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Georgia Gold Rush

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Mining History

The California Gold Rush of 1849 historically overshadows the Georgia Gold Rush of 1829. The Georgia Gold Rush is the first actual gold rush known to have occurred on American soil. Thousands of miners called the “twenty-niners” made their way to northern Georgia to mine placer deposits abundant in gold. Eventually, after the loose placer gold had been completely mined, miners started extracting gold from hard rock using stamp mills to crush the ore and free the gold. The first wave of the Georgia Gold Rush lasted almost two decades until news of gold in California drew many twenty niners westward in 1849. In the years to follow, mining in Georgia would resurge. In 1850, the technique of hydraulic mining, a method of placer mining first used during the California Gold Rush, would make its way to Georgia. Though the Georgia Gold Rush brought prosperity to the region and resulted in the establishment of the Dahlonega mint in 1838, it led to countless deaths and the forced removal of many Cherokees from their rightful land.


[edit] History

[edit] Discovery of Gold

There was knowledge of gold in north Georgia prior to the Gold Rush. Indians along the Chattahoochee River of Atlanta had panned significant amounts of gold. Spanish miners showed up in the region, forming settlements up until the 1700s. Other evidence reveals gold was mined near the Cherokee town of Sixes in 1819.[1]

There are conflicting accounts as to how the gold that set off the gold rush in northern Georgia was actually discovered. One of the more popular stories is that of Benjamin Park who was out deer hunting in 1828 six miles (10 km) away from Dahlonega when he stubbed his toe on a large rock the size of an egg and the color of gold.[2] The settlement close by, known as Licklog, was renamed Dahlonega, a Cherokee word meaning "yellow money.”[3] Another story triggering gold fever was that of a young boy by the name of Conrad Reed who stumbled upon a 17-pound (7.7-kg) nugget in a creek on the family plantation. The nugget was used as doorstop until 1802 and then sold to a jeweler.[4] The first official documentation of gold came on August 1, 1829, when a notice was featured in the Georgia Journal announcing the opening of two gold mines in the county of Habersham.[5]

[edit] The Great Intrusion

The official word of gold in the region led to an influx of miners. By 1829, northern Georgia was inundated with miners from across the U.S., and even more from as far as Europe. At the height of the Gold Rush, there were approximately 15,000 miners in the area.[6] Their arrival led to the growth of boomtowns such as Dahlonega and Auraria. These boomtowns were rowdy places afflicted with lawlessness and often a shortage of supplies.

Gold mining during the first decade after discovery proved to be highly productive. One problem miners faced was converting gold into a usable currency. A lack of floating currency in the region greatly affected trade. Merchants demanded payment in the form of cash or gold and it was they who determined the face value of gold. This led the U.S. Congress to chart the Dahlonega Georgia branch mint in 1835. With the Dahlonega mint opening in 1838, gold mined in Georgia was minted into coins. The Dahlonega mint coined as much as $100,000 worth of gold in its first year and a total of 1.5 million gold coins by the time it shut down in 1861 after the Civil War.[7] While the miners benefited from the establishment of the mint, the Cherokees suffered greatly as a result of the Georgia Gold Rush. The arrival of miners and European settlers to the area became known as "The Great Intrusion" to the Cherokees.

[edit] Cherokees and the Trail of Tears

Much of the land the Cherokees occupied in northern Georgia was gold-bearing. The state of Georgia decided to seize the land despite its having been granted to the Cherokees in a treaty. The state surveyed about four million acres (1.6 million ha) of land and sectioned it off into 40-acre (16-ha) gold lots and 160-acre (65-ha) farming lots that were divided up through a lottery draw.[8] From 1805 to 1832, approximately three-quarters of the land in Georgia was distributed in this manner.[9] In 1830, President Andrew Jackson pushed for the Indian Removal Act through Congress, giving the State of Georgia the right to take the land from the Cherokees. During the winter of 1838 to 1839, one of the coldest winters on record up to that time, the Cherokees were forced to leave their land and trek through six to eight of feet (1.8 to 2.4 m) of snow westwards towards Oklahoma. A lack of proper food or clothing to arm them against the bitter winter resulted in the deaths of 4,000 Cherokees. This forced migration became known as the “Trail of Tears.”[10]

