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Freed Slave's Letter to his former Master

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by skipaway, Feb 1, 2012.

  1. skipaway

    skipaway Well-Known Member

    I thought this was a brilliant letter. Apparently the former slave owner wrote to see if his former slave, Jourdan, who escaped, would come back and work for him. I would have loved to have met this man.

    Excellent Letter by Former Slave

    and he asks for reparations too: :rofl:

    Moto Guzzi and (deleted member) like this.
  2. purple skates

    purple skates Shadow Dancing

    Good read.
  3. Wyliefan

    Wyliefan Well-Known Member

    Jourdan Anderson had a way with words, and no mistake. :D Awesome letter.
  4. Buzz

    Buzz Well-Known Member

    Oyyy!!! :lol:
  5. Ajax

    Ajax Well-Known Member

    Hahahahaha, awesome!
  6. Cachoo

    Cachoo Well-Known Member

    I wonder what the amount would be with interest today. Excellent read--thank you.
  7. ChelleC

    ChelleC Well-Known Member

    Oh that is just great!
  8. Civic

    Civic New Member

    He was more civil than his former master deserved considering he tried to shoot him. The letter says it all.
  9. milanessa

    milanessa engaged to dupa

    If those are Jourdan Anderson's "forms of expression" as the newspaper states, he was educated. I wonder why he couldn't write.
  10. agalisgv

    agalisgv Well-Known Member

    Yes, under a thin veneer of civility, he basically called his former masters murderers, thieves, and rapists.

    It was cleverly done, but the horror gestured to in that letter I found quite chilling.
  11. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    It's amazing that he still trusted his former owner enough, in spite of the attempt to shoot him, and other said and unsaid threats and abuses. Perhaps he was desperate.
  12. agalisgv

    agalisgv Well-Known Member

    Hmm, I read it quite the opposite. He didn't trust his former master because of the reasons outlined, so he placed an impossible condition for his return (in essence saying there's no way on earth he'd ever come back).

    Basically he told him off while taking the high road.
  13. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    :confused: Then why is he writing to him at all? To stick it to him? Guess I am naive enough to think that reparations were possible. Reading too much about Catherine the Great and her (unsuccessful) attempts to end serfdom.
  14. agalisgv

    agalisgv Well-Known Member

    Pretty much
    Well, hope springs eternal and all :shuffle:

    But seriously, it was pretty common for masters to try and trick their former slaves into "working" for them post-slavery in essentially slavery conditions. It's where the whole share-cropping phenomenon arose.

    The '40 acres and a mule' thing didn't go over well at all.
  15. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    I didn't know that, thanks. Glad he was too smart to fall for the trick.
  16. milanessa

    milanessa engaged to dupa

    Okay - I'm going to come right out and say it. I doubt the authenticity of the letter. Is there any other proof other than it being published in the NY Daily Tribune?
  17. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    Why, milanessa? It's a good point to raise, but what made you think this?
  18. agalisgv

    agalisgv Well-Known Member

    Are you saying you think the facsimile of the 1865 NY Daily Tribune issue is faked? Or do you think the facsimile is genuine, but the letter appearing in it is faked?

    For the former, I don't know. But that would be pretty easy to ascertain with a little archival work.

    For the latter, it could be. But I think what you have to keep in mind is back in the day, many couldn't read or write. So there were professionals in the community who provided that service--some free of charge, others not.

    Anyhow, it would have been very common for a person to tell the letter writer/scribe the thoughts she wanted to convey, and the letter writer would put those thoughts in a stylish prose form. The degree to which "flourish" and "embellishments" were added/included would depend on the scribe. But back in the day that would have been very common practice.

    And of course, sometimes stories were made up out of whole cloth. But the reputation of the NY Daily Tribune was one of integrity in reporting, so that would be rather out-of-character for the newspaper.
  19. Rex

    Rex Well-Known Member

    I think the letter is authentic, but you never know. And some masters did teach their slaves how to read and write.

    Still reeling from the fact that some geneaologists have exposed Alex Haley's Roots as a fraud.
  20. taf2002

    taf2002 zexy demon

    40 acres & a mule came from the carpetbaggers (Yankees) not from the previous slaveowners. Sharecropping was more like profit-sharing. 40 acres & a mule was giving the former slaves ownership of property but they had no guarentee they could make a living at it. Many couldn't & then guess who ended up with the acreage? Sure wasn't the Southerners.

    What???? Don't tell me that. Well, it's still an incredible read, but when I thought it was true it was a lot more than just a good read.

