200+ Years Ago: The Carolina Gold Rush



When one thinks of an American goldrush, the thoughts of dusty prospectors racing west to the deserts of California or the icy mountains of Alaska typically aren’t far behind.

Though it is true that California’s 49ers took part in America’s most well known gold rush, the truth is a half-century earlier, the newly birthed nation was captivated by the prospect of gold being buried in the foothills of North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains.

The story begins in 1799 when a 12-year-old boy, was shooting fish with a bow and arrow in a stream near what would become Charlotte, North Carolina.

With his mother and father away at church, the child spent the morning walking the banks of Meadow Creek searching for fish when he spotted an unusual brown, but shiny, rock which seemed oddly out of place.

The boy picked up the heavy boulder and carried it back home. That afternoon, his father, John Reed, examined the rock and found it to be equally as mesmerizing, though he did not yet know exactly what the stone even was.

Unaware of the rock’s value, the family used the glittering stone as a door stop for roughly three years until the farmer carried the 17 lb. rock to William Atkinson, a local silversmith.

Atkinson immediately offered to purchase the rock for the hefty sum of $3.50 (approximately one week’s pay for a farm laborer at that time).

Impressed with the jaw dropping sum, the farmer immediately accepted the offer and returned to home happy.

Unfortunately for Reed, not much later, he learned that he and his family had been using a 17 lb. gold nugget as a door stop and that silversmith had resold the massive rock for about $3,000.

Undeterred, Reed reasoned that if one giant gold nugget had been deposited in his creek, there had to be more and soon, he and his family were busy digging along the creek’s banks searching for more gold.

Their persistence eventually paid off and in 1803 they discovered yet another nugget, even larger: a 28 lb. gold nugget and this time, the family sold the gold for its maximum price.

News of the discovery was quickly spread by regional newspapers and land owners across the area began to search for gold on their property as well as charge perspective miners large sums for the rights to dig on their property.

Cashing in on his good fortune, John Reed invested the money earned from his second gold nugget to establish the Reed Gold Mine which successfully mined the area around Charlotte for more than a century.  The mine operated both surface and deep mining mines along the region.

Reed died at the age of 88 in 1845, rich from the gold found on his property.

The mines Reed left behind continued to operate on a largescale manner until the outbreak of the American Civil War, which pulled away the workforce into the fighting.

The Reed Gold Mine continued to operate in the Charlotte area until 1912 and is said to have contributed greatly to Charlotte’s present-day wealth and banking epicenter, as the United States government opened a mint in the city to process the large amount of gold being mined.

The Carolina Gold Rush of the early 1800s was followed by the Georgia Gold Rush in 1828.  Soon many of the prospectors who had moved to Charlotte once again fled in search for instant wealth in Georgia.

A generation later, Georgia was replaced by California and then Alaska, as countless individuals sought instant fortune through gold mining.

The kingdoms of Europe set out to discover gold in the new world and though the nation’s East Coast was largely disappointing to the nobles of London and Spain, it seems that the mountains may yet still hold secrets.

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