The main idea of Jourdan Anderson's famous letter to his former owner, Colonel Patrick Henry Anderson, is that Jourdan Anderson, having escaped to freedom when the Union Army came to Tennessee, now refuses to go back to the old plantation after slavery's end. Colonel Anderson has written to him, begging...
The main idea of Jourdan Anderson's famous letter to his former owner, Colonel Patrick Henry Anderson, is that Jourdan Anderson, having escaped to freedom when the Union Army came to Tennessee, now refuses to go back to the old plantation after slavery's end. Colonel Anderson has written to him, begging him to return, and while Jourdan begins by taking a polite and even gracious tone in his reply, he points out that he is earning twenty-five dollars a month working in Ohio, that his children are in school, and that his wife had a "comfortable home." In fact, his letter is full of barbs for his former master, saying that if the Union Army had known that he harbored Rebel soldiers at his house, they would have "hanged him long ago." What makes this letter so famous, though, is a passage in which Jourdan Anderson calculates the value of all of his years of labor for Colonel Anderson and asks him to send, as a good faith gesture to secure their return, the wages he owes them:
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.
As Jourdan puts it, he never received any pay for his work as an enslaved man, any more than livestock did. "Surely," he writes, "there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire." He concludes the letter with a final, bitterly sardonic line asking his former master to thank the man who took the gun from the Colonel when he was about to shoot Jourdan, referring, no doubt, to a violent incident that took place when he was still enslaved. The themes of this letter, then, are many. One would be a juxtaposition of free labor and enslavement. Another might be the horrors of slavery, to which Jourdan alludes throughout the letter. Another might be the absolute dependence on slavery that characterized much of the plantation South—the colonel writes Anderson because he so desperately needs his labor.