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Chapter III

Educational Development from the Civil War to 1900

The prospects for the revival of educational interest in dabs County after the Civil War were not very promising. The Literary Find, which through the efforts of Wiley, had been kept largely intact during the War, was now for true most rare lost Governor Worth in commenting on the situation in the state at this time makes tile following statement:

Since a few years immediately succeeding the Revolution of 17'76, there has been no time when public schools were so mush needed as at the present time. The School Districts laid off, with the school houses an them, exist all over the state, but war swept away the means which long years had accumulated. for paying the teachers. For the immediate revival of these schools this Board can do nothing. By the proper management of the swamp lands, it is hoped that another fund can. be created. In the meantime if the schools are to be revived, the wisdom of your honorable body must devise the means of sustaining them.32

It thus appears that there was no immediate source from which to draw funds for the adequate support of a school system. While it is true that a lava was emoted by the legislature in 1866 permitting tae justices of the county courts to authorise and collect a tax for the support of common schools, the people whose resources had been largely exhausted during the war were not enthusiastic about adopting such a permissive measure.

There still existed, however, much interact in education in the state as is partly revealed by the two legislative acts of 1866-67.One of these ants provided that towns and cities should establish public school systems "to be supported by taxes collacted for or corporation purposes." The other required county courts "to appoint county superintendents similar to those in service before the war, and to serve under the same rules and regulations."33 These acts, being the product of the native whites, show the determination of the people to re-build the schools of the state. "But for the plan of congressional Reconstruction, which set in immediately, the history of education in north Carolina would be n different story.34

In accordance with the congressional plan a constitution convention was called... which meet in January, 1868. The personnel of this body was unlike that of any former assemblage ever seen in any southern state; it was dominated by negroes and radicals. The greatest fight in the convention appears to have been made in regard to the education of the two races. The conservatives made efforts to have a clause in the constitution providing separate schools for tile whites and blacks. The constitution, finally passed by the convention, was ratified by the people without reference as to separate schools for the tyro races; however, very liberal provisions fog education were made by the new constitution as the following will show:

Sec. 2. The General Assembly, at its first session under thin constitution, shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of public schools, wherein tuition shall be free of charge to all children of the state between the ages of six and twenty-one years.

Sec. 3. Each county of the state shall be divided. into a convenient number of districts, in which one or more public schools shall be maintained, at least four months in every year; and if the said Commissioners of any county shall fail to comply with the aforesaid requirements of this section, they shall be liable to indictment.35

In accordance with the provisions of the constitution the General Assembly in 1869 passed a school law more mandatory in its relation to school support than former legislation. There ware among the provisions of this now school law (1) a definitely prescribed school term of four months, (2) a provision for general school tax, (3) a prescribed scores of study. (4) provision for the appointment of a county examiner with well defined duties, As to the operation of this new school law, Ashley recommended that the funds for the first year be expended on a few good schools rather than on many poor or indifferent schools.

It is far better, and more economical, to employ a few able, well qualified teachers at good living wages, than many poor teachers at small wages. It is infinitely wiser, more for the public good, that a fate children should be correctly, instructed than that many should be erroneously and viciously taught. It is batter for the system of education new organizing, that thane should be a few good, rather than many poor schools. To give it a successful source the system must have a good beginning.36

It will be noted that this sentiment was expressed by Dr. Joseph Caldwell in his letter on education in 1832, and it appears to be a rather well-established and sound policy in the founding or public school systems.

As to the educational conditions in Ashe County immediately after the war, the records seem to indicate that the only provisions for schools were made through private efforts. Mrs. Mary Sutherland, who now lives at Sutherland, recently told me that in 1866 she taught the first boyhood of her home after the war. She further states that tuition was collected from the pupils and no part of her salary was received from public funds.

