Financial History Issue 118 (Summer 2016) - Page 17
Regardless of the actual date and circumstances surrounding the discovery, it
is a fact that gold had been discovered in
Cabarrus County in the early 1800s. Since
Reed and others had been searching for
gold since 1803, word ultimately spread
that fortunes could be found in that area.
So began the North Carolina Gold Rush.
It took some time for the rush to gain
momentum. For two decades — through
1824 — occasional placer mining on the
Reed farm had yielded $100,000 in gold.
But farming was still Reed’s main occupation, and little technical innovation in
gold mining occurred in the first quarter
of the century. That changed in 1825, with
the advent of mining gold from veins.
While it is an easier process than vein (or
lode) mining, placer mining is inefficient.
Vein mining requires more manpower
and machinery, but it can ultimately be
more profitable. Matthias Barringer found
the first gold vein in Montgomery (now
Stanly) County in 1825; other nearby land
owners soon followed with discoveries of
their own. The Barringer Gold Mining
Company was the first mine to use vein
mining and, as a result, North Carolina’s
gold output subsequently increased tremendously. According to some sources,
gold mining became the fastest-growing
enterprise in the state, surpassing farming.
Companies soon replaced individuals in
the search for gold. The state incorporated
the North Carolina Gold Mining Company in 1827 and within a few years chartered several other groups. The Reed Gold
Mine remained a family-run business and
did not employ the newer technologies
until the 1830s, when underground mining replaced the placer method.
By 1832, more than 50 mines were operating in North Carolina, employing more
than 25,000 people. Many experienced
miners were recruited from Europe and
South America to assist in the operations.
Reed died in 1845, and his mine was sold
in February 1846. Jacob L. Shinn, a lessee
of surface mining rights, found the last
Courtesy North Carolina State Archives, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
details the “discovery of the first nugget.” Prior to 1803, no record of gold
being discovered exists. Technically,
the first documented piece of gold is
the 28-pound nugget found in 1803.
Even the article on the first discovery
claims a Reed child found the first gold
in July 1803 (the date of 1799 may have
been added to this story years later).
Jacob L. Shinn, a lessee of mining rights on
the Reed Mine. He discovered the last great
nugget weighing 23 pounds in 1896.
great nugget in the Reed Mine on April 9,
1896. It weighed 23 pounds.
The Reed Mine was seriously used for
gold mining until the early 1900s, with the
last underground mining occurring in 1912.
As late in 1934, a few miners tried smallscale prospecting during the Great Depression. In 1966, the Reed Mine became a
National Historic Landmark, and by 1999
more than 1.5 million people had visited it.
At the height of the North Carolina
Gold Rush, more than 600 mines existed
in the state, including the Russell Mine,
the Rudisill, the Silver Hill and the Gold
Hill Mining Company. Gold Hill began
operations in 1851, when several local companies merged. The new company became
The North Carolina historical marker on
the road leading to the Reed Mine.
the most productive and dependable in
the state, with its underground operations
reaching a depth of 425 feet in 1857.
The gold mined during the rush was
made into jewelry, sent to Philadelphia for
coins, sent to the western frontier, went
to commercial houses or was exported to
Europe for artistic and other purposes.
From 1804 to 1827, the North Carolina
mines supplied nearly all of the domestic
gold for the US Mint in Philadelphia. The
Reed Mine alone was the primary source
prior to 1825.
While some locals tried their hand at
assaying and stamping the gold, the miners needed their gold to be accurately
weighed, assayed and melted into bullion (bars or ingots). They also wanted
an official seal of approval on their gold.
For nearly 30 years only the US Mint
in Philadelphia provided those services.
The gold was transported a long way
from Cabarrus County (over 500 miles) in
strong boxes with special locks. Although
distance, weather and travel conditions
made it difficult for this transport, many
efforts to secure a local branch of the US
It was not until a German immigrant,
Christopher Bechtler, opened his private
gold coin mint in 1831 at Rutherfordton
(100 miles from Cabarrus County) that
quality gold coins were locally produced.
Bechtler’s coins were widely accepted in
trade and are today highly sought after by
In 1831, the Bechtler Mint produced
the first US gold dollar (18 years prior to
the US Mint), along with $2.50 and $5.00
gold pieces in 20, 21 and 22 karat fineness.
In total, Bechtler minted over $3.5 million in coins, bars and ingots. It was the
longest operating gold mint in the history
of the United States. Even after the branch
mints were established in the 1830s, the
federal government did not interfere with
the Bechtler Mint; it was widely known
that their coins equaled or exceeded the
quality of those produced by the US Mint,
in terms of both fineness and weight.
Bechtler and his son, Augustus, operated
the mint until 1852.
On March 3, 1835, President Andrew
Jackson signed a law authorizing three
branch mints to be located in Charlotte,
NC; New Orleans, LA; and Dahlonega,
GA. The mints in Charlotte and Dahlonega
were only authorized to mint gold coins,
and the Charlotte Mint was the first to
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