Joshua Perkins

Ever hear of Joshua Perkins? He was the luckiest ginseng digger of all time. Joshua Perkins was tall, dark and handsome. He lived in Tennessee near where the Elk and Watauga Rivers meet. In the fall of 1826, he made a hasty trip over the state line into North Carolina to escape arrest because of a fist fight. He was headed for the home of Abern Johnson , a family friend, who lived about a mile south of Newland.

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The next day, Joshua went out to dig ginseng. As he dug, he struck a vein of magnetite. Magnetite is an important ore of iron. Some 45 years earlier, a man named Reuben White had found this same vein, but the location was forgotten. The place where Perkins made his find would later be called Cranberry.

Perkins took some ore samples to the forge owned by John Dugger and John Asher on the Watauga River. That's how you tested iron ore in those days: you had a blacksmith melt it down and learn the quality. There he learned some exciting news. State law provided that anyone who found iron ore on vacant land could claim that land. When it was proved 5,000 pounds of wrought iron had been produced at a forge on the land, the owner would receive 3,000 acres of state-owned land, including the location of the mine and forge.

That is exactly what happened. Perkins and his brother got full title to the land in 1833. Work was hard. The heavy, tough ore had to be broken up with picks and mattocks, then shoveled into carts to be taken to the forge.

This wasn't gold mining, and the profits were never large. Finally, the Perkins brothers got into financial trouble and their property was sold by court order. But their work continued to benefit the Cranberry section of the future Avery County for almost 150 years.

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