The US’s Earliest Gold Rushes
Most people think of the gold rush as the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, California in 1848. However, there were at least two previous to Sutter’s Mill.
The first gold rush was when gold was found in Cabarrus County, North Carolina in 1799. Conrad Reed found a 17 pound nugget in a stream playing on his family’s farm. The boy and his family thought it was just a pretty rock, and used it as a doorstop for several years. Conrad’s father took the rock to a jeweler in 1803 who recognized it as gold, but did not tell Reed. The jeweler “took the rock off his hands” for $3.25, which was equal to the wage for a week’s labor on a farm. A year later a slave on the Reed farm found a 28 pound gold nugget, and the Reeds figured out something was going on. The began mining their property and became very wealthy. By 1824, over 2,500 ounces of gold from North Carolina had been deposited in the Philadelphia mint.
The second significant gold rush was in Lumpkin County, Georgia. Gold was found in 1828, and there are a variety of stories of how it was found. From slaves finding gold in a stream to settlers finding in the roots of a tree a storm blew over, the stories are numerous. However, there are no contemporary documents verifying any of the claims. Settlers rushed to the area to try their luck at mining. A boom town of Auraria sprung up to accommodate miners, but later mining activities centered in Dahlonega.
However, there was a problem. Some of the land the gold was found on had been designated for the Cherokee Nation. Tensions between the minors and the Cherokee escalated as more people flooded into the area. It was estimated that there were 4,000 miners working on Yahoola Creek alone by 1830 and that was only one area. The money at stake was enormous as by that same year the Philadelphia mint received $212,000 in gold from Georgia.
Tensions culminated in the Indian Removal Act and it’s enforcement by Andrew Jackson in 1830. This forced the Cherokee off their ancestral land and moved them further west to “Indian Territory” or what is now Oklahoma and part of Kansas. This became known as the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee appealed to the Supreme Court and won, but Jackson ignored the decision.
Settlers swooped in to grab the land vacated by the Cherokee in the 1832 land lottery on 40 acre tracks. The Dahlonega Mint was established in 1838 to accommodate the amount of gold coming out of the Georgia gold fields. The Cherokee were just out of luck.
Sources available on request