    As for the letter, the part about asking how his "master" is & being glad he survived the war smacks of Stockholm Syndrome, unless the man was being sarcastic.
  21. danceronice

    danceronice Corgi Wrangler

    I agree with milanessa. And I would guess that the edition's not faked, but that a former slave was not the author. The whole "dictated" thing and that it appeared in a northern newspaper is what's tripping my alarm bells, and and it sounds far too educated for the *average* former slave. This isn't Frederick Douglas we're talking about here and he was an extreme outlier example of an educated freedman.

    At the very most, I'd believe the general idea behind the letter may have come from a former slave whose old master sent a letter and the content, tone, and vocabular are all by an editor (my first guess would actually be someone not dissimilar from Douglass, a highly-educated and unusual literate former slave. Second guess is a former abolitionst who still was paying attention after the war, which wasn't most of them but was some.) At worst, I'm curious how much checking's been done to see if any of the named people in it actually existed and lived where they did.

    Maybe I'm just overly skeptical because I deal with a lot of old first-person documents and 99% are...skewed, at best. (There's a reason eyewitness accounts of anything are lousy testimony and often disproven by things like archaeology. I'm doing Titanic work right now and it gets increasingly clear that witnesses fudge, didn't see what they thought they saw, or especially where the passenger survivors are concerned, didn't know what they were seeing or just made stuff up whole cloth. So my BS meter may be running on high right now.) But it's a little TOO perfect and appealing to be taken at face value.
  22. milanessa

    milanessa engaged to dupa

    The letter is too polished, a little too pat. I've read articles in newspapers of that era and it just doesn't ring true for me. It reads as if to make a socio-political point.


    And the newspaper may not have been complicit, it's possible they were duped. That happens today, too. Der Spiegel, Newsweek, the NY Times - it's happened to most of them. I'm not certain it's faked, of course not, I just have my doubts. I don't think it was done for malicious reasons but possibly to make a point in a very sad time in our nation's history. Pure speculation on my part.

    If by "terms of expression" the paper means they were his own words then he was well educated. If well educated why did it need to be dictated? That brief forward to the letter just sets off alarm bells to me. I could be very wrong and I know that. Just my thoughts.

    ETA - Danceronice said it much better than I. That's what I meant. :lol:
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2012
  23. Rex

    Rex Well-Known Member

    The Genealogue: Roots Revisited. In his defense, Haley did mention that there were fictional elements in the book. But he got slammed for this, and for "borrowing" elements from other novels.
    The Stockholm Syndrome crossed my mind as well when reading this letter.
  24. agalisgv

    agalisgv Well-Known Member

    Yes, I know ;). That was sorta my point--slaveowners were never interested in making reparations, and heavily resisted any attempts at such.
    Sharecropping was essentially indentured servitude. There was no profit-sharing in any modern sense of the term.
    From what I understand, any loans taken out by former slaves to work the land were secured by the land. And the loans would have come from local merchants. Thus any loss of land would have gone to local banks and merchants--not folks up north.

    If you have some link explaining otherwise, I'd be happy to read it :)
    I think people don't really understand how to read and interpret archival materials. Historical documents were written according to very different standards from today. "Dictating" back in the day simply meant conveying the general intent or gist of something. It didn't mean word-for-word transcription. That concept just didn't exist back then. That doesn't make it inauthentic though.

    If that's the criterion you are using, then you are using inappropriate lenses for evaluating historical documents.
    Are you kidding :lol:? You really think abolitionists weren't paying attention anymore a whole whopping 3 months after the Civil War ended? Who do you think was responsible for the entire Reconstructionist Era? Certainly not former slaveowners.
    If you've read articles from newspapers of that era, that's what should strike you as being authentic--the particular slant it has.

    I'm not placing an opinion either way as to authenticity, but I can tell you as someone who's done extensive archival work (including from this era), that it does read as a product of that time and place.

    Assuming it's authentic, here would be my guess--

    A former slave, Jourdan, received a letter and had someone in town read it to him. My guess would be this is someone who didn't charge for this service, but that would mean the person would have been favorably disposed to assisting Freedmen in their transition--perhaps a local pastor or his wife. Jourdan would have then asked for assistance in responding, and the person reading the letter would have likely done the response. Before writing it, a conversation would have taken place where Jourdan explained the circumstances surrounding his former master, and any lingering fears. The person scribing the letter would have taken all of that into account, and penned what s/he felt was an appropriate and articulate response.

    That would be considered authentic letter-writing back in the day. The dictation note at the top would indicate this was the mode of writing, and readers would understand what that meant.

