Jourdon Anderson, an ex-slave, penned this letter to his former owner, Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee in 1865, after the Colonel wrote and asked him to return to service as a paid worker. The letter starts out seeming like a heartbreaking example of Stockholm Syndrome, as Jourdon Anderson recounts several wartime atrocities that the Colonel committed and expresses his gladness that the Colonel wasn't hanged for them. But by the letter's end, it is revealed as one of the great, all-time, understated sarcastic missives, with the final sentence, "Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me," being the icing on the cake.
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. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have 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 show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.
Letters of Note: To My Old Master (Thanks, graeme!)