Financial History Issue 118 (Summer 2016) | Page 16

Courtesy North Carolina State Archives, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources their launching point, buying their provisions for the trek to the Yukon. As a result, Seattle thrived. Approximately 100,000 people migrated to the Yukon altogether. The small Alaskan town of Skagway became the largest city in Alaska, as one of two major entry points to the gold fields, along with Dyea. Today, Skagway is a major tourist landing spot on the cruise lines; Dyea is largely a ghost town. Prior to the major rushes of California and Alaska, North Carolina was the chief gold mining state in the nation. It was also, not coincidentally, the location of the first branch mint of the United States, which opened in Charlotte in 1837. Although cotton was more important than gold to Charlotte’s economy, the rush brought miners, engineers and metallurgists to the state’s largest city and is credited with the establishment of banks there. The rush also helped establish Charlotte as the main regional trading center, as miners from several counties brought their gold in to be assayed and smelted. By some accounts, the North Carolina gold rush began on the farm of John Reed, a German born in Hesse-Cassel in the late 1750s. Reed had been conscripted into the Germany army (the Hessian militia) and had been loaned to the king of England, likely reaching America in 1778 to fight the colonists in the Revolutionary War. His loyalties, however, were not to the king; they were to the small farmers and colonists. Following the war, Reed traveled to North Carolina, where he established a farm near Charlotte after purchasing land from private parties and from the State of North Carolina through multiple land grants. Other Hessian families also settled nearby, leading to a flourishing German community. According to legend, it was on Reed’s farm — which Little Meadow Creek seasonally flows through — that his 12-yearold son, Conrad, was hunting fish with bow and arrow one Sunday morning in the spring of 1799. Conrad was accompanied by his sister and younger brother while their parents were at church. While fishing, Conrad saw “a yellow substance shining in the water,” and he removed from the creek a gold nugget weighing some 17 pounds. His father could not identify the nugget, and it subsequently spent three years serving as a “useful doorstop” in the family home. Eventually, John Reed carried the piece to the A miner alongside the Little Meadow Creek, which flows through the Reed Mine property. nearby town of Concord to be inspected by a silver­smith named William Atkinson, who misidentified the metal. Finally, in 1802, Reed visited a Fayetteville jeweler, who informed him that it was indeed gold and asked him how much he wanted for it. Reed, thinking he would ask a “big price,” suggested $3.50, which the jeweler immediately accepted. The nugget’s value at the time was approximately $3,600. After realizing his mistake, the Reed family — and later their friends — began looking for more gold in the area. Many believe that Reed ultimately received additional payment from the jeweler, although contemporary records disagree on the amount; estimates range from $1,000 to $3,000. But, as alluded to earlier, this story —  while widely told — may be more legend than fact. The first verifiable, documented discovery of gold at the Reed Mine was not until November 1803, when a slave named Peter (who belonged to Reed’s neighbor 14    FINANCIAL HISTORY  |  Summer 2016  | and business partner, Rev. James Love) found a 28-pound nugget worth more than $6,600 while working for the partnership. It was the largest nugget ever found east of the Mississippi River. A contemporary newspaper article published in the Raleigh Register and NorthCarolina State Gazette on December 5, 1803 mentions the Reed children discovering the first pieces of gold, but it only specifically mentions the recent discovery of the 28-pound nugget. According to Evin Burleson, an historic interpreter at the Reed Gold Mine: The “first discovery” story wasn’t reported first. The first newspaper to mention the Reed Gold Mine, published in December 1803, mentions John Reed’s children discovering the first pieces of gold, but only specifically mentions the recent discovery of the 28-pound nugget. The next mention of the Reed Mine, from January 1804,