Sunday, February 21, 2016

A powerful primary source from a former slave


Just four months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox,  and during the time between Congressional passage and ratification of the 13th Amendment, a Tennessee Confederate general wrote to Jourdan, his emancipated slave now living in Ohio, and asked him to return back to his old slave master's farm.  Jourdan's response is the most powerful primary source describing the horrors of slavery that I have every read.  Using it with your students will be a powerful tool to help understand them the harsh realities of slavery in the era before the Civil War.

The letter is addressed "To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson."  It is such an effective document because it shows clearly how wary Jourdan is about Col. Anderson, and the reasons for it.  Anderson had shot Jourdan twice, and had abused his daughters.  As Jourdan explains, "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."

Despite this appalling history, Jourdan is still open to returning, if Col. Anderson would agree to pay Jourdan and his wife the wages for their years of labor and if schools open to black children were available in Tennessee.

Ask your students to read this letter and look for examples of how slaves were treated in the south during the antebellum era.  Then lead them in a discussion of how the relationship between master and former slave changed after the Civil War.  Have them speculate: If you were Col. Anderson, how would you respond to Jourdon's letter?  This is an excellent resource that would yield important insights about slavery and a lively classroom conversation.

My thanks to my teaching colleague George Coe for sending me this link. 

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