Category Archives: Reconstruction

A Letter from a Freedman to his Former Master

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 9.05.56 AMI was looking through my Reconstruction Era documents this morning and came across this one – a letter dictated by Tennessee freedman Jourdon Anderson to his former master. I find the candor most fascinating, and the power dynamic renegotiation is unmistakable. Have a look…your comments are welcome.

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To my old Master, Colonel P. H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee.

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

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.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. 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. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.

I wonder if he ever got the money he demanded….I have my suspicions. At any rate – I discuss folks like Anderson and others who asserted their freedom in my web-course on Reconstruction HERE.

With compliments,

Keith

The Press and the 1866 New Orleans Riots

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 12.52.56 PMThe New Orleans Riot on July 30, 1866, was the culmination of mounting tensions concerning the 1864 Louisiana Constitutional Convention, black codes, and the Louisiana legislature’s refusal to grant suffrage to black citizens, many of whom were veterans of the Union army. More on that later. Today I offer the reactions issued by the press. Political allegiance comes through quite clearly in these two reports – one from Virginia and the other from New York. And both figure Andrew Johnson as the primary figure in the cause and outcome of this riot. Reading the two side by side makes for a nice comparison.

Charles Wynne in the Richmond (Va.) Times, August 2, 1866

RADICALISM, REVOLUTION, TREASON, and INSURRECTION in the Southern States have just received a death-blow at the hands of the President. His order to the military in Louisiana, which we publish elsewhere, crushes in the egg the atrocious Radical conspiracy to bring about an immediate war of the races at the South. It arrays, by an imperative order, the army against the [Republicans] and all others in rebellion against the existing State Governments and laws. There is no more temporizing with the vile incendiaries who have been instigating the negroes to organize regiments, clamor for equal suffrage, and overthrow, by force, the present State Governments.
It is a fact, as disgraceful and infamous as it is undeniably true, that these demoralized traitors and revolutionists have had the sympathies of not a few military officers holding important commands at the South. One of this class of Radical tools was, beyond question, the federal General to whose criminal remissness the late riots in New Orleans are justly ascribed.
He permitted an illegal assembly to convene composed of men whose objects were the disfranchisement of nine-tenths of the white inhabitants of Louisiana, and the enfranchisement of the negroes. He also allowed the streets of New Orleans to be thronged by shouting, yelling, malignant negro companies, armed and ripe for deeds of lawless violence. Sympathising with these negroes and their vile white associates, he failed to lend timely assistance to the State authorities. A white citizen of New Orleans was insulted and outraged by a negro procession, and an alarming riot at once commenced, which resulted in the loss of many lives.
The wicked and gigantic conspiracy, Andrew Johnson crushed by the order to which we have referred. The whole power of the Government of the United States is hereafter to be employed to annihilate these traitors.
It is providential that there is no disloyal Congress in session to break the force of this crushing blow at Insurrection, Rebellion, and Treason. The President is master of the situation at last, and the Radical satrap who refuses to obey the order of his commander-in-chief will now have his head sent spinning from his shoulders.
A splendid opportunity is offered to all the military tools of Thaddeus Stevens to indulge in harri karri. They must obey their master or rip themselves up. The dilemma is painfully embarrassing but should they elect the “happy dispatch’ the sabers of the squelched negro companies are at their disposal. It is the favorite weapon of the disgruntled Japanese officials when they disembowel themselves at the gracious command of the Tycoon.

Well…he certainly gets right to the point. Here is another take on the situation:

Horace Greely in the New York Tribune, August 1, 1866

If any doubts existed as to President Johnson’s connection with the massacre in New Orleans it will be removed by reading his dispatch to Attorney General Herron of Louisiana. This dispatch, written with the knowledge that loyal citizens of the United States were dying from wounds received y a rebel mob assumes the responsibility of the deed. The policy that prompted Mayor Monroe and his followers finds its inspiration in Washington.
This conclusion fills us with inexpressible sadness, but we cannot resist the facts. It is a dreadful thing to arraign the President of the United States as being in any possible sympathy with the unlawful shedders of blood, but when a plain fact is to be stated, the plainest words are the best. In the first place the President recognizes a usurped power to communicate his wishes. James M. Wells is the Governor of Louisiana, and the official representation of the State. To him the President should have spoken. But Gov. Wells, a duly elected Governor by rebel votes, has called this convention together and the President steps over the theory of State Rights, and sends his commands to an officer of his Cabinet – his Attorney General – one Andrew S. Herron – a conspicuous Rebel in the days of treason. The President directs him to call upon Gen Sheridan for “sufficient force to sustain civil authorities in suppressing an illegal or unlawful assemblies.” If the President really believes that States have rights, and Governors of States privileges, then his course in recognizing an officer of Gov Wells’s Cabinet as the proper authority to call out troops is a usurpation.
It is folly to use soft phrases in speaking of this appalling crime. The policy of Andrew Johnson engendered the demon fury which has shed blood in the streets of the Crescent City. His statesmanship has once more raised Rebel Flags in New Orleans. The time has come for the people to speak – and let it be in tones so distinct and unmistakable that even Andrew Johnson will not dare disobey the warning.

What are your thoughts on Andrew Johnson’s policies and southern violence? I engage questions like this and many others in my new web-course on Reconstruction history. Check it out!

With compliments

Keith

Reconstruction, Revolutions, and the Economy

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.02.36 AMI often speak with my students about the various “revolutions” that transpired over the course of the Reconstruction Era. Freedom, citizenship, and suffrage for former slaves are without question revolutionary. But there was an extent to just how revolutionary things would get – and thus we have the notion of revolutions unfinished. Black people enjoyed civil equality but not social equality; they got the vote, but not political determinism. Generally speaking, by 1868 Republicans (with only some success) shifted their attentions to moderation and economic development. Some might think that they wholesale abandoned freedmen – that getting the South on its feet and once again engaged in the national economy took precedent over black peoples’ definition of freedom . Here is a question for current students of the period: is it safe to say that Republicans were more interested in catering to outside investors than blacks’ rights as Americans?  Was equality before the law enough?

With compliments,

Keith

1868

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 12.28.57 PMScreen Shot 2015-12-28 at 11.19.40 AMAs I work on a project today concerning the presidential election of 1868, I am struck by both the Republican and Democratic campaign posters. Both show a strong commitment to American nationalism and virtue and of course, both show dedication to the late Union war effort. This was an easy one for Ulysses S. Grant, who after all, was second only to Lincoln in the Union hero pantheon. But illustrating dedication to cause was a little more touchy for Horatio Seymour, a New York career politician who supported the war effort but was highly critical of Lincoln’s conduct during the war. This, at least partly, explains his vice-presidential choice: Union army veteran Frank P. Blair. I’ll be posting more of these on Twitter as the day goes on so be sure and check them out.

With compliments,

Keith