The first official report after the war of educational conditions in Ashe County appeared in 1869. It contains the following brief statement: "Fifty school houses, condition bad. Apportionment of public funds, $1,915.50."37 It appears, however, from the report of J. W. Todd, who had been appointed the first county examiner under the law of 1869, that the school funds for 1868 were not used, and that no public schools were in operation during that year. The report of Mr. Todd is as follows:

Jefferson, August 2. There have been opened in this county since October 1, 1869, four public schools, all of which were for white children. The number of children (white) attending public schools in this county since October 1, 1869, has been 150. Average amount a month paid teachers, first grade $20; second grade $17. Remarks: Preparations are being made to open schools in all of the townships this fall.38

The following abstracts from the annual reports of school committees in 1870 state the conditions in two townships in Ashe County.

Chestnut fall-whole. number of youth between six and twenty-one years of age actually residing in the township is 465. No school houses reported and no schools reported. Township failed to levy tax. Committee, E..J. Smith, and E. D. Grear.

Horse Creek-whole number of youth between the age of six and twenty-one years of age actually residing in the district is 329. Whole number of school houses 2, which are old log houses and much needing repairs. Committee, William A. Greene, and Junius Dunn.39

Names of the following teachers era reported fur Ashe County in 1870:

North Fork Township: Eleck McEwen
Piney Creek: William Brooks, and Edward Barker;
Staggs Creek: H. Squire.

It seems very probable that these were the only public school teachers employed in the county during 1870, for the report of the estate Superintendent of Schools for that year shows only sixty-eight males and. sixty-six females attending school and s total expenditure of $132 for teachers' salaries. The same report reveals a high rate of Illiteracy, for out of a total population of 9,573 there were 3,380 ten years old and over who could not read and write. When we consider that the negro population, which tends to keep the rate of illiteracy high, consisted of only 582, the situation appears all the more serious.

The anticipations of examiner Todd as expressed in his report of 1870 that preparations were being made to open schools in all the districts in tire fall were not realized.; or, if so, most of the schools users temporarily closed, for the Report of the State Superintendent of Schools in 1872 shows that only sixty-two pupils had attended school in Ashe County since 1870. The Report of the State Superintendent for 1893 indicates that considerable improvement had been made in the school system, for during that year fifty white schools here in operation with an attendance of 1,921 from a total school population of 3,652. This report shows also that $2,294.78 was spent for the operation of the white schools during this year, and $14 for the operation of the colored schools.

The following is a complete statistical report as to the condition of the schools in dens for the year 1874:

1874 Educational Conditions
Category Value
Funds expended $2,552.25
Number of children (white) 3,818
Number of children (colored) 255
Number public schools (white) 63
Number public schools (colored) 3
Number of children in school (white) 2,854
Number of children in school (colored.) 110
Teachers approved (white) 60 m. 5 f.m. 65
Teachers approved (colored) 3 m. 340

If this report is compared with the one for the previous year, it will be seen that a slight improvement was made In the educational conditions. The number of white schools had increased. from fifty to sixty; colored schools from one to three. The attendance of write children had increased from 1,921 in 1873 to 2,854 in 1874. The 120 colored children enrolled in 1874, when compared with the nineteen enrolled in 1873, indicate a considerable advancement in the educational provisions for the negroes.

The Reconstruction period in North Carolina came to an end in 1876,during which period many important changes were made which tended toward an improvement or the educational system of the state. Following those years remarkable enthusiasm for public education was manifested by such men as E. A. Alderman, W. H. Page, and Charles McIver.

The thoughtful men of the time knew that the fortunes and prosperity of the mouth could be restored only by school systems adapted to the changed conditions; they understood that the industrial development of the South and her religious and social development all depended on the general education of the people. The beginning had to be made in poverty and discouragement and in the face of numerous difficulties which tested the hope of a people already threatened with despair.41

Probably the moat keenly felt weakness in the public school system of the state at this time was the lack of call prepared teachers. Governor Vance in transmitting a message to the legislature in 1877 said:

It is impossible to have an effective public school system without providing for the training of teachers. The blind cannot lead the blind. Mere literary attainments are not sufficient to make its possessor a successful teacher. There must be added the ability to influence the young and to communicate knowledge. There must be a mastery of the best modes of conducting schools, and bringing out the latent possibilities, intellectual and moral of the pupils nature ------The schools in which this gaining is conducted, called normal colleges or normal schools have been found by experience to be the moat efficient agents in raising up a body of teachers who infuse, new life and vigor into the public schools.

