The Life of Jourdon Anderson


A speical thank you to Dayton History for the use of the photos of the Anderson family

The Life of Jourdon Anderson, who dictated a letter to his “old Master” in 1865
By Curt Dalton
            Jourdan Anderson was born in December 1825, some place in Tennessee.  He became a slave of General Paulding Anderson, of Big Spring, Wilson County, TN sometime around 1833, when he was 7 or 8 years old.  General Anderson was a somewhat famous man in Wilson County, having once served in the state legislature.
            One of General Anderson’s sons was Patrick Henry Anderson Sr., who was born June 24, 1823, making him about 10 years old when Jourdon arrived at the family farm.
            On August 7, 1844 Patrick Anderson married Mary A. McGregor. She brought with her at least two servants, Amanda McGregor (born October 1829) and her mother, Priscilla McGregor (born 1801). Patrick took several of his father’s slaves to his new home, including Jourdon.
            In 1848 Jourdan married Amanda McGregor, he being 23 and she being 19 at the time.
            Over the years Amanda had 11 children. The ones born in Tennessee seem to have been Matilda, Catherine, Mildred (known as Milly) circa 1848, Jane circa 1851 and Felix Grundy, born on March 14, 1859. I use the word “seem” as I do not have concrete records that prove Matilda and Catherine were Jourdon and Amanda’s children, although later in this article it will become clear as to why I believe they are.
            Jourdon and his family left Colonel Anderson sometime in 1864, with Jourdon receiving his free papers from the Provost-Marshall-General of the Department of Nashville, TN and getting a job at a hospital in Nashville.
            By the summer of 1865 Jourdon and his family had moved on to Dayton. But Matilda and Catherine seem not to have made the trip with their parents, nor have I found any record of what happened to them.
            It was about this time that Jourdon changed his name to Jordan Anderson. He will be called that name from this point on.
Sometime during the summer of 1865 (probably in July) Colonel Patrick Anderson wrote a letter to Jordan, asking him to return to Big Springs and live there again.  While this letter is lost to time, Jordan’s reply is not.  On August 7, 1865 Jordan, who could not read or write at the time, dictated a letter to his old master. The content of that letter follows:
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


          The letter was a sensation at the time, being first reproduced in the Cincinnati Commercial newspaper, and then reprinted in the August 22, 1865 issue of the New York Tribune newspaper.  The letter was also reprinted in The Freedmen’s Book, by Lydia Maria Child, which was published in 1865. The author was an abolitionist, writing several books on the subject, including An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans. Today, however, she is best known for her poem Over the River and Through the Woods, about Thanksgiving.

