North Carolina was home to America's first gold rush. When John Reed discovered gold on his property in 1799, he didn't first realize what he had. Reed's son Conrad discovered a large, yellow rock in the creek that ran through the Reed farm. The family used the unusual stone as a doorstop until 1802, when a jeweler from Fayetteville who was passing through recognized the rock as gold and paid Reed $3.50 for it, money which Reed used to buy coffee beans and a calico dress for his wife. Later, Reed discovered that the actual retail value of the rock had been over $3,500. Reed successfully recovered $1,000 of that when the Jeweler returned to buy more rocks from him. Word of the discovery soon spread, and what had until then been a quiet corner of Cabarrus County was soon covered with prospectors from across the world.
North Carolina would remain America's leading producer of gold until the discovery of the precious metal in California in 1848. Reed's farm became the center of this gold fever, with the mine expanding from surface panning to shafts dug deep beneath the earth in search of lodes of ore. Labor was imported from all across the world, and expert miners from Cornwall in England were brought in to establish the operations. Apart from the expertise these men brought, the immigration was fueled in part by local labor being still heavily dependent upon slavery. There was a general fear that slaves would pocket the gold and quite sensibly use it to buy their freedom.
The Reed Gold Mine expanded, helping the growth of the nearby city of Charlotte. For nearly forty years, North Carolina supplied the U.S. Mint with a substantial portion of its gold, reaching a staggering, for the time, $11,000 in 1804 alone.
But where there's gold, there's greed. And where's there's greed, there's violence. One property near Reed's where gold was also found was owned by a man named McIntosh, remembered to legend as "Skinflint" McIntosh. McIntosh sough the services of an expert miner named Joe McGee, but McGee was concerned over the tight-fisted mine owner's lack of concern for miner's safety. McGee asked McIntosh if he took the job and died in the mine, would McIntosh pay his widow $1,000? McIntosh responded that he would pay her $2,000. And so McGee went to work for Skinflint.