The recommendations of Governor Vance wore net without results, for the legislature of 1877 enacted two laws of vital importance for the development of the school system. One of these lays provided for the establishment of normal schools, and tile other gave towns the authority to raise extra funds for school purposes.

Although the end of the Reconstruction period marked the beginning of the restoration of public confidence and a renewed and rare enthusiasm for public education, the results were not immediate in Ashe County, as the State superintendent's Report for 1877 indicated. During this year sixty-Pour schools were in operation with an enrollment of 2,771. The total disbursements for schools amounted to42 $2,178.91. This report, both as to the number of pupils enrolled and as to the amount of funds expended, shows a worse condition than existed in 1874. But as stated in a previous chapter the isolation of Ashe from the rest of the state and the small negro population subjected it less than most other sections of the state to the perils of the Reconstruction period. For the souse reasons the restoration of conservative rule in the state had fewer immediate results on the conditions in Ashe County.

The following is a statistical report of the educational conditions in Ashe for the year 1879:

Ashe 1879 Educational Conditions
Category Value
Number of school districts (white) 105
Number of school districts (colored) 6
Number of school houses (white) 31
Number of school houses (colored)
Number of schools (white) 76
Number of schools (colored) 7
Children of school age (white) 5,153
Children of school age (colored) 232
Children attending (white) 2,862
Children attending (colored) 153
Average attendance (white) 1,610
Average attendance (colored) 110
Value of school property (white) $1,707
Value of school property (colored) —–
Average monthly salary $15.40
Disbursements $3,345.5343

This report shows that of the 105 white districts only thirty-three had buildings. More then half of the schools for thin year ware evidently taught in private houses. It is also interesting to note that, although only $3,345.33 was spent for public schools in the county for the year 1879, this exceeded by $1,638.33 the value of the school property. An examination of the report further reveals that only 31 per cent of the white children were in average daily attendance.

A very complete and authentic record of the school at Jefferson for the year 1879-80 is found in the school register kept by John B. Hands, teacher for that year. The school committee consisted of Quincy F. Neal, Nathan H. Waugh, and George W. Reeves The following subjects were taught: Webster's Speller, McGuffey's Readers, Davie's Mathematics (including algebra) Mitchell's Geography, Smith and Bullion's Grammar, Adam's Latin Grammar, Holme's History, and New Testament. The school term was five months in length with the monthly salary ranging from $5.00 for the first month to $19.25 for the fourth month, the amount received being based on the monthly enrollment.44

Mr. William Perkins, who now resides at Warrensville, North Carolina, relates that about 1881 Professor J.P. Marlin assisted by a Professor Lawrence conducted at Jefferson a school in which French, Latin through Virgil, Greek, and algebra were taught. The school at Jefferson appears to be the first in the county in which those secondary subjects ware given. There is at least some effort toward a vertical extension of the school system manifesting itself during this period.

The County Board of Education, in accordance with the law enacted by the General Assembly in 1881, abolishing the office of county examiner and providing for the "County Superintendent of Public Instruction" met the first Monday in August and elected Quincy F. Neal to fill this newly created office. Fits salary was fixed by law at $3.00 a day, provided this amount did not exceed 5 per cent of the funds due the county.45 The legislature of 1883, however, relieved the superintendent from the duty of inspecting the schools and reduced his salary to $2.00 a day.

As an illustration of the small amount of tuna the superintendent devoted to the schools of the county the following excerpt is given: "Ordered by the Board of education that the treasurer pay to Q. F. Neal six dollars for two days service for the month of February to the 8th. of March, 1882."46 Many other similar statements in the Minutes of the County Board of Education indicate that this excerpt shows about the average time that the superintendent devoted to his office during this period.

