Financial History Issue 118 (Summer 2016) | Page 15




N, 1799 – 1848

By Andrew D . Schmidt
Most Americans have heard of the California Gold Rush of 1849 – 55 , and many have heard of the Alaskan Gold Rush of 1896 – 99 as well . However , North America ’ s first gold rush — in North Carolina — has been all but forgotten .
Gold rushes have been important occurrences in our nation ’ s history . In addition to the financial aspects of finding the “ yellow metal ” and its subsequent uses in bullion , coins , industry and jewelry , the rushes stimulated the migration of people to new geographic regions . In each case , the establishment of trade for the local economies in those regions was strengthened as a result .
The three rushes all started under similar circumstances in the way that the gold was discovered — by the finding of “ placer ” gold , whereby the heavy yellow metal lies deposited in streams or rivers . Because of the weight , mining pans were used in the most primitive method of sorting the gravel and sand out , leaving flakes ( or small nuggets ) of gold on the pan ’ s bottom . In both California and North Carolina , the finds were accidental .
In the case of the 1849 California Gold Rush , James Marshall , in the employ of Captain John Sutter , found a gold nugget on January 24 , 1848 in the spill-way of Sutter ’ s saw mill in the South fork of the American River near the town of Coloma . The mass migration that followed gave birth to the growth of Northern California ( especially in nearby San Francisco , where between January 1848 and December 1849 , the population increased from 1,000 to 25,000 ). It also hastened the establishment of the state of California , which joined the union in 1850 . Approximately 300,000 people migrated to California during the rush .
In the Canadian Yukon , on August 16 , 1896 , four family members of the American prospector George Carmack found gold along the banks of Rabbit Creek , a tributary of the Klondike River . Although the gold fields were located in the Yukon , the US city of Seattle established itself as the “ Gateway to the Gold Fields .” Some 30,000 – 40,000 prospectors used Seattle as
The Little Meadow Creek that flows through the Reed Mine . It was along this creek that the original gold was found by 12-year-old Conrad Reed in 1799 .