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Dear Colonel

May 2024
2min read


On August 7, 1865, George Anderson, a recently freed slave, wrote from Dayton, Ohio, to his sometime master, Colonel P. H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee. The mordant, fascinating letter was apparently dictated to the V. Winters mentioned therein, who sent a copy to the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in London. It was published in the society’s Anti-Slavery Reporter on November 1, 1865. As the editor commented, “It is certainly a curiosity in its way, and presents a kaleidoscopic internal view of slavery.” We thank Nan Gillespie of Lawrenceville, New Jersey, for calling Anderson’s ironic exercise to our attention:
SIR—I got your letter, and was glad to find that … you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harbouring rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. 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. …

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here: I get 25 dols. a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy, (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson,) and the children, Milly, Jane, and Grundy, go to school and are learning well: the teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday-school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them coloured 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 Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

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 at Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely 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. This will make us forget and forgive old sores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At 25 dols. a month for me, and 2 dols. a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to 11,680 dols. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has 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 shew what we are injustice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’ Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labours in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. …

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here, and starve and die, if it come to that, than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the coloured children in your neighbourhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

From your old servant, GEORGE ANDERSON.

P.S.—Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

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