Some interest in local taxation as an aid to public schools was being manifested at this time as the following shows:

The petition of J. F. Greear and nine other white voters of school district number 3, Peak Creak township, Ashe County, North Carolina asking the County Commissioners to appoint a day for holding an election in said school district under the provisions of "an act to provide-for local assessment in aid of public schools" is received, and it is ordered by the Board that publication or notice be made in accordance with law.47

There is nothing in the Minutes of the Board of Education to indicate whether the district referred to voted the local tax.

A good indication that the public schools ware not meeting the educational demands of the people in dabs County is the large number of private schools that sprang up during the eighties and nineties. The number of such institutions reported in 1890 with the names of the principals and enrollments is as follows:

1890 Private Schools
School Principal Enrollment
Jefferson Academy E. F. Wakefield 60
Beaver Creek Academy Jno. C. McEwen 70
Creston Academy B. P. Grigsby 50
Sutherland Seminary Wm. A. Wilson 60
Graybeals Chapel Cicero Graybeal 55
Helton Academy D. P. Hurley 5048

Sutherland Seminary was probably the most popular and widely advertised of these private institutions. This school came into prominence about 1885 under the leadership of J. C. McEwen from Nashville, Tennessee. Students came from many parts of Western North Carolina as well as from Virginia and Tennessee among the students who attended this school were Spencer Blackburn, who later became United States Congressman, William R. Lovill, attorney at Boone, and William A. Wilson, who fox many years has been a missionary in Japan. The school began to decline after the departure of McEwen, and by 11396 had become an ordinary public school. At this time Mr. H. Jones became principal end reorganized the school with s teaching force of four. Under his administration the school made wonderful progress, the students coming from as far East as Iredell County, North Carolina, from as far North as Carroll County, Virginia, and from as far West as Tennessee. The enrollment averaged about 175, of which at least forty were boarding students. The graduates were admitted without examination to Trinity College, Emory and Henry College, and the University of North Carolina. This was the only school in Ashe County preparing students for college. The students were allowed to advance as rapidly as they were able, there being no grades and no classifications.49

During the nineties a Mr. Kirk conducted at Nathan's Creek a school that way of more than local interest and importance. Many boarding students attended this school. An interesting feature of this institution was a music department probably the first in connection with a school in Ashe County. This department did its part in the preparation of the "exhibition", as it was called., which marked the end of each session and gave much publicity to the school. The people yet relate how men, women, and children came for many miles, often from across the mountains, camping on the way, that they might attend this two days' "exhibition", and went away thrilled with such entertainment as they seldom had opportunity to hear. This school, however, was or short duration. There is an increased. importance attached to these schools, and their extended patronage is all the more significantly as one recalls the extreme isolation which characterized this county at that time.

In response to an inquiry in 1898 from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction as to the educational conditions in Ashe County, Superintendent J. W. Jones reported as follows:

I am sorry to say that vie have no teachers' association in our county. We organized one two years ago, but the teachers took so little interest that we had to abandon it.

We had a teachers institute during the peat summer, conducted by President Charles D. McIver, and enrolled thirty-sight teachers, and every one who entered seemed well pleased. with the work done, and went away, I am sure, determined to do better work in the future than in the past.

Our public schools seem to be looking up considerably, but they are not what they ought by any means.

There seems to be a greater interest manifested in education than ever before and. I am confidant the people will vote the specie school tax in soma of the townships in this county next year.50

Ashe County has had nine county superintendents of schools in the order of their appointment as follows: Quincy F. Neal, Reverend Ambrose Weaver, George W. Bower, Minter Blevins, J. W. Jones, W. H. Jones, J. O. Goodman, C. M. Dickson, J. O. Goodman (reappointed) and R. E. L. Plummer.

This chapter so far contains a detailed study of the educational conditions is Ashe County from the Civil Year to 1880 in so far as the available reports permit. Same study has bean included concerning from 1880 to 1900, especially in regard to private educational efforts. Since a detailed study of each year's work is hardly necessary for the latter period, the remaining discussion will be based on five-year periods.

