Unless, of course, you were enjoying a spot of afternoon tea on the hilltop when a debonair cannonball most respectfully sashayed through your jaw, then the American Civil War of 150 years ago wasn’t really all that “civil.”
It was a bloody/disease-ridden/brutal/and costly war for ridiculously high stakes; with nothing more at stake than the very lives and futures of the slaves and their legacies.
Written by a father and former slave only a few months emancipated, Jourdon Anderson’s letter is a response to his former owner who has recently (and most audaciously) inquired as to whether or not Anderson and his family might actually wish to return to be “employed” by the man once again.
Anderson reportedly dictated his response through a local newspaper man. And its highlights are pretty much the entire letter, but let’s look at just a few of the pinnacles.
On discovering his former master, Col. P.H. Anderson, was still, in fact, alive after the war, Jourdan writes:
“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 Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable.”
And, as if that wasn’t enough:
“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.”
On his children, Jourdan remarks:
“Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher…We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson… to call you master.”
There are moments, in reading the letter, when the reader can really discern that Jourdan’s sense of devotion, his sense of being owned and controlled, is still very fresh in his mind, and in his psyche. And yet, he does respond to the old slave master with some stunningly patient wisdom and rationale.
In response to his former owner’s promise to maintain Jourdan’s freedom should he choose to return to the plantation, the free man responds:
“As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville.”
It is all just heart-wrenching and gorgeous and sadly beautiful and it makes me wanna hop a time machine just so I could buy Jourdan and his wife a beer or two, some sarsaparilla for the kid-os.
I’ll leave you with this. Addressing the Colonel’s motives, Jourdan lays it all on the line with calm dignity:
“…we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. 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.”
I doubt he ever got his money.
But I damn sure hope Mister Jourdan Anderson and his family found way bigger and better things.