Georgia Gold Rush

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The Georgia Gold Rush was the second significant gold rush in the United States, and overshadowed the previous rush in North Carolina. It started in 1829 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 difficult to find. Many Georgia miners moved west when gold was found in the Sierra Nevada in 1848, starting the California Gold Rush.


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.[1] 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.”[2]

North Carolina Gold Rush[edit]

Hernando de Soto led an expedition in 1540, and "came across a young native who showed the Spaniards how gold was mined, melted, and refined by his people." Ozley Bird Saunook, a former Cherokee chief, claimed "his people knew of gold in the area as early as the sixteenth century when de Soto passed through the region."[3]:8,12

In 1799, gold was discovered in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, when Conrad Reed found a 17-pound "glittering stone" in Little Meadow Creek, on his father's farm. Conrad had the stone identified in Fayetteville, North Carolina, three years later. By 1804, this Carolina Gold Rush resulted in placer mining, the discovery of a gold-rich quartz vein by Mathias Barringer along Long Creek in Stanly County, North Carolina. The gold belt was extended north into Virginia, and south into South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.[3]:11–12

1828 Georgia Discovery[edit]

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 (or Witherow or Wilhero) 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.
  • Thomas Bowen supposedly found gold in the roots of a storm-blown tree along Duke's Creek.
  • Benjamin Parks claims to have found gold on his birthday in 1828 while walking along a deer path, and subsequently he and his business partner, Joel Stephens, leased the site from Reverend O'Barr.

However, these stories have no contemporary documents to support their validity.[3]:21–22

Gold Rush[edit]

Gold veinlets (they appear white) in a sample of gneiss from the Battle Branch Mine in Lumpkin County

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.[4]

The Macon Telegraph reported that in "the winter of 1829 and 30, when the precious metals having been discovered in great abundance upon our Cherokee soil, great numbers of people from Georgia and other States rushed to the Territory in search of its treasures."[3]:25

Gold was discovered in Carroll County, Georgia, in 1830.[3]:28 Although much of the land on which the gold was found was under the control of the Cherokee, mining operations quickly sprang up in Lumpkin, White, Union, and Cherokee counties in the "Great Intrusion". In the early stages of the gold rush, the majority of the mining was placer mining. By 1830, Nile's Register estimated that there were 4,000 miners working on Yahoola Creek alone,[3]:25 and over 300 ounces (8.5 kg) of gold per day were being produced in an area from north of Blairsville to the southeast corner of Cherokee County. The Philadelphia Mint received $212,000 in gold from Georgia in 1830.[3]:28

Other estimates were that in 1831 there were 6,000 to 10,000 miners between the Chestatee River and the Etowah River. 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 increased. Before long, gold mines appeared in most counties in the North Georgia mountains, including Georgia's northeastern-most county, Rabun.

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. President Andrew Jackson authorized the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which would allow a take over of the gold mining areas among other places. The Cherokee Nation turned to the federal court system to avoid being forced off their ancestral lands. The Supreme Court first ruled in favor of the State of Georgia in the 1831 case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, but the following year, in Worcester v. Georgia reversed this decision to recognize the Cherokee as a sovereign nation. Jackson proceeded with removal of remaining Cherokee from the North Georgia gold fields.[5]

The Philadelphia Mint received over half a million dollars in gold from Georgia in 1832.[3]:28 The state of Georgia held the Gold Lottery of 1832 and awarded land, which had been owned by the Cherokee, to the winners in 40-acre (16 ha) tracts. The Philadelphia Mint received $1,098,900 in gold from Georgia between 1830 and 1837.[3]:80

In 1838, the Dahlonega Mint was established by Congress, as a branch 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 the state's actions in the early part of the century to seize Cherokee lands.

Besides panning and other gold-washing machines, efforts shifted to working the lode deposits, or gold-bearing quartz vein mining. This involved digging shafts and tunnels, from three to seven square feet in size, braced by timbers due to the fissures in the rock and the danger of collapse. Most mines stayed above the water table, being no more than thirty feet deep, such as the Allatoona Mine in Bartow County. The deepest was the Loud Mine, in White County, at one hundred and thirty feet.[3]:70–71

Large stamp mills appeared in 1833, at the Columbia Mine in McDuffie County. These reduced the ore to fine sand for additional panning, or for separation via mercury amalgamation.[3]:72–73 Besides the Calhoun Mine, other major gold mines included the Sixes, Logan, Elrod, Battle Branch, Pigeon Roost, Turkey Hill, Free Jim, Holt, Loud, Cleveland, Gordon, Horshaw, Lumsden, and Richardson.[3]:76

Nevertheless, by the 1840s gold mining saw a sharp decline, as the gold began to "play out".[3]:79


When news of the California Gold Rush reached Georgia, many miners moved west in search of more gold; the assayer of the Dahlonega Mint, Matthew Stephenson, tried to convince them to stay. He declared from the Dahlonega courthouse steps to a crowd of miners, "Why go to California? In that ridge lies more gold than man ever dreamt of. There's millions in it."[3]:118

Yet, despite the departure of many miners, the mines in the Georgia Gold Belt continued to produce gold for years. Hydraulic mining and blast mining renewed interest in the 1850s.[3]:120 There were some 500 mines in 37 different counties. The Civil War brought most operations to a halt, but a few operations continued after the war, and several mines were reworked in the 1930s, during the Great Depression.[3]:120–121

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.[6]

Before they were expelled, the Cherokee 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,[7] as well as to a number of other geographic features in that state's gold-mining region.

