Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thars Gold in Them Thar Hills!

Sadly most American classrooms don’t mention gold in relation to North American history until the 1840s are discussed ….you know the drill….American River, John Sutter, Forty-Niners, San Francisco.

Three American History books aimed at fourth and fifth grade and two books for high school I have at my disposal all tell the tale of the discovery of gold in California along with the large numbers of people who headed to the region to get rich.

Students examine how the gold-miner wannabees reached California. In some classrooms the situation is used to teach a bit of economics regarding the law of supply and demand and of course, Levi Strauss is always brought up regarding his contribution to the blue jean industry. Other points are also brought up. For example, the Gold Rush in California caused discrimination since so many ethnic groups ended up living close together, yet it also increased the population to the point California became a state in 1850.

The California Gold Rush a valid point in American history that should be taught. I have no problem with it per se, but what about other gold rushes?

What about other great finds of gold other than the one that occurred at Sutter’s Mill?

Poor little Conrad Reed is often shortchanged in the credit department regarding history, and I’m really not sure why. I’m mean afterall….one of the ways we interest kids in history is by pointing out that kids make history just as often as adults….and little twelve year old Conrad made history in the best way possible.

One day in 1799, while walking along the creek bed on his father’s farm in Cabarrus County, North Carolina little Conrad found a rather large rock….actually it was a nugget of gold, but no one realized it for three years while the nugget served as a door stop. At 17-pounds it was a rather large nugget, and once it was identified as gold, Conrad’s discovery ushered in the very first North American gold rush.

Yes, the very first gold rush was not in California….it was in the South.

Part of teaching the American Revolution, of course, involves introducing students to the use of Hessian soldiers by the British, but what we rarely tell students is sometimes the Hessians remained in the newly formed United States and contributed to American society in different ways. Conrad’s father, John Reed aka Johannes Reith (one suggested spelling), was one of those Hessians who stayed behind after the Patriots won independence. During the war Reed had actually abandoned his post outside of Savannah and never looked back.

While John Reed might have been an excellent farmer he was very uneducated in the gold department and allowed a jeweler to purchase the nugget for $3.50 (a whole week’s wages at that time) and only later discovered the nugget was actually worth $3,600.

Not wanting to be taken again Reed began mining gold on his property and soon after a slave by the name of Peter found a 28-pound nugget. At his death in 1845 John Reed died a very rich man.

You can visit the Reed Gold Mine site here.

American Philatelist has an interesting article here regarding gold mining in North Carolina.


Dan Edwards said...

Nice post.....and wasn't the Gold Rush in Georgia a factor in the eventual forced removal of the Cherokee ?

Geological influences in history are a sadly far too often ignored aspect of history. And, how many students know of the problems caused by gold for the Sioux (Lakota) after the discovery of gold in their sacred Black Hills ? Or how many students have ever heard of the Klondike or Nome, Alaska ? Or, as for gold in California, the fact that the spanish/Mexicans had discovered minute amounts of gold in southern California years prior to James Marshall's big find in the Sierra foothills ?

Gold in Australia, South Africa....

Hope your school year is off to a "GOLDEN" start !

Raelenne H said...

Thanks! This couldn't have come at a better time . . . I start teaching 4th grade Social Studies this morning here in eastern NC and this story makes a great hook!

Legaleagle said...

Absolutely fabulous information! Well written. Thank you, TEACHER!

EHT said...

Thank you everyone. I appreciate it.

Polski, you are very right about Georgia. I plan on writing something about that very soon.

There's a little bit of mythbusting to do with the gold rush in Georgia as well.

James Stripes said...

Gold rushes were central to the dispossession of the Cherokee, Nez Perce, Sioux, Cheyenne, and the California and Alaska tribes.

Gold rushes today are disrupting lives of indigenous peoples in Brazil.

James Stripes said...

I should have made clear that the gold rushes in western Montana put the Sioux and Cheyenne at war protecting their hunting grounds a decade before the gold rush to the Black Hills.

Sorry I didn't read the first comment before posting mine.

ExpertWriter said...

I have found your blog really interesting and informative. The article reflects the great efforts being done on it.