Private George Avery

Private George Avery (HM1FGJ)

Location: Asheville, NC 28803 Buncombe County
Country: United States of America

N 35° 34.879', W 82° 32.28'

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South Asheville Colored Cemetery

George Avery, a 19-year-old enslaved blacksmith, joined Co. D, 40th United States Colored Troops, in Greeneville, Tennessee, in 1865. According to local tradition, his master, Confederate Maj. William W. McDowell, sent Avery to enlist for a post-war pension. Avery's enlistment, however, corresponded with the arrival of Union Gen. George Stoneman's raiders, who liberated Asheville's enslaved population in April 1865. They recruited about forty "Negroes who were following the column" and took them to Greeneville.

Avery's regiment guarded railroads in Tennessee for the rest of the war. Although Avery had enlisted for three years, he and the regiment were mustered out on April 25, 1866. Avery returned to Asheville, where the McDowells provided him with land, lumber to construct a house, and a job as the cemetery's caretaker that he kept until his death at the age of 96. His tombstone (three stones, midway up the hill) proudly acknowledges his Union service.

This is the oldest African American public cemetery in western North Carolina. The McDowell family established a slave cemetery here in the mid-1800s. After the war, caretaker George Avery received $1 for digging each grave, and McDowell's widow received $1 for the plot if the family could afford it. After her death in 1905, St. John "A" Baptist and St Mark A.M.E. Churches took over maintenance.

The cemetery had no written plan or map. Avery tracked grave locations by memory. The earliest graves were marked with wooden planks that are long gone. Boulders or rough-shaped stones mark many graves. The cemetery closed in 1943. Today, South Asheville Cemetery Association volunteers maintain this site. Archaeologists have documented 1,921 graves.

Sarah Gudger lived on this street when interviewed for the WPA Slave Narrative Project in May 1937. She is buried here. "When the war come...the darkies didn't know what it was all about. ...One day I never forget, we look about and see soldiers marching; look like the whole valley full of them. I thought, 'Poor helpless crafters, just going away to get killed." The drums were beating and the fifes a playing. ...Oh, glory, it was a sight."


(upper left) George Avery, Feb. 18, 1917, age 71 Smith-McDowell House Museum

(lower center) George Avery's enlistment paper Smith-McDowell House Museum

(lower right) Sarah Gudger Courtesy Library of Congress
Series This marker is part of the North Carolina Civil War Trails series
Placed ByNorth Carolina Civil War Trails
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Monday, September 8th, 2014 at 6:55pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)17S E 360649 N 3938600
Decimal Degrees35.58131667, -82.53800000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 35° 34.879', W 82° 32.28'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds35° 34' 52.74" N, 82° 32' 16.8" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)828
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling North
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 20 Dalton St, Asheville NC 28803, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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