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 Mint failed. 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 coin collectors. 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  |  Summer 2016  |  FINANCIAL HISTORY  15