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Courtesy of Georgia Archives
Vanishing Georgia Collection, Image LUM-81

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The Gold Rush in Georgia

Numerous stories exist regarding who first discovered gold in Georgia and where it was first discovered, although it is uncertain which, if any, of these stories are true. What is known for certain about the Georgia Gold Rush is that the first documented record of gold being discovered in Georgia is found in a Georgia Journal newspaper article from August 1, 1829, explaining that two gold mines were previously discovered in Habersham County in extreme north Georgia. By late 1829, thousands of prospectors made their way into areas across north Georgia hoping to find their fortune. Although north Georgia was still recognized as part of the Cherokee Nation during this time, the state of Georgia initiated a Gold Lottery in 1832 that awarded Cherokee lands seized by the state to miners and prospectors. As a result, the Cherokees did not share in the newfound prosperity presented by the gold rush. As more and more people sought their fortune in the north Georgia mountains, towns such as Auraria and Dahlonega turned into "boom towns" and "instant cities", thriving because of economic activity generated by the search for gold. The city of Dahlonega in Lumpkin County, which served as the center of the gold rush, is reported to have been the home to approximately 15,000 miners during the gold rush's peak. At the same time, thousands of Cherokees continued to be forced off their lands, leading to tensions between them and the miners whom they believed were abusing the land for their own selfish desires. In 1838, the Dahlonega Mint was established as a place where miners could have their gold assessed and exchanged for gold coins. To many citizens and government officials, the establishment of the mint seemed to justify the harsh actions taken by the state to seize Cherokee lands; but only a few years later, the heyday of the gold rush was over. By the late 1840s, the same miners and prospectors who flocked to north Georgia a decade before were now leaving the area in droves, inspired to make the journey westward after hearing messages claiming that gold had been discovered in California.

Mining Operations

Placer mining involves any type of mining where raw minerals, such as gold, are deposited in sand, gravel, or on the surface of the ground, and are picked up without having to dig, use dynamite, or exert any other significant effort. This is one of the oldest forms of surface mining and is commonly known as "panning for gold". To pan for gold, prospectors placed sand from a slow moving stream into a pan with some water. They then swirled the pan at an angle until the lighter sand floated over the edge. The material left at the bottom of the pan was gold.

Subsurface mining, however, refers to a group of techniques used for the extraction of valuable minerals from under the earth's surface. This type of mining is a bit more difficult, requires more sophisticated equipment, takes up a lot more time, and can be extremely dangerous. In most cases, it also requires a team of workers to conduct all of the labor associated with subsurface mining. Subsurface mining involves tunneling into hillsides to reach gold, or other minerals, that are buried in the bedrock. Explosives are often used to break gold-bearing rocks out of the ground. These rocks are then crushed and the gold extracted by using gravity or chemicals to sort out the heavier grains. While this type of mining is more difficult, the payoffs can sometimes be much bigger than simply panning for gold. Both placer mining and subsurface mining were used during the Georgia Gold Rush.

Additional Reading

The Gold Rush in Georgia (New Georgia Encyclopedia)

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