John Anderson Gouge (1860-1937) born in the Bear Creek community of Mitchell County, was the youngest child of William “Little Billy” and Emily Griffin Gouge. J.A. and his three siblings were orphaned when his father died of measles while serving in the Civil War.
Gouge received little formal education until he was an adult; in 1885, however, walking 7 miles each way, he attended William Clayton Bowman’s academy in Bakersville. He thereafter taught in Mitchell and Yancey County schools for many years.
Betty Conley, a descendant of J.A. and his wife Hulda Thomas, has Gouge’s 1917 Teacher’s Contract in Mitchell County, hiring him to teach in Snow Creek Township, Ledger District #1. His salary was $35 per month, which would have the buying power of about $728 today. Modern teachers no doubt think this a paltry sum for a class the size of that in the photo, which was likely made prior to 1910 at Bear Creek School.
Besides teaching, J. A. Gouge also served 25 different churches during his 36 years as a Baptist minister – usually more than one church at a time. In 1932, for example, he preached one Saturday and one Sunday each month at his four churches – Toecane, Snow Hill, Rebels Creek, and Double Island.