Tribune on Aug. 22, 1865.
The rejection is biting as Anderson reminds his former master that he tried to kill him.
“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… 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.”
In a measured tone Anderson asks what his former master is offering, and goes on to request back pay for decades of abusive labor:
“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.”
“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,” the letter says.
“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.”
Anderson sardonically wraps up his letter this way: “Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.”
Anderson reportedly worked as a janitor while in Dayton and was living at 60 Burns Ave. when he died at age 79 according to the April 20, 1905 obituary in the Dayton Daily News. “Exhaustion” was listed as the cause of death.
He and his wife, Amanda, are buried next to each other at Dayton’s historic cemetery.