Georgia Gold Rush
The Georgia Gold Rush was the second significant gold rush in the United States, and overshadowed the previous one in North Carolina. It started in 1828 in present-day Lumpkin County near the county seat, Dahlonega, and soon spread through the North Georgia mountains, following the Georgia Gold Belt. By the early 1840s, gold became harder to find. When gold was discovered in California in 1848 to start the California Gold Rush, many Georgia miners moved west.
While the discovery in Georgia in 1828 was the event that led to what is called the "Georgia Gold Rush", there were reports of gold in the North Georgia Mountains much earlier. Since the 16th century, American Indians in Georgia told European explorers that the small amounts of gold which they possessed came from mountains of the interior. Some poorly documented accounts exist of Spanish or French mining gold in North Georgia between 1560 and 1690, but they are based on supposition and on rumors passed on by Indians. In summing up known sources, Yeates observed: “Many of these accounts and traditions seem to be quite plausible. Nevertheless, it is hardly probable that the Spaniards would have abandoned mines which were afterwards found to be quite profitable, as those in North Georgia.” In 1799, gold was discovered in North Carolina spurring a gold rush there, which led to speculation that there was probably gold in Georgia, too.
Two factors connected with the Georgia gold discovery created the conditions that led to the Georgia Gold Rush in 1829. First, the placer deposits found in Georgia meant that gold was relatively easy to collect. Second, word of Georgia’s gold deposits spread rapidly, with stories that captured the imagination.
No one knows which version of the original find is accurate:
- Some anecdotes have either Frank Logan or his slave making the find in White County, Georgia in Dukes Creek.
- Another version of the White County find has John Witheroods finding a three-ounce nugget along Dukes Creek.
- Still another version was that the North Carolina prospector Jesse Hogan found gold near Dahlonega, Georgia at Ward's Creek.
- One account indicated that an explorer from Clemson, South Carolina was on Findley Ridge below present day Dahlonega, kicked a rock, and found gold in it.
These stories and others spread rapidly and “gold fever” soon took hold.
No matter who made the gold discovery in 1828, the gold rush started in 1829 in Lumpkin County and began spreading rapidly. One of the first public accounts was on August 1, 1829, when the Georgia Journal (a Milledgeville newspaper), ran the following notice.
GOLD.—A gentleman of the first respectability in Habersham county, writes us thus under date of 22d July: "Two gold mines have just been discovered in this county, and preparations are making to bring these hidden treasures of the earth to use." So it appears that what we long anticipated has come to pass at last, namely, that the gold region of North and South Carolina, would be found to extend into Georgia.
Although much of the land on which the gold was found was under the control of the Cherokee Indians, mining operations quickly sprang up in Lumpkin, White, Union and Cherokee counties. In the early stages of the gold rush, the majority of the mining was placer mining. By 1830, historians estimate that there were 4,000 miners working on just the Yahoola Creek in Lumpkin County and over 300 ounces (8.5 kg) of gold per day was being produced in an area from north of Blairsville to the southeast corner of Cherokee County. Other estimates were that there were 6,000 to 10,000 miners between the Chestatee River and the Etowah River in 1831. Boom towns like Auraria and Dahlonega began to appear and Dahlonega was said to have supported 15,000 miners at the height of the gold rush. During this rapid influx of prospectors and settlers, tensions with the Cherokee began to rise. Before long, gold mines appeared in most counties in the North Georgia mountains, including Georgia's northeastern-most county, Rabun.
In 1832, Georgia held the Gold Lottery of 1832, which awarded land which was owned by the Cherokee to the winners of the lottery in 40-acre (16 ha) tracts. In 1838, the Dahlonega Mint was established in Dahlonega by the United States Congress as a branch mint of the United States Mint. This was a testimony to the amount of gold being produced in Georgia. The establishment of the Dahlonega Mint seemed to validate Georgia's actions in the early part of the century to seize Cherokee lands. The culmination of tensions between the Cherokee and various states, including Georgia, led to the forced migration of Native Americans, later known as the Trail of Tears.
By the early 1840s, most of the “easy” gold had been found, and efforts began to shift to working the known deposits. When news of the California Gold Rush reached Georgia, many miners moved west in search of more gold. The assayer of the Dahlonega Mint tried to convince them to stay. However, even with the departure of many miners, the mines in the Georgia Gold Belt continued to produce gold for years. There were some 500 mines in 37 different counties. It is estimated that Georgia produced about 870,000 troy ounces (24,000 kg) of gold between 1828 and the mid-20th century, when commercial gold production ceased.
Before they were expelled, the Cherokees gained enough gold-mining experience to participate in later gold rushes in California in 1849 and Colorado in 1859. Cherokee gold miners gave the name to the town of Cherokee, California, as well as to a number of other geographic features in the California gold-mining region.
Experienced gold miners from Georgia played key roles in the beginning of gold mining in Colorado. Georgia gold miners Lewis and Samuel Ralston, along with some displaced Georgia Cherokees, noticed placer gold near the present site of Denver on their way to the new California gold fields in 1850. They returned east in 1857, having failed to strike it rich, but remembered the gold just east of the Rocky Mountains. William Greeneberry Russell led a party of Cherokees and Georgia gold miners back to Colorado in 1858, and began placer mining along the South Platte River in present-day Denver. Other Georgians founded Auraria, Colorado, named after the gold-mining town in Georgia. Auraria merged with Denver soon after, but the neighborhood is still known as Auraria. The town of Golden, Colorado is named after Georgia miner Thomas L. Golden. Another Georgia gold miner, John H. Gregory, discovered the first lode gold in Colorado in 1859.
- Duane K. Hale (1981) ‘’Mineral exploration in the Spanish borderlands 1513-1846‘’, Jour. of the West, v.20 n.2, p.5-20.
- W.S. Yeates and others (1896) "A Preliminary Report on a Part of the Gold Deposits of Georgia", Geological Survey of Georgia, Bulletin No. 4-A, p.28.
- The New Georgia Encyclopedia
- A.H. Koschmann and M.H. Bergendahl (1968) "Principal Gold-Producing Districts of the United States", US Geological Survey, Professional Paper 610, p.119.
- Robert L. Brown (1984) The Great Pikes Peak Gold Rush, Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, p.12-32.
- Don Spritzer (1999) Roadside History of Montana, Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press, ISBN 0-87842-395-8, p.248.
- North Georgia’s Gold Rush, About North Georgia
- Gold Rush, The New Georgia Encyclopedia
- Dahlonega Gold Museum, Roadside Georgia
- Mineral Resources of the Blue Ridge & Piedmont
- History of Georgia's Gold, Georgia Gold Prospectors Association
- The Georgia Gold Rush, Gold Rush Gallery
- Georgia Gold Mines, Etc., Goldmaps.com
- Williams, David (1993). The Georgia Gold Rush: Twenty-Niners, Cherokees, and Gold Fever. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1-57003-052-9.
- "Gold-Mining in Georgia." Harper's New Monthly Magazine 59, Issue 352 (September 1879): 517-519. Available here
- An Act to authorize Governor George R. Gilmer to take possession of gold, silver and other mines in Cherokee Country, 2 December 1830. From the collection of the Georgia Archives.