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Archive for July, 2016

Jourdon Anderson’s Fake Letter

There was a profound and entertaining letter making its rounds a few years back on the web. It was a letter by a former slave, Jourdon Anderson, written to his former master in 1865. The letter had a sense of humour that one finds with some of the best writers or even pundits of today. It is a true work of art when you break the letter down for its content and message. Here is a link to the letter: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/to-my-old-master.html.

My question is the validity of the letter, not so much as the existence of the letter for it was published in the New York Daily Tribune on August 22, 1865, but more for the letter writer and the former master. The content itself lends credence to not being a true or real response to some letter written by Colonel P.H. Anderson. This is a well-written letter for a slave let alone an average white person living in the nineteenth century. In fact, the letter reminds me somewhat of Mark Twain. The letter in one take provides a narrative of the slave’s struggle. Keep in mind that Mr. Jourdon Anderson dictated this letter.

What about the original letter written by Colonel P.H. Anderson? I know of no evidence of its existence which leads me to surmise that it never existed. This letter would go a long way of proving the content of Jourdon Anderson’s letter as being real and not fabricated. This doesn’t mean that a letter wasn’t written, but we may never know and cannot conclusively conclude that it ever existed.

There is no doubt Jourdon Anderson was real. There are census records noting his existence in Ohio, so we can safely take Mr. Anderson as a real person and former slave. Mr. Anderson, not to be confused with Neo, lived to a nice age of 81.

As I searched for P.H. Anderson, I found a name of Patrick Henry Anderson. Colonel Anderson was a few years older than Jourdon likely was a playmate of Jourdon’s as youths. Slavery maintained a master-slave relationship. Colonel Anderson would die in 1867, two years after his supposed letter to Jourdon. So, Colonel Anderson is a real person.

A third individual is the man Jourdon dictated the letter to, and this is Valentine Winters. This man was an abolitionist who apparently hosted Abraham Lincoln once. Mr. Winters born in Clearfield County, PA (I had to include this because that county needs some recognition) and moved to Ohio where he started a bank, I believe. Apparently the comedian Jonathan Winters is a descendent of Mr. Winters.

Mr. Winters is the key component of my argument. First, I do not think Colonel P.H. Anderson ever sent a letter to Jourdon Anderson. Second, Jourdon Anderson did not receive any letter from his former master and did not dictate the published letter as it was written. Third, Mr. Winters constructed this letter as an abolitionist for political reasons or reasons to improve the plight of the former slaves. As stated earlier, the structure of the letter is too perfect and eloquent in its style. Was this letter ghost-written? I do not believe the letter reflects the words of Jourdon Anderson but uses him to make a political point. More research is needed to determine what the point of the letter was. It has nothing to do with what we interpret today or what it stated in the letter. The clues, though, are found within the letter since the mention of wages are driven home.

The monthly earning of Mr. Anderson’s of $25 does not dispute the validity though the $25 could have been elevated for effect. In 1870, the average daily earnings of non-farm labor was $1.56 which gives a white worker $31.20/month if they worked a standard five day workweek otherwise is was around $37. The education of his children are likely the result of the local abolitionists. More research into wages are needed to verify if $25 is reasonable. Other points to be made are acts his former master did. These remind me of all of the events that happened to the crew of the Memphis Belle in the movie of the same name. The events represented what happened to other aircrews since little of that happened to the real crew of the Memphis Belle.

I think the letter is real but the content fake. It was contrived for other reasons than to respond to a letter Colonel P.H. Anderson never sent. The content is a brief summary of slavery constructed for a letter. I can’t confirm these event didn’t happen the way they were stated but do believe they are a common summary as I indicated happened with the movie Memphis Belle. The evidence does not add up to this letter being nothing more than a type of propaganda constructed for a political purpose, and that little if any of the content was true.