What is the main idea and theme of the Jourdon Anderson letter?

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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...

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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.

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In Jourdon Anderson's letter dated August 7, 1865, the main theme is the benefit of freedom. Jourdon was once a slave in Tennessee. His former owner, Col. Anderson, has tried to persuade him to return to the plantation and work for him. Now a free man living in Ohio, Jourdan recounts what he and his family have gained through freedom.

First of all, he now is paid "twenty-five dollars a month" (para 2). As a slave, he was never paid. As well, he is provided with food and clothing. His children attend school, and the entire family is able to practice their religious freedom by going to church on Sunday. Perhaps more importantly, he does not have to worry about his girls being mistreated by the "young masters" (para 4). In this letter, Jourdon expresses the difference between slavery and freedom: that is, he and his family now have independence, respect, and opportunity.

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"Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. "  --Excerpt from the Jourdan Anderson letter

The Jourdan Anderson letter is a correspondence between the former slave Jourdan Anderson, who had escaped Tennessee, and his former master, Colonel P.H. Anderson. The letter is a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek response to Colonel Anderson's previous letter that suggested Jourdan and his family should return to the plantation in Tennessee. It was written towards the end of the Civil War.

The main idea of the letter is that the freedom of the North offered a much better alternative than being in slavery in the South. The letter's theme of redemption and perseverance are demonstrated in the mention of Jourdan being paid every Saturday for his work in the North. His work as a slave was uncompensated, except for his clothing and food. Despite the meager wages he now receives as a laborer, being free is a much better alternative. His children have a better future because of it. The letter is also one of rebellion, in that he is able to speak in such a frank nature towards his former master. An example of this is when he mentions his family would be happy to return if his master agreed to pay him for back wages. You can almost see Colonel Anderson's face blush with anger as he reads it.

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