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Valley Rewind: Sarah Gudger, former slave who may have lived to 122

Courtesy of Swannanoa Valley Museum
Special to Black Mountain News
This 1937 photograph depicts Sarah Gudger, a remarkable woman who spent the first 50 years of her life enslaved. She died in 1938, purportedly at the age of 122 years old. She is buried in Swannanoa.

This 1937 photograph depicts Sarah Gudger, a remarkable woman who spent the first 50 years of her life enslaved. Gudger was most likely born between 1820 and 1825 on a large plantation owned by the Hemphill family near Old Fort. Her father, Smart Gudger, took his family name from his owner, Joe Gudger, who owned property on the Swannanoa River near Oteen. Sarah spent the first years of her life working for Andy Hemphill. When Andy died, she was willed to his son, William, who would remain her master until she gained her freedom after the end of the Civil War. Sarah was not fond of William and his wife. “Old Boss he sent us out in any kind of weather, rain or snow, it never mattered. ... They didn’t care how old or how young you were, you never too big to get the lash.” At the end of the war, when she gained her freedom, Sarah spent another year with the Hemphills and then left to go live with her father and stayed with him for the rest of his life. In 1937, Sarah was living with distant cousins in South Asheville when she was interviewed by workers with the Federal Writer's Project. She died a little over a year later, purportedly at the age of 122 years old. She is buried in Swannanoa. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.