There are several popular stories of the beginning of Georgia's gold rush;
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.
The Great Intrusion
By late 1829 north Georgia, known at the time as the Cherokee Nation, was flooded by thousands of prospectors lusting for gold. Niles' Register reported in the spring of 1830 that there were four thousand miners working along Yahoola Creek alone. While in his nineties, Benjamin Parks recalled the scene in the Atlanta Constitution (July 15, 1894):
The news got abroad, and such excitement you never saw. It seemed within a few days as if the whole world must have heard of it, for men came from every state I had ever heard of. They came afoot, on horseback and in wagons, acting more like crazy men than anything else. All the way from where Dahlonega now stands to Nuckollsville [Auraria] there were men panning out of the branches and making holes in the hillsides.
The sudden influx of miners into the Cherokee Nation was known even at the time as the Great Intrusion. One writer said in the Cherokee Phoenix, "Our neighbors who regard no law and pay no respects to the laws of humanity are now reaping a plentiful harvest. . . . We are an abused people." But there was little the Cherokees could do; it seemed the louder they protested, the more eagerly the miners came.
Gold rush towns sprang up quickly in north Georgia, particularly near the center of the gold region in present-day Lumpkin County. Auraria became an instant boomtown, growing to a population of 1,000 by 1832. The county seat, called Licklog at the time, in 1833 became known as Dahlonega, for the Cherokee word tahlonega, meaning golden. Within a few months after its establishment nearly 1,000 people were crowded into the settlement, with about 5,000 people in the surrounding county.
The Dahlonega Mint
From the beginning of the gold rush, trade in the gold region suffered from a limited circulation of currency.
The Trail of Tears
When the mint went into operation many saw it as a national affirmation of Georgia's efforts over the preceding decade. To the area's residents, this federal establishment was a seal of approval and a promise of future prosperity. But it was a prosperity that was to be denied the native Cherokees. Between 1805 and 1832 the state of Georgia held lotteries to distribute land seized from the Cherokees and Creeks. Nearly three quarters of the land in Georgia was allocated by the lottery system. Finally, the U.S. Army drove the Cherokees northwestward to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma during the bitterly cold winter of 1838-39. Deprived of proper food and clothing, at least 4,000—one-fifth of the entire Cherokee population—died on the journey. The forced migration became known as the Trail of Tears.
The Gold Plays Out
Just as the mint began production and the last of the Cherokees were removed, the reason for both began to disappear: the gold was playing out. By the early 1840s it was becoming difficult for miners to make a living washing the placer deposits, and hard-rock gold veins were becoming harder to mine. The heyday of the gold rush was over.
In 1849 word of the great California gold strikes reached the miners of Georgia, and they began preparing to go west.
Gold Fever Endures
Gold mining in Georgia saw a brief resurgence in the 1850s, when miners brought the hydraulic mining technique back from California. However, the mining industry again fell into a slump during the Civil War (1861-65), and the Dahlonega Mint closed.
Mining continued on a limited scale until the turn of the twentieth century, when the advent of new mining technologies gave rise to a flurry of new activity. Several companies set up gold-processing plants, one of which, erected by the Dahlonega Consolidated Gold Mining Company on Yahoola Creek, was the largest ever built east of the Mississippi River. None of the operations were able to turn a profit, though, and they soon went out of business.
Clair M. Birdsall, The United States Branch Mint at Dahlonega, Georgia: Its History and Coinage (Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1984).
E. Merton Coulter, Auraria: The Story of a Georgia Gold Mining Town (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1956).
Fletcher M. Green, "Georgia's Forgotten Industry: Gold Mining," Georgia Historical Quarterly 19 (June 1935).
Sylvia Gailey Head and Elizabeth W. Etheridge, The Neighborhood Mint: Dahlonega in the Age of Jackson (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1986).
David Williams, The Georgia Gold Rush: Twenty-niners, Cherokees, and Gold Fever (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993).
David Williams, "The Great Gold Revival: Georgia's Second Gold Rush, 1899-1906," Atlanta History: A Journal of Georgia and the South 35 (fall 1991).
David Williams, Valdosta State University
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