    Because the NY Daily Tribune has a reputation for being aligned with Abolitionists, the person scribing the letter could very well have sent a copy to the paper because of the paper's readership. Remember that back in those days, two copies of each letter were penned--one to be sent to the addressee, and one to be kept by the person writing it. Since it would take months sometimes for correspondence to go back and forth, it was important for a copy to be made of letters so you could remember the context of the response you received.

    So anyhow, who knows. But I think people should understand what dictating meant back in the day, and what historical documents really looked like rather than modern perceptions.
  25. milanessa

    milanessa engaged to dupa

    What in the world makes you think we don't? I think sometimes you talk just to teach those who may not need to be taught, ag. I love you but it's one of your most irritating habits. I'll just go back to not responding. Solves the problem.
  26. agalisgv

    agalisgv Well-Known Member

    Because danceronice was claiming the former slave wasn't the author because it didn't appear to be an authentic dictation, and this somehow delegitimated the piece. You couldn't argue that unless you were operating under a very anachronistic understanding of dictation. And you agreed with her post, so I assumed you held the same view of dictation as she did.

    That line of mine you quoted wasn't directed to you in particular, but rather addressed more generally to folk.

    But I'm curious, you say you've read papers from that era--how exactly do the articles read to you? Don't they typically have distinct sociopolitical perspectives they push throughout? Don't you typically see more sensationalist writing than what you normally find in papers today? Aren't historical accounts found in newspapers of that era heavily edited to conform to the paper's typical editorial style?

    How is this different to you?

    ETA: I also think you're being overly sensitive and taking offense unnecessarily.
  27. agalisgv

    agalisgv Well-Known Member

    Turns out the letter was part of a larger research project, and quite a lot has been checked and verified.

    Here are some details regarding the letter writer (he continued living in OH into the 20th century) and his children.

    ETA: For anyone interested, the letter was included in a larger book of Freedmen writings called "The Freedmen's Book". It's available free on the web:
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2012
  28. Prancer

    Prancer Strong and stable Staff Member

    For what it's worth, I can personally attest that the man and members of his family are buried here: http://www.woodlandcemetery.org/

    It is believed by the local historians that he dictated the letter to a reporter or journalist with abolitionist sympathies who worked for a Cincinnati newspaper, and that the reporter did quite a bit of the writing. I am not sure what kind of documentation they have for this, but that is what I have been told.
  29. taf2002

    taf2002 zexy demon

    You can see where I got the impression that you thought share-cropping & 40 acres & a mule were the same thing & that both came from former masters. Of course you knew differently.

    With sharecropping former slaves couldn't secure loads by using the land as collateral because they didn't own the land & were never going to. They were paying rent on some acreage by working a certain number of hours on the owner's acreage. Any profits from their own crops were all theirs. The relatively few former slaves who received 40 acres were not sharecroppers.

    Re local banks & merchants....it was very difficult for Southerns to hold on to their businesses after the war. Most of them had been ruined by accepting Confederate script. So if they still owned their businesses, would they have had the resources or the inclination to loan money to former slaves? If lending was going on, who had the money to do so if not the Northerners who had moved there to loot & pillage?
  30. agalisgv

    agalisgv Well-Known Member

    It's funny how you can have in your head one thing, but then seeing how others read it, realize your post looks entirely different from what you intended.

    So yeah, in my head there was a substantial break between those paragraphs, but clearly there wasn't a good way for anyone else to know that. Thanks for pointing that out.
    My statement about loss of land wasn't related to sharecropping, but rather those given land in the '40 acres and a mule' policy (though the actual acreage varied and sometimes former slaves received livestock in lieu of land). You're right--sharecropping was tenant farming and didn't convey actual land ownership to former slaves.
    Actually, the typical arrangement was sharecroppers worked a set piece of land, and after harvest were allowed to keep a certain percentage of what they farmed for themselves to sell, and the rest went back to the plantation owner. Sharecroppers weren't paid hourly wages (or any wages).

    The reason why this wasn't profit-sharing was because all the costs for planting were paid for by sharecroppers, and sharecroppers had to pay rent for living in former slave quarters on the property as well as all their daily supplies by using credit extended to them from the landowner. In addition to giving landowners 50-70% of whatever they harvested, sharecroppers had to repay all the credit extended over the past year back to the landowner from the proceeds of their remaining 30-50% of crop sales. The amount of interest charged on credit was completely up to landowners, as was the percentage of crops due after harvest. So this system kept former slaves in perpetual debt and poverty, continually beholden to landowners. It really was just an extension of slavery.

    I would think so, primarily because the terms of the loans were so egregious, it all be assured former slaves would lose whatever land/assets they had. And that's generally what happened.