The first gold rush in the U.S. didn’t occur in California, as many believe. The first significant gold discovery took place in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, in 1799, while the California Gold Rush didn’t start until 1848.
The gold nugget that started the rush was found on the farm of a former Hessian soldier named John Reed. Reed’s 12-year-old son had spotted the shiny rock in Little Meadows Creek, which ran through their property. He decided to take it home, but the elder Reed thought it was just an ordinary rock and paid no attention to it, other than to use it as a doorstop for three years. The real gold rush didn’t start until Reed took it to a jeweler and discovered that the rock that had kept a door propped open was indeed a gold nugget that weighed 17 pounds. Reed turned Little Meadows into a small mining operation and found even more gold. At one point, he even discovered a 28 pound nugget.
Miners from around the country began flocking to North Carolina after the news of the discovery. Up until the beginning of the civil war, gold mining was the second most held occupation behind farming in North Carolina as gold began to be discovered in other counties in the state. The United States Mint even built a branch in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1837. In 1828, there was a second gold rush, but this one took place in Dahlonega, Georgia, in the northern part of the state. The U.S. mint established a branch there too in 1835 that ran until 1861. North Carolina remained the largest producer of gold in the United States until the California Gold Rush began in 1848.
Here’s some more reading about gold: