That Former Slave Who Wrote His Ex-Master Never Went Back to Him

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Some wonderful Internet sleuthing has given a happy ending to the feel-good Internet story of the week -- the one in which an ex-master asked an ex-slave to return to him and the ex-slave refused. On Monday Letters of Note published this gem of a correspondence between Jourdon Anderson, a freed slave in 1865 who had been asked by his former master to return to Tennessee from Ohio as a paid worker. Anderson, in short, essentially told him to shove it unless he paid up: "we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you."

What the letter didn't show, though, was whether or not Anderson had taken up his former master's offer. And it turns out based on Census record found by the intrepid blogging of Jason Kottke, he hadn't! The 1880 and 1900 Censuses show Anderson living in Ohio and employed as a coach driver into old age. But it's the 1920 Census record, about Anderson's children that has the best detail ("best" as far as any detail about slavery can be, at least):

Three families lived together at that address: Valentine and Abagail Anderson, who were both listed on the 1900 census form; Charles Johnson and his wife Eva, the same Eva listed as Jordan's daughter on the 1900 census form; and Samuel Stewart and his wife Scharlet, who is the same age as the Lottie listed on the 1900 census form. Everyone in the household is listed as being able to read and write, just as Jordan wished for them in his letter: "The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits."

Read all of Kottke's research here. And of course, Anderson's entire letter deserves its own reading.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.