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Valley Rewind: Shaping the Valley - Sarah Gudger

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 month, the Swannanoa Valley Museum's Valley Rewinds explore the lives of people who have shaped the Swannanoa Valley. Each individual is highlighted in SVM's Our Pathways exhibit, which will be available to view when the museum reopens. 

Born Sept. 15, 1816, Sarah Gudger was enslaved by the Hemphill family in the eastern part of Buncombe County until after the Civil War.

Enslavement in Buncombe County was an important economic force that shaped the lives of all citizens. Enslaved people worked in construction, in hotels, as tour guides, and as farm laborers. Of her experience of enslavement, Sarah recalled, "No, I never knowed what it was to rest. I just worked all the time from morning till late at night. I had to do everything there was to do on the outside. Working in the field, chop wood, hoe corn, till sometimes I felt like my back would surely break." After Emancipation, Sarah went to live with her father, Smart Gudger, in Swannanoa. Smart (c1790s - c1890), took his family name from the man who enslaved him, Joe Gudger. Sarah died on October 13, 1938, purportedly at the age of 122 years old. She is buried in Swannanoa. To learn more about Sarah's life, visit the museum's website and explore the virtual Our Pathways exhibit.