The Best Thing I Read This Pesach

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If you don’t have enough to do this Passover, let us help — you can read some erotic poetry, learn about a valley of dry bones, and, of course…eat some matzah.

Something else you may want to do is continue to talk about the story of the exodus, and what it means to transition from slavery to freedom.

To that end, I offer you this letter, written by a former slave named Jourdan Anderson in 1865. It’s the most profound and smart reflection on freedom I’ve ever come across, and it’s also hilarious. (And yes, it’s real.) Happy Passover!

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 you had not forgotten Jourdan, 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 Col. 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 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 $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here 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 Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, 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.