Jourdan Anderson Letter Secondary Source

Publication Year: 1865

The “Jourdan Anderson Letter” (one-page document)

Source thumbnail image: Brother Jourdan Anderson (Wikimedia Commons)
Source note

Jordan* Anderson (circa 1825-1907) was born into slavery in Tennessee and owned by a man about two years older than him, Colonel Patrick Henry Anderson (1823-1867). After gaining his freedom in 1864, Jordan Anderson moved to Ohio with his wife and at least three children. Nearly four months after the end of the Civil War, Anderson dictated a letter to his abolitionist employer, Valentine Winters. The letter was a response to Jordan Anderson’s former master, who had requested that Anderson and his family return to Tennessee to work on the plantation. In addition to sending this letter, Winters submitted it to the Cincinnati Commercial, a newspaper with a Republican, anti-slavery leaning. The published letter caused an immediate sensation, and then came back into the public’s attention in 2012, when the people and places mentioned in it were corroborated by the Associated Press and black history scholars. 

*sometimes spelled “Jourdan”

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Reading questions

1.    Who wrote this letter, and who is its intended audience? Is this a reliable source?

2.    What is the tone of the letter?

3.    Do you think this is a typical letter that an African American might write to a former master after the Civil War? Why or why not?

4.    How did Anderson gain his freedom, according to his letter (page 1)?

5.    What does Anderson request from his former master, in order to “forget and forgive old scores” (page 2)?

6.    What does Anderson mean when he asks “if there would be any safety for my Milly and my Jane” (page 2)?

7.    This letter is sometimes referred to as “satire” and compared to the writings of Mark Twain. What about the letter seems to fit with this categorization? What about it falls outside of that category, and why? 

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Source type
History Topics
Abolition and Anti-slavery
African American History
Civil War
Time Period
Slavery, Sectionalism, and Social Reform (1815-1861)