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.' "
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. 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
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
4 Conrad Mine 15.
Silver Valley Mine
5 Dodge Hill
6. The Billie Allred Mine 17.
7. Baltimore Mine 18. Ward Mine
8. Morgan, Briggs, Plyler,
& Liberty Mining Co. 19.
Emmons (Hercules) Mine
9. Nooe Mine 20.
10. Welborn Mine 21.
11 Ida Mine 22.
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
knows? There may still be gold in them thar hills