Experienced gold miners from Georgia played key roles in the beginning of gold mining in Colorado. Georgia miners Lewis and Samuel Ralston, along with some displaced Georgia Cherokee, noticed placer gold near the present site of Denver, on their way to the Sierra Nevada gold fields in 1850. They returned east in 1857, having failed to strike it rich; they remembered the gold just east of the Rocky Mountains. William Greeneberry Russell led a party of Cherokee and Georgia gold miners back to Colorado in 1858, and they began placer mining along the South Platte River in present-day Denver. Three Auraria Georgians, W. Green, Levi J., and J. Oliver Russell, founded Auraria, Colorado, named after the gold-mining town in Georgia. Auraria merged with Denver in 1860, but the neighborhood is still known as Auraria.[3]:120 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.[8]

In 1864, four prospectors known as "the Georgians" found one of the early gold placers in Montana, at Last Chance Gulch. The site became the state capital of Helena.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Duane K. Hale (1981) ‘’Mineral exploration in the Spanish borderlands 1513-1846‘’, Jour. of the West, v.20 n.2, p.5-20.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Williams, David, 1993, The Georgia Gold Rush: Twenty-Niners, Cherokees, and Gold Fever, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, ISBN 1570030529
  4. ^ The New Georgia Encyclopedia
  5. ^ "A Brief History of the Trail of Tears". Cherokee Nation. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  6. ^ A.H. Koschmann and M.H. Bergendahl (1968) "Principal Gold-Producing Districts of the United States", US Geological Survey, Professional Paper 610, p.119.
  7. ^ William B. Clark, 1970, "Gold Districts of California," California Division of Mines and Geology, Bulletin 193, p.36.
  8. ^ Robert L. Brown (1984) The Great Pikes Peak Gold Rush, Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, p.12-32.
  9. ^ Don Spritzer (1999) Roadside History of Montana, Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press, ISBN 0-87842-395-8, p.248.

At the beginning of the 1800s most poor Americans outside the South resembled the poor of Europe. They were chiefly orphans, widows, people too old or too sick to work, or seasonal workers out of season. Wealthy people or local governments gave them "outdoor relief," consisting of food, firewood, or small amounts of money known as alms, primarily from a sense of paternalism or community responsibility. State poor laws, generally inherited from English tradition, required towns to take care of their poor.

Industrialization and immigration brought poverty of a new kind and on a new scale to American cities in the 1820s, intensifying in the economic crises of the late 1830s and the 1850s. The number of people needing help increased dramatically, in part from the sporadic nature of all industrial jobs and in part from recurring financial panics. Urban builders for the first time constructed housing exclusively for the poor. Growing numbers of the poor were foreign-born, especially Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine in the 1850s and eastern European immigrants later in the century. Chinese immigrants to the West Coast faced both racial discrimination and especially low wages.

Poor people coped in various ways, usually turning to organized relief only when less-public strategies failed. Believing, often correctly, that their poverty was temporary, poor people survived through small savings, rigid thrift, help from family members, odd jobs, debt, and aid from churches, fraternal associations, and trade unions. More and more in the late 1800s men traveled from cities to surrounding areas looking for work. In the 1870s the term "tramp" became a commonplace description of apparently rootless men who walked the highways or illegally rode the railroads. Most tramps were unmarried men who learned to survive an irregular, frustrating pattern of work followed by struggle. Poor women traveled far less than men, more often working as seamstresses in crowded tenements. Poor children, especially during economic crises, added to household incomes by scavenging from city garbage.

The poorest part of the country after the Civil War was the South, where both whites and African Americans struggled with debt, low cotton prices, laws favorable to employers and creditors, paltry alternatives, and the general postwar devastation. Under sharecropping, by the 1870s the dominant labor system for African Americans, workers farmed year- round for landowners in exchange for a share of the value of the crop. Sharecroppers' main strategies were strenuous labor, thriftiness, large families, and, perhaps above all, movement. Like tramps farther north, sharecroppers moved frequently. But unlike tramps, they usually moved as families, relocating from one plantation to another at the end of crop seasons. Many white families in the Upper South, suffering from debt and the loss of the open range on which they had kept livestock, also became sharecroppers.

In the early and mid-1800s American policies about poverty shifted away from outdoor relief to efforts to teach the poor how to escape their poverty. Antipoverty efforts became more organized, antipoverty rhetoric became more judgmental, and policy shifted, in Christine Stansell's phrase, "from meliorism to active reform" (City of Women, p. 34). Beginning in 1817 with New York's Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, institutions collected the poor under one roof, oversaw their actions, and forced them to work. The state of New York formalized this policy in 1824 with the County Poorhouse Act, which required every county to build at least one institution to house its poor and, ideally, to teach them the emerging middle-class ethics of thrift, constant industry, and sobriety. In the 1840s the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor encouraged wealthy male volunteers to visit the poor to share lessons about surviving and thriving in the American economy. In the 1850s the Children's Aid Society attempted to reform the environment of poor boys, especially by sending the boys out of cities into the supposedly healthier environment of the rural American West.

The absence of poverty became a lightning rod in mid-century regional debates. Northern Republicans saw the chance to rise from poor to independent to wealthy as crucial to the definition of American freedom and believed that slavery violated that freedom. Southern proslavery theorists replied that their region had no poor people. Slavery, they said, saved the South from poverty, insecurity, crime, and possible revolution.

Regional arguments over poverty policy continued in the postbellum period. In 1865 and 1866 southern legislatures passed the Black Codes, the vagrancy and apprenticeship laws designed to keep former slaves working as dependent agricultural laborers. Many Americans outside the South were outraged that these laws tried to reinstate central elements of slavery. From the 1860s through the 1880s, however, northeastern and midwestern states passed or enhanced their own vagrancy laws, making begging a crime punishable by forced labor. Supporters of those laws argued that they were upholding the virtues of work for all people, while the South's Black Codes applied only to former slaves and did not mean to teach lessons.

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