nearly a century of production, the Reed Gold Mine in
Cabarrus County had been pretty much exhausted. By the
end of the 19th century, most prospectors had left for
more promising sites in Colorado and Alaska. Jake Shinn
was one of a few hopeful miners remaining in North Carolina.
On April 9, 1896, Shinn had dug only about three feet
deep when he hit something hard. He pulled a big rock
out of the ground, shouted, "Boys, I've got it!"
and rushed to wash off the dirt. The other miners, accustomed
to false alarms, paid little attention to Shinn until
he returned from the creek carrying a 22-pound gold nugget.
At the time of its discovery, it was said to be worth
about $4,800; at today's gold prices, that single rock
would sell for more than $100,000.
The first documented discovery of gold in North Carolina
occurred nearly a half century before the discovery of
gold at Sutter's Mill in California touched off the nation's
most famous gold rush. John Reed (born Johannes Reith)
arrived in America as a Hessian soldier in the service
of the British Army during the Revolutionary War. After
he left the army he settled on a farm in Cabarrus County,
North Carolina, about 20 miles from Charlotte. In 1799,
Reed's son Conrad found a shiny yellow rock in the creek
on the family property. The rock was used as a doorstop
for several years until Reed took it to a jeweler in Fayetteville
who informed him that he had been holding open his door
with a 17-pound gold nugget. The jeweler offered to purchase
it at whatever price Reed named, which he did, leaving
the farmer to return home three dollars and fifty cents
Reed soon realized that he had let his soon-to-be famous
doorstop go for significantly less than it was worth,
but he knew that there were other yellow rocks in his
creek. Reed formed a partnership with a few others and
began a mining company. The Reed Gold Mine was significant
not only for being the first American gold mine, but also
for the size of the nuggets that it produced. The largest
one, found by a slave named Peter in 1803, was said to
weigh 28 pounds. Gold fever struck the state. By 1830
there were 56 gold mines and gold mining was second only
to agriculture in the number of North Carolinians it employed.
A map of North Carolina circa 1849 prominently featured an
inset map of the "Gold
Region," and long before California earned the
nickname, North Carolina was known as the "Golden
State." Jake Shinn's discovery in 1896 renewed interest
in the lagging mining industry, but his was the last big
strike. Gold mining in the state dwindled through the
20th century until the last operation closed in 1964.
The Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site is now operated
by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History and
is open to the public. The North
Carolina Collection Gallery, in Wilson Library at
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has a
small exhibit on the state's gold mining history, including
a display of rare Bechtler gold coins, which were minted
in North Carolina in the mid-1800s.
Suggestions for Further Reading:
Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site, Stanfield, N.C. http://www.ah.dcr.state.nc.us/sections/hs/reed/reed.htm
Richard F. Knapp and Brent D. Glass, Gold Mining in
North Carolina: A Bicentennial History . Raleigh:
Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department
of Cultural Resources, 1999.
Richard F. Knapp, "Golden Promise in the Piedmont:
The Story of John Reed's Mine." North Carolina
Historical Review 52 (January 1975), pages 1-19.
"People seeking for Gold in North Carolina." In
Samuel Griswold Goodrich, The First Book of History
for Children and Youth. Boston: Carter, Hendee, and
Co., 1833, p. 75.