The Great North Carolina Gold Rush


"From 1804 to 1828 all domestic gold coined by the United States Mint came from North Carolina. During that time thousands of foreign immigrants poured into the Piedmont area. North Carolina was known as the 'Golden State.' "[1]

Gold mining was once second only to agriculture as North Carolina's most important industry. It started in 1799 with the discovery of a large nugget on the Cabarrus County farm of John Reed, a former Hessian soldier. For three years the hunk was used as a doorstop. Finally, a jeweler recognized it as a 17-pound gold nugget. [2]  Thus began the first gold rush in America!


Gold mining became a major industry in many North Carolina counties. Though early census figures show most heads of families were employed as farmers, a great number of these farmers were also occupied as gold miners. Gold mining at its peak employed more North Carolinians than any occupation other than farming from 1800 to the Civil War years. Entire families, including the children from five to six years up worked in the mines


At that time gold was searched for in the creeks and what could be found lying on the ground. The type of mining employed by our North Carolina miners was very crude and primitive. The miners were for the most part poor people with little capital to use for mining and were poorly trained in mining. It was noted at the time that perhaps two-thirds of the gold was wasted in the primitive mining methods and therefore only a small percentage of the gold was retrieved[3]


Meanwhile, gold was discovered in Anson, Burke, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Rutherford, Davidson, and other counties. A Tarborough newspaper in 1828 claimed that North Carolina had become known as the "golden state from the great lumps of precious metal found there."


Thousands of foreigners -- Welsh, Cornish, Germans, Austrians, Poles, and others -- flocked to North Carolina. Farmers began inspecting the stones in their fields; and large landowners from the east -- particularly Granville, Halifax, and Warren counties -- moved westward, greatly increasing the number of men and women engaged in gold finding. At one time at least 30,000 persons were engaged in gold mining in the state. A branch of the United States Mint was built in Charlotte in 1837 and the Bechtler family operated a private mint in Rutherford County from 1831 until 1857.


The early industry was largely restricted to "placer" minting. Dr. E.W. Phifer, Jr., a Morganton surgeon who is an accomplished historian, has described this as the type of mining that "required nothing more than pick, shovel, a stream or water, and a pan -- or at most a rocker -- with which to separate the heavy particles containing gold and lighter sand, gravel and debris."


As the surface gold gave out, vein mining was started; this began as ditching but gradually deepened into shafts and tunnels. Large financial investments became necessary for heavy equipment required at the deeper mines.


At Gold Hill in adjacent Rowan County more than 3,000 persons were employed in 1856. There was a 600-foot mine shafts, towers and buildings, huge piles of sifted earth, railroad spurs, and foundations of the once famous structures of Gold Hill -- a three-story hotel, several mining company headquarters, busy stores, doctors' offices, blacksmith and leatherworkers' shops, and at least one tavern. There once were fifteen mines in the Gold Hill community; the Gold Hill Mining Co. alone was capitalized at a million dollars in 1842, and the town became one of the most prosperous in the Piedmont. [4]


There is no evidence that the discovery of gold in Davidson Co. affected the average farmer in the county or their families, but who knows?  Like so many Davidson Co. farmers, did the farmer do a little prospecting on the side? Over 22 mines were worked in Davidson County alone, including:


1  Black Mine                                                               12. Silver Hill Mine

2. Eureka Mine                                                 13. Secrest Mine

3. Lalor Mine                                                               14. Heper  Mine

4 Conrad Mine                                                 15. Silver Valley Mine

5  Dodge Hill Mine                                                       16. Brown Mine

6. The Billie Allred Mine                                               17. Cid Mine

7. Baltimore Mine                                                         18.  Ward Mine

8. Morgan, Briggs, Plyler, & Liberty Mining Co.           19. Emmons (Hercules) Mine

9. Nooe Mine                                                               20. Peters Mine

            10. Welborn Mine                                                        21. Hunt Mine

11  Ida Mine                                                                22. Cross Mine



Following the discovery of gold in California in 1849, the industry gradually declined in North Carolina. Some of the mines -- for instance, the Union Mine at Gold Hill -- later yielded copper, and several operated into the 20th Century[5]


Who knows? There may still be gold in them thar hills


[1]  Handsel, Joyce, Gold Mining, Source: <>        

[2]  Jones, H.G., N.C. Had Own Gold Rush Early in 19th Century  Source: <>

[3]  Handsel

[4]  Jones.

[5]  Jones.