            Some believed the letter from Jordan to Colonel Anderson had been fabricated. But names mentioned in connection to Col. Anderson in the letter are real people. The “Miss Mary” and “Miss Martha” are Colonel Anderson’s wife, Mary, and their daughter, Martha. The man by the name of Henry in the letter, who seemed to have plans to shoot Jordan if he ever got the chance, was more than likely Colonel Patrick Henry Anderson’s son, Patrick Henry Jr., whom everyone called Henry, and who would have been about 18 when Jordan left in 1864. George Carter, who took the pistol away from the Colonel as he shot at Jordan, was a carpenter who lived in Wilson County.
           As I stated earlier, the two daughters mentioned in the letter, “poor Matilda and Catherine, did not make the trip with their parents.  Perhaps the abuse that it seems the two girls suffered was fatal.  Or maybe they were sold as slaves to other families and Jordan and Amanda did not have a way to contact them.  This is something I will endeavor to find out.
             V. Winters in the letter was Valentine Winters, a banker in Dayton, and founder of Winters Bank.  Jordan must have felt a deep respect for Valentine, for in 1870 his son was named after Mr. Winters.
            Jordan held a number of jobs and moved to a few addresses during his 42+ years living in Dayton. They include working as a servant in 1865 and living at 342 Second Street. While there Jordan and Amada had a son, William, who was born in 1865.        Sadly, their daughter Mildred, died that same year, on November 21.
            Then a unique opportunity came to Dayton in 1867, when the city was chosen to host the Central Branch of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, now known as the VA Center.   Jordan was hired to drive in the stakes which laid out the site of the Soldiers’ Home.
            The family moved to 8 Burns Avenue in 1868 and stayed there until 1874, with Jordan taking on jobs as a hostler and coachman during that time. Three sons and two daughters were born there; William in 1865, Andrew in 1869, Valentine Winters on November 2, 1870, Charlotte “Lottie” on June 8, 1873, and Selma in October 1874.
            In 1875 the family moved to 48 South Ludlow. Jordan and Amanda’s last child, Eva Ola, was born there on July 19, 1876.
            In 1877 the Anderson’s made a move to 159 Maple. Amanda’s mother, Priscilla McGregor, died on April 18, 1879 at the age of 78 and is buried at Woodland. 
            Then it was time to move to 70 Monroe in 1880, to 60 East Monroe in 1883, and finally to 60 East Burns in 1890.  During this time Jordan would switch back and forth from working as a janitor, coachman or hostler, until 1894, when he became a sexton; a position he held until his death.
            The Anderson family became a fixture at the Wesleyan Methodist Church, the same church that Paul Laurence Dunbar and his mother attended, as did Rev. Desota E. Bass. Charlotte would become the president of the church choir; Valentine would play the violin with the organist. It is likely that this is the church Jordan was hired on as a sexton in 1894.
             On November 5, 1895 the family celebrated the marriage of their son, Valentine, to Abbigail Weir.  Abbigail immediately moved in with the family at their home at 60 Burns Avenue.  There is no record of the couple having any children. By this time Valentine had become a physician.
            According to the census of 1900, Jordan and Amanda outlived at least five of their eleven children. Assuming that Matilda and Catherine were two of them, and counting Mildred, who died in 1865, the other two children were their son William, who died on May 2, 1895 and probably Selma who, although born in 1874, never appeared in the census of 1880 with the rest of her family.
            Then, on June 26, 1902 the family celebrated yet another marriage, this time of their daughter Charlotte to Samuel C. Stewart.  Samuel immediately moved in with the family at their home at 60 Burns Avenue.  There is no record of the Stewarts having any children. Just as well, as the house must have become quite crowded by this time.
            It is unclear at this time just exactly when and where Eva Ola married Charles H. Johnson, but it was probably before 1908.  Eva and Charles were the only ones to have children.  Their daughter, Catherine K. Johnson, was born in Pennsylvania in 1908.  Their son, William, was born in Ohio in 1910. UPDATE:  There is a strong possibility that these children were not Eva's, but her step-children.  
           Jordan died from “exhaustion” on April 15, 1907 and is buried in Woodland Cemetery. Amanda died April 12, 1913 and is buried next to Jordan.
            And what happened to Colonel Patrick Henry Anderson? He died just 2 years after the letter was written, in September 1867, at the age of 43.
            Near the end of his letter Jordan states that “the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education”. His dream came true. All of his children grew up able to read and write. 
            As for the rest of Jordan and Amanda’s children and their descendants:
            Information on Jane is sketchy at this time. There is a Jane mentioned in the Dayton city directories for 1874 and 1876 living with Jordon, but she is not mentioned as living there in the census in 1880. She would have been 21 by then and perhaps married or moved on. This is a puzzle I am still working on.
            Felix died on July 1, 1916 and is buried at Woodland. He was employed as a soldier at the time of his death.
            Valentine died May 10, 1920 and is buried at Woodland. Abbigal died August 6, 1923 and is buried next to her husband.
            Andrew died January 8, 1931 and his buried at Woodland.
            Charlotte would be a great contributor to the Wesleyan Methodist Church, helping finance the printing of the book A History of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of America: The Story of One Hundred Years 1842-1942 of the First Wesleyan Methodist Church at Dayton, Ohio, as well as writing the Foreword. Charlotte Stewart died March 18, 1944 and is buried at Woodland. Samuel died April 27, 1953 and is buried next to her.
            Eva Johnson died on September 12, 1937 and is buried at Woodland near her parents. Charles died on March 3, 1942 and is buried in a nearby plot.
UPDATE:  There is a strong possibility that these children were not Eva's, but her step-children.  If so, everything below does not count as person's related by blood to Jordan.  I will try and clear this up as soon as possible.
            At this time I have found no record of William Johnson marrying.  With such a common name, it is difficult to track.
            The Dayton city directory of 1925 shows Catherine living with her parents and working as a bookkeeper for S. J. Fauver, a coal dealer. The following year she is not listed. By 1928 she is back with her parents, listed as Mrs. Catherine Huggins.  The census of 1930 shows Catherine as having two children: Harold Huggins, born in 1926 and Ruth Huggins, born in 1927. In 1932 Catherine changes her last name back to Johnson.  Her final time listed in the directories with her parents is in 1933.
            At this time I have not been able to gather any more information on either Harold or Ruth Huggins.
            There is still a lot of work to be done on this story. My hope at this point is to prove to doubters that the letter writer was a real person. I also wanted to state the facts, with as little sensationalism as possible, in order to try and cut through the clutter of misinformation out there on Jourdon/Jordan.  Most of the records I used can easily be found on
            I would like to thank Mary Lou Lubinski and Lisa Rickey for their help with this project. And I would like to thank Dayton History for allowing me to use the photos of the Anderson family for this article.  And, finally, I have to thank Rich Whitney for telling me about this fascinating letter in the first place.