[edit] Mining in Georgia

Most of the early mining during the Georgia Gold Rush was placer mining, accomplished by panning, rockers, sluice boxes, and other devices. The miners were a diverse lot and even included a few women in addition to several African Americans—some working as slaves, others as free men. There were even a few Native Americans mining during the Gold Rush.[11] As gold on the surface was exhausted, mining operations moved underground. Miners carried out hard rock mining to recover gold from veins intact inside mountains. Tunnels were dug to access the ore and once removed, the ore was crushed using stamp mills to liberate the gold. Stamp mills varied in size and complexity from simple stamp machines bent over a sapling to ten stamp mills combined and powered by a water wheel.[12] The gold was also extracted from the crushed ore with the process of amalgamation using mercury. Since hard rock mining was more expensive, companies were formed to come up with the capital to invest in operations. One of the most prosperous companies was the Consolidated Gold Mine, employing 1,200 miners. From 1829 to 1839 it is estimated that tens of millions of dollars worth of gold was mined.[13] When miners got wind of another gold rush in California, they abandoned mining in Georgia and headed to the West, and putting an end to the peak years of the Georgia Gold Rush.

The amount of gold produced within the first decade would never be matched. However, during the second half of the 19th century, mining in north Georgia experienced a modest comeback. One reason behind the renewed interest was the introduction of hydraulic mining, first used in California in the 1850s. Hydraulic mining used water under pressure from large hoses to wash away large amounts of gold-bearing gravel from riverbanks and mountains. The method demanded a complicated network of canals and pipelines to transport water down from the tops of mountain streams. Gravity provided ample water pressure to feed the mining hoses. Blast mining, also a new technology, enabled miners to dig tunnels more efficiently. The resurgence in mining was not to last. The disruption brought on by the Civil War and the closing of the Dahlonega mint branch brought Georgia's prosperous gold mining days to a halt. Even after the war was over, the mining industry never recovered, though new and sporadic mining operations were attempted.

[edit] Georgia’s Second Gold Rush

Towards the end of the 19th century, there was a significant interest in mining gold in and around Dahlonega. This period became known as the “Great Gold Revival.” Some historians have referred to the event as “Georgia’s Second Gold Rush.” [14]New mining technologies revolutionized the mining industry and brought large-scale gold mining and processing plants as well as a return to dredge mining. The largest plant to operate was created by the Dahlonega Consolidated Gold Mining Co. on Yahoola Creek. The plant consisted of a huge mill building four stories high, 100 by 300 feet (30 by 91 m), and housing 120 stamps for crushing ore.[15] None of the gold mining companies ever generated a sufficient profit to stay in business because the cost of mining and processing gold at the time surpassed its current market value and, by 1906, the majority of these companies permanently closed their doors.

[edit] References

  1. North Georgia's Gold Rush. About North Georgia. 2008-12-11.
  2. America's First Gold Rush. Huliq News. 2008-12-11.
  3. The Georgia Gold Rush. Gold Rush Gallery. 2008-12-11.
  4. The Georgia Gold Rush. Gold Rush Gallery. 2008-12-11.
  5. Gold Rush. The New Georgia Encyclopedia. 2008-12-11.
  6. America's First Gold Rush. Huliq News. 2008-12-11.
  7. Gold Rush. The New Georgia Encyclopedia. 2008-12-11.
  8. America's First Gold Rush. Huliq News. 2008-12-11.
  9. Gold Rush. The New Georgia Encyclopedia. 2008-12-11.
  10. America's First Gold Rush. Huliq News. 2008-12-11.
  11. "Thar's Gold in Them Thar Hills." Georgia Gold History. Digital Library of Georgia. 2008-12-11.
  12. "Thar's Gold in Them Thar Hills." Georgia Gold History. Digital Library of Georgia. 2008-12-11.
  13. America's First Gold Rush. Huliq News. 2008-12-11.
  14. "Thar's Gold in Them Thar Hills." Georgia Gold History. Digital Library of Georgia. 2008-12-11.
  15. "Thar's Gold in Them Thar Hills." Georgia Gold History. Digital Library of Georgia. 2008-12-11.