What happened to the former slave that wrote his old master?

posted by Jason Kottke Feb 02, 2012

You know that letter from former slave Jourdon Anderson to his old master that's been going around? First of all, it's good and you should read it.

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 of Nashville. 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.

David Galbraith poked around a bit and found a record of Anderson still living in Ohio at the time of the 1900 census as "Jordan Anderson". Here's the relevant bit of the census form:

Jordan Anderson

At the time, Anderson and his wife Mandy were in their 70s and had been married for 52 years. Mandy had borne 11 children, six of whom were still living (Anderson's letter, written in 1865, references five children, two of whom were "brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters"...not sure if they had died or not). The three children living with them in 1900 were all in their 20s, born several years after the letter was written.

There's also a record of Anderson from the 1880 census, this time as "Jordon Anderson". The birth year listed is different (1830 vs 1825) but the family relations are the same. This census lists two older children, William and Andrew, the eldest of whom was born right around the time of Jordan and Mandy's emancipation. Anderson's occupation is listed as "coachman".

I also found a record in the April 19, 1905 issue of the Dayton Daily Journal of Anderson's death. He was 79 years old.

Update: Ok, a bit more digging, with the help of an ancestry.com trial membership.

The 1870 census shows Anderson living in Ohio with Mandy, four children (Jane, Felix, William, and Andrew).

Jordan Anderson

Jane is mentioned in the letter...is Felix the "Grundy" mentioned? There was a Felix Grundy who served as a US Senator from Anderson's home state of Tennessee in the 1830s who has a Tennessee county named after him...perhaps that's where the nickname came from? Also listed in the household is Percella Mcgregor, Mandy's mother.

And ho, what's this? From the 1920 Census, here's a record of who was living at 60 Burns Ave in Montgomery County, Ohio, the former address of Jordan Anderson:

Jordan Anderson

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.

Amazing. Ancestry.com provides a lot more information about the family...here's a peek at the family tree:

Jordan Anderson family tree

Looks like Lottie lived until 1944, Eva died in 1937, and Jane in 1939. Oh and it looks like Felix is the Grundy mentioned in the letter. I'm sure there's lots more. For now, I'm going to try to alert the "owner" of the Jordan Anderson family tree to the existence of the letter...we'll see if they are related!

Update: The letter has already been added to the ancestry.com database by the tree's owner.