The History of the American Gold Rush

A gold rush is when large groups of gold-seekers converge upon a location following reports of gold found in the area. A gold rush usually begins when one or a few prospectors are able to pick up significant deposits of gold, generally found within the sediment of a river or stream.

Word then spreads, and as the easier-collected gold nuggets in the river become depleted, more sophisticated gold prospecting begins upstream where the deposits originated. A gold rush usually lasts just a few years, and eventually becomes a mine instead of a free-for-all. However, this short-lived frenzy can change the area forever.

America's First Gold Rush

Most people are aware of the discovery of gold that led American pioneers to settle the west coast, but fewer people realize that the first American gold rush occurred on the opposite side of the country. The Carolina Gold Rush began in 1799 when gold nuggets were discovered in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, just east of the city of Charlotte. Today, this historical site is called Reed's Gold Mine. The last of the gold has been harvested there, but free tours are available where visitors can see the site of America's first gold rush.

Gold-Seekers Turn South

Another lesser-known American Gold Rush occurred three decades later, when gold was discovered in Georgia. Georgia actually claims to be the site of the first gold rush, but the rush here didn't start until 1829. American explorers got curious when they noticed the Native Americans in Georgia adorned with beautiful gold nugget jewelry. Upon further inspection, gold was indeed found along the Chattahoochee River. Since the Cherokee Nation, and not the state of Georgia, owned most of the land where gold was abundant, the land was snatched from the Native Americans and handed over to gold prospectors. Much of the Georgia gold ended up going to coin minting.

Head West!

The most recognized and remembered gold rush happened when prospectors found gold in Sierra Nevada. The findings began in 1848, but it wasn't until 1849 that people back east begin to take notice and abandon everything to head to California in search of wealth. Not only did the California Gold Rush spark the settlement of California, it was one of the primary reasons why California became a state in 1850. Since most of the gold diggers left for the Sierra Nevada region in 1849, the San Francisco pro football team proudly holds the name '49ers, a throwback to their settlement history.

The phenomenon of the California gold rush set off a worldwide title wave of gold rushes. The people of Australia, South Africa, Wales, and Scotland caught the wave and began gold rushes of their own.

Gold Seekers Turn North

As the California Gold Rush wound down and the settlements there turned their eyes toward other endeavors -- such as farming the rich soil and taking advantage of the abundant sunlight -- gold seekers got wind of another new frontier. Gold was discovered in Hope, Alaska, sparking what was called the Alaska Gold Rush, Klondike Gold Rush, Yukon Gold Rush, or the Last Great American Gold Rush. The Alaska Gold Rush actually came in three waves, as gold nuggets were discovered in Nome and soon afterward at Fortymile River.

Most of the settlements and changes brought about by American gold rushes would likely have happened anyway. Georgia would probably have eventually found a reason to take away the land of the Cherokee Nation, and settlers would have found sunny California someday. But many towns and cities of Alaska would no doubt have never been born without the lure of gold and riches. The American gold rushes changed the face of this Last Frontier forever.


Alaskan gold nugget jewelry isn't the only treasure you'll find at Alaska Jewelry. Look for gorgeous diamond pendants, gold rings for men and women, birthstone jewelry, glass art, wildlife sculptures, and much more. Alaska Jewelry specializes in unique rustic jewelry traditional to the Alaskan people. Visit their online store or come see them in person at their brick and mortar jewelry store in Sitka, or at their summer location in Icy Strait Point.