Among W.W. McDowell’s slaves was a talented blacksmith named George Avery. According to McDowell family tradition, in the closing days of the war his master freed Avery and encouraged him to travel north and join the Union Army. McDowell may have had little choice, however, as around this same time Union General George Stoneman’s troops arrived in Asheville and liberated all of the enslaved population. They recruited about forty “Negroes who were following the column” and took them to Tennessee, where Avery joined Company D, United States Colored Troops, in 1865.
After the war Avery returned to Asheville. The McDowells provided him land and lumber to construct a house of his own and a job as caretaker of the South Asheville Colored Cemetery. The cemetery was located on property owned by the McDowell family and first used as a burial place for their slaves. Avery continued in this job until he died in the 1940s at the age of 96.