When people think of the gold rush, the first thing that comes to mind is the California Gold Rush of 1849. What a lot of people don’t know is that is not where the first U.S. gold mining occurred. It was actually in North Carolina when one unsuspecting little boy discovered the first documented nugget of gold.
One Sunday morning in 1799, Conrad Reed – son of John Reed, decided to skip going to church with his family and instead went fishing in the creek next to his house with several of his siblings. While wading in the cool stream water, Conrad found “a yellow substance shining in the water.” When he went to retrieve it he found it to made of some kind of metal. It was very heavy and shaped like a small flatiron. He lugged the rock home and showed his father who was unable to identify it. It was quickly tossed aside and used as a very functional doorstop! For the next 3 years that’s what the job of this very precious ore would be.
One day, John decided to take the rock to a supposed silversmith, William Atkinson, in Concord, NC for identification. Atkinson proved to be a very unknowledgeable silversmith and was unable to id the raw gold that was in his possession. Finally, in 1802 a jeweler in Fayetteville, NC was able to identify the rock for what it was, a 17 pound nugget of gold ore. The artisan offered to buy the gold from Reed, who thought he was getting a “big price” by asking for $3.50. The artisan was glad to pay that price and went on later to sell the gold for roughly $3,600!
Shortly after, with the help of some of his more experienced friends, Reed realized his error and recovered about $1,000 from the jewelry artisan. Reed, his family and three “business partners” soon began scouring the creek and surrounding land for more gold. They decided to dig in the summer when the crops were planted and the creek bed had nearly dried up. It was worth their while. Before the end of the season, one of the partners’ slaves, Peter, unearthed a 28-pound nugget worth about $6,600. The gold enabled Reed to become a very wealthy and savvy businessman. He bought nearly 2,000 acres of land throughout the rest of his lifetime and when he passed away in 1845 he was a very wealthy man.
The Reed gold mine is now a historic site that is open to the public year round free of charge. Information was researched on the North Carolina Historic Sites website www.nchistoricsites.org.