Comparative Statistics from 1880 to 1900

Summary of Receipts
Category 1880 1885 1890 1895 1900
State and County Poll tax $2012.18 $2839.00 $2,888.83 $3,571.41 $3,375.82
Property Tax 888.97 1,591.00 1,585.62 1,992.68 2,632.31
Fines, Forfeitures, and Penalties 235.00 137.00 100.27 143.23 187.34
State Treasurer 320.15 462.35 1,081.22
Other Sources 9.00 12.00
Liquor Licenses 83.13 19.19
Balance from Last Report 259.07 1,151.50 1,354.77 1,512.00
Total $3,388.22 $5,802.25 $6,277.84 6,181.77 7,845.51
Category 1880 1885 1890 1895 1900
Paid White Teachers $2,565.61 $3,865.43 $4,101.52 $5,294.07 $3,809.19
Paid Colored Teachers 186.16 243.60 226.01 177.65 101.61
Paid for Houses and Sites (colored) 3.75 13.95
Paid for Houses and Sites (white) 211.35 512.95 195.50 420.18
Paid County Superintendent 69.50 140.07 198.00 75.00
Paid Treasurer’s Commission 79.46 116.26 129.83
Paid for Institutes 64.80
Paid for expenses of County Board of Education 5.00 18.00 54.20
Paid mileage per diem of County Board of Ed. 41.30 65.20 89.00
Paid Other Purposes .70 10.00 150.44 3.46
Total $3.042.58 $4,904.49 $4,932.73 $6,484.92 $4,124.43
Balance on Hand 345.65 897.74 1,345.11 3,124.08
Census 6 to 21
Year White Colored Total
1880 5152 232 5384
1885 5887 347 6224
1890 6237 309 6546
1895 6445 299 6743
1900 7175 315 7490
Year White Colored Total
1880 2687 205 2892
1885 3745 260 3878
1890 4336 110 4446
1895 3993 134 4127
1900 4571 95 4666
Average Attendance
Year White Colored Total
1880 1714 153 1876
1885 1938 88 2026
1890 2576 26 2601
1895 2116 90 2206
1900 2524 70 2594
Average Length of School Term
Year White Colored
County Average State Average County Average State Average
1880 8 10
1885 11 12 11 11.75
1890 10 11.85 8 11.81
1895 10.3 12.81 9 11.85
1900 12.75 14.66 8.20 13.07
Number of Teachers
Year White Colored
Male Female Total Male Female Total
1880 24 2 26 2 2
1885 48 5 53 2 4- 4
1890 52 4 56 4 2 6
1895 86 3 89 5 1 6
1900 58 12 70 2 2 4
Average Monthly Salary – White
Year County Average State Average
Male Female Male Female
1880 $14.84 $21.91
1885 18.00
1890 19.00 $16.00 25.80 22.95
1895 19.00 $17.00 23.14 20.91
1900 20.92 21.43 26.18 23.40
Average Monthly Salary – Colored
Year County Average State Average
Male Female Male Female
1885 $15.50
1890 17.00 14.00 $22.72 $20.36
1895 15.00 15.00 23.14 20.91
1900 16.66 15.00 21.14 19.82
Number of School Districts
Year White Colored Total
1880 105 6 111
1885 94 6 100
1890 96 8 104
1895 99 8 107
1900 103 10 113
Number of School Houses
Year White Colored Total
1880 31 31
1885 60 2 62
1890 90 (35 log) 5 (5 log) 95
1895 80 (26 log) 6 (1 log) 86
1900 74 (24 log) 6 (2 log) 80
Number of Schools Taught
Year White Colored Total
1880 77 8 85
1885 78 6 84
1890 91 8 99
1895 85 6 91
1900 89 5 94
Value of School Property
Year White Colored Total
1880 $3,636.00 $3,636.00
1885 $6480.00 100.00 $6580.00
1890 9,000.00 200.00 9,200.00
1895 9,850.00 270.00 10,120.00
1900 9,873.00 245.00 10,118.00

