“…North Carolina gold fever has begun to rage. I have heard scarce anything since my arrival except gold.”
-- Future NC Governor William A. Graham in 1829

The Beginnings of NC’s Gold Rush

The discovery of a 17-pound gold nugget in Cabarrus County, NC in 1799 marks the beginning the North Carolina Gold Rush. Twelve-year-old Conrad Reed found the treasure in the waters of Little Meadow Creek and took it home where it was used as a doorstop for three years. In 1802, the boy’s father, farmer John Reed, took the rock to a jeweler in Fayetteville who confirmed that it was gold and bought it for $3.50, later profiting a thousandfold.

Reed, soon realizing that he had been swindled, aligned himself with partners in a crude mining operation at the site of his son’s find. The men scoured the banks and sandbars of nearby rivers and streams using picks, shovels, pans and possibly a rudimentary rocker device to separate the heavy gold particles from the lighter sand and debris.

For 20 years following the discovery of gold on Reed’s farm, miners, many of whom were smalltime farmers, sifted through sand and gravel along NC’s streams and rivers. Because surface mining takes only simple equipment, a shovel and pan, or a crude rocker, prospectors came from all across the state as well as from surrounding areas to try their luck and seek their fortune.

Where’s the Gold?

By the early 1820s, the pursuit of gold in NC had become a major enterprise. In 1823, the state appointed Denison Olmsted, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina, as the first state geologist and commissioned him to conduct a geological survey to locate gold deposits and other valuable minerals. First Olmsted, and later German mining engineer Charles E. Rothe and then professor Elisha Mitchell, another faculty member from UNC, identified the main areas where gold occurred in the state. Additionally, Rothe and Mitchell produced reports for the state legislature and the American Journal of Science, fueling further interest in NC’s potential for gold mining.

In 1825, Mattias Barringer, another German whose farm was about 20 miles from the Reed farm, followed a vein of surface gold down to the gold-bearing rock. The Barringer Gold Mining Company was the first of many in the Charlotte area to try deep vein mining. Subsurface mining required far more equipment and technical skill than placer mining. Within a few years, dozens of companies had been formed to work the deeper gold deposits.

The discoveries and excitement continued to mount. Production increased as experienced miners and engineers arrived from European and South American mines. By 1832, more than fifty mines were operating in NC, employing more than 25,000 people. Next to farming, more people were employed in gold mining than in any other enterprise.

In 1837, English geologist George Featherstonhaugh visited several NC gold-mining operations between Rutherford and Mecklenburg Counties. He was distressed by the destruction of the land wherever placer mining was taking place, and observed that heedless removal of topsoil in the quest for gold ruined the land for future agricultural uses.

Problems Facing Miners & Prospectors

Although raw gold was abundant in NC, gold coins were not. Bartering was a common practice during America’s colonial and antebellum periods. The banking system was in chaos. State banks issued and recalled paper currency that was often inadequately backed with real assets. English and Spanish coins continued to circulate in the early 19th century with values that varied from place to place. Gold coins from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia were rarely found in the South. Even silver and copper coins were rare.

Southern prospectors who were lucky enough to find gold had no reliable market for it. The only U.S. Mint was in Philadelphia - a long, dangerous journey away. There were few roads and fewer bridges. Travel was uncomfortable and unreliable. Much of the gold found by well-organized companies could be shipped through Charleston to Europe more reliably than it could be sent to Philadelphia.

U.S. Representative Samuel Price Carson, familiar with the problems facing southern gold miners, on several occasions introduced a resolution to secure a U.S. mint in the mining region of the Carolinas. One of his chief arguments was the hazard and inconvenience of transporting gold from NC to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Carson’s bill, however, was buried in committee. It was not until 1835 that Congress approved construction of branch mints in Charlotte, NC, Dahlonegah, GA, and New Orleans, LA. The Charlotte Mint opened in 1837 and began minting coins in 1838.


1799 A Shiny Yellow Rock

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In 1799, 12-year-old Conrad Reed pulled a 17-pound yellow rock out of Little Meadow Creek in Cabarrus County, not far from Charlotte, North Carolina. For the next three years, it made a useful doorstop at the Reed home.

1803 The Reed Gold Mine

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1805-1823 The North Carolina Gold Rush Begins

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1823 A Geological Survey

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1825 The First Deep Mine

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1825-1830 Frustration for Miners Grows

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1830 Christopher Bechtler Reaches North Carolina

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1831 Bechtler Begins to Make Coins

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1832-1837 The First Gold Dollar

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1837 Mint Opens in Charlotte

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1842 Christopher Bechtler Dies

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1849 Gold is discovered in California

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1849 First Federal Gold Dollar

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