From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Gudgell, Henry

(born: 1829  -  died: 1895) 

Henry Gudgell, born enslaved in Anderson County, KY, became a blacksmith, coppersmith, silversmith, and wheelwright. He and his mother went with Elizabeth Arbuckle Gudgell, the daughter of his father/enslaver, Samuel Arbuckle, to Livingston County, MO.

It was in Missouri where Gudgell carved a walking stick that has been described as a conjure remedy. At the time, Henry was enslaved by John Bryan. The stick was thought to be the only surviving work of Gudgell; it is now at Yale University in New Haven, CT. There was, however, a second walking stick discovered at an Indianapolis, IN antique show that was purchased by a buyer in Louisville, KY named Allen Weiss, who also authored a historical piece in the publication Folk Art.

Henry Gudgell was the husband of Chloe Gudgell; the couple had nine children according to the 1870 U.S. Census. Henry served during the U.S. Civil War with his enslaver. He and his wife are buried in the Utica Cemetery in Utica, MO. [source: Find A Grave].

For more about the carvings on the cane, see B. J. Crouther, "Iconography of a Henry Gudgell Walking Stick," Southeastern College Art Conference Review, vol. 12, issue 3 (1993), pp. 187-191; and  "Missouri Wood Carving," The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts, by J. M. Vlach, Cleveland Museum of Art.

Additional information submitted by Allen Weiss, the author of the article "Finding the other Henry Gudgell walking stick: an odyssey," Folk Art, Fall 2008, pp. 50-53 (available online). The article provides information about Henry Gudgell, his family, his enslavers and their families, as well as  the discovery of the second walking stick.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Anderson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Southeastern College Art Conference review (periodical)
NKAA Source: The Afro-American tradition in decorative arts
NKAA Source: Folk art (periodical)

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“Gudgell, Henry,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 25, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-07-13 16:23:44