These comparative statistics for the public school system of Ashe county from 1880 to 1900 reveal some very interesting facts. It will be observed that the total receipts of the county for educational purposes increased from, $6,088,22 in 1880 to $6,277.84 in 1890. In 1095 the total receipts amounted to $6,181.77, which represents a alight decrease from the amount spent in 1880. The moat significant foot in connection with these comparative figures of the total receipts and disbursements is that, although the available funds for 1900 were $7,845.51, the total expenditures amounted to only $4,124.43. As will be observed from the foregoing tables this represents the smallest amount disbursed for educational purposes during any of the periods for which statistics are tabulated with the exception of the year 1880. The fact that Ashe County agent less for schools in 1900 than for those previous periods indicates that the county had not yet caught the spirit of the educational revival which began to be felt in the state at this time.

During this twenty-year period the white school population increased 39 per cent and the enrollment 70 per cent, although the negro population slightly increased, there was an almost uniform decrease both in the enrollment and in the average attendance of negro children during this twenty-year period. In 1880 a little more than 50 per cent of the white children were in the public schools, with an average daily attendance of 66 per cent of the enrollment, which was 7 per cent less than the state average for that year. In 1900 about 63 per cent of the school population was enrolled with an average daily attendance of only 55 per cent of the total enrollment, which was 3 per cent lower than the state average for 1900.

The average length of the school term for the whites ranged from eight weeks in 1880 to 12.75 weeks in 1900, although this represents an increase of about 50 per cent in the length of the school term during this twenty-year period, it is interesting to observe that at no time does it equal the state average. The average length of the school term for the negroes decreased during this period, ranging from eleven weeks in 1885 to 8.20 weeks in 1900.

Salaries for white teachers steadily increased from $14.84 in 1880 to $20.92 in 1900. It is significant to note that in 1900 women teachers were paid $21.92 a month, which -was slightly more than the men teachers received for that year. As was true in the case of the average length of the school term, at no time during this period does the teachers' monthly salary for the county equal the average for the state.

The number of school houses for white ranges from thirty-one in 1880 to ninety in 7890. The number then decreases to seventy-four in 1900. It will be observed that the year 1890 represents the peak both in the number of school houses and in the number of schools taught. At no time during this period. did the number of school houses equal the number of schools taught. The number of school districts for whites totaled 105 in 1880; by 1885 the number had decreased to ninety-four. The remaining periods show a gradual increase in the number of districts.

Only two white women teachers were employed in the county in 1880. This number remained rather constant until 1900, when twelve women were employed in the public school system. The small number of women in the teaching profession in Ashe county is probably explained by the fact that at this period the chief duty of the teacher was often considered "keeping order", and the teacher's success was generally measured by the facility and frequency with which he used the rod . In the performance of these duties women were thought less efficient than men.

An examination of the data collected shows that Ashe County made little progress in her educational system during this twenty-year period. In some respects the conditions appear worse in 100 than during the earlier periods.


  1. Legislative Document, 1866-67.
  2. Knight, E.W., Public School Education in North Carolina, pp.224-25.
  3. School Laws of North Carolina, 1869.
  4. Ibid., April 27,1924.
  5. Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1869.
  6. Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1868.
  7. Ibid., 1870.
  8. Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1870.
  9. Report of State :superintendent of Schools, 1874.
  10. Knight, E. W., Public Education in North Carolina, p. 296.
  11. Report of State Superintendent of Public Instruction,1877.
  12. Report of State Superintendent of Public Instruction,1879.
  13. Public School Register for 1879-80 (in office of Ashe County superintendent of schools).
  14. Acts of the General Assembly, 1881, Chapter 200.
  15. Minutes of the Ashe county Board of Education, 1882.
  16. Minutes of the Ashe County Board of Education.
  17. Annual Report of the State Superintendent, 1890.
  18. This information was secured largely from W. H. Jones, principal of the school and later County Supt. of Schools.
  19. Report of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1896-98.