August 3, 2013

Description of a North Georgia Gold Mining Operations, 1832

From page 2 of the Savannah Georgian on October 4, 1832:

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[FROM A CORRESPONDENT.]


GOLD MINES.-- The gold mines that I visited, are situated about 24 miles above Clarksville, and among them is Loud's celebrated mine.  I was cautioned against catching the gold seeking fever so prevalent, but it was unnecessary, as I have always viewed it as the most uncertain speculation that could be pursued, and I saw nothing to alter that opinion.  The first was a mine belonging to a company, one of whom was Mr. Mirable, our host, who superintended it.  Twelve negroes were at work, some of whom were loosing the earth with mattocks, some carrying it to the rocker in barrows, and the others were working that machine.-- It is long and narrow, suspended at the ends to a frame, and rocked by means of a wooden arm that crosses it.  It is covered with an iron plate, pierced like a sieve, on which the earth is laid while a stream of water falling at the head or highest part, washes away all the soil and gravel of a certain size falls through the holes, the larger pieces being worked off.  Below the iron plate is a drawer or trough, divided into compartments, into each of which is a small portion of quicksilver, which active agent fastens upon every particle of gold, however minute, the moment it enters these cells.  We searched the drawer, it then being 12 o'clock, but found only two very small pieces.  The product by these twelve hands since they commenced work they told us had averaged a penny weight (80 or 90 cents) per day each, and this was considered a good business.  Each day's gold is put up in a separate wrapper, and at the end of the month the quick silver is evaporated.  The places most productive were at the base of hills and between them.  The surface soil to the depth of from six inches to six feet is first removed when they come to a strata of gravel which contains the gold.  The work appears to be excessively laborious, attended with great exposure but they say the negroes are healthy and contented; and we did see white people at the same employment, some engaged for their own benefit on small squares of soil they had leased, and others merely as laborers.  Loud's mines, of which I had heard so much, respecting its productiveness, adjoins this.  The proprietor was absent, and I did not perceive more than three rockers at work.  It is said that he bought it of Mr. Blake's agent for $10,000, but the principal in consequence of the sale being without his authority, required $11,000 more.  Vast quantities of gold, it is said, have been extracted here and sent to the native country (England) of the owner, and a solid lump had been dug out, weighing over 800 penny weights, and several very large though smaller pieces.  I could not here, notwithstanding these windfalls, that the products had paid the investment, and I am now told that Loud has sold this property to Col. Dickson, the agent of an English company, for $120,000, and that he (Col. D.) had made further purchases amounting in all to over $300,000.

On this place a complicated inclosure, intended to supersede the rockers in working for gold, worked by a steam engine, the invention of a mechanist named Bosworth, who formerly lived in Savannah, has been erected.  It was prepared at the north, and brought up a great expense, which was enhanced by the difficulty of getting a head of water to supply the boiler and washer.  Unfortunately when put in operation it was an entire failure. Two trials have been made without success, though the projector expects to succeed after a third.  It is a pity that so much expense (from 5 to $10,000) and labor should prove useless.  He has a vein mine, 5 miles from this, where the gold is gathered from the rock pulverised and washed, and I should suppose the engine at any rate would be unfit there.  The deposit mines are on land of the best soil, and it is really melancholy to see God's earth so defaced as these mining operations leave it.  Broad trenches, from 16 to 20 feet long and of a depth sufficient to get out of the whole strata of gravel, are dug, the substance all carried off by water, whilst the stones in huge heaps washed and bleached lie at their sides, thus totally ruining it for agricultural purposes.  Whole acres of what was productive soil are to be seen in this way pricked to the bones in appearance and destroyed.  Before the gold-finding machines, or rockets, came in use, the gold was obtained by pouring, a tedious process.  A man takes an ordinary tin pudding pan, fills it with earth, and with both hands holds it in the water, where he puts it in motion so as to wash away the soil, throwing out the gravel until there remains but a small portion in the bottom, when he washes more carefully until all the earth and gravel is exhausted and the gold, if any, remains.  The panning I saw produced by a few minute particles hardly discernible and not worth collecting.  I saw parties of two and three persons arrived with spades and pans, travelling about among the mines, picking up what they could catch.  Indeed the neighborhood was crowded with persons connected with the mines looking for land, buying gold, selling bacon, and corn, &c, &c.  A few, as I could learn, very few, make money out of gold hunting.  Your money makers and the speculators in gold lots, buying the land from the original owners and selling at ten and twenty times the cost.  The total number of persons whose manual labor is employed in the search in the counties of Habersham, Hall and Rabun, is about 2500, but I do not believe that if the total product was divided among them they would be paid.  The whole amount of gold found in our state cannot be ascertained, because so much of it is remitted in bars to Europe.  Agents are constantly going about buying it up and some of the banks have resident agents for that purpose and to circulate their bills.  Wonderful tales are in circulation respecting the richness of the lands in Cherokee county, arising no doubt from the strict guard kept over it.  I heard it seriously said that a man could make $20 a week by crossing the river, filling his saddle-bags with earth and returning to this side to pan it.  A company have got a large flat in the Chestata[?], with iron buckets to scoop up the sand from the bottom, worked by horses, on the same principle as our dredging machine for deepening the river.  The sand is discharged on board and washed in the usual manner.  The boat is allowed to work only on the one side or half of the river, and I could learn nothing positive as to the successes of the scheme.  It is difficult to ascertain what are the actual profits of these adventurers.  I could not learn that any of them were getting rich, and I sincerely believe that if the only gold obtained was that in small particles through the rockers, many would soon abandon the pursuit; but it is the larger lumps of the glittering metal that are sometimes found that will make men mad and keep up the excitement.

It was told as a fact that about the time gold was first discovered, a person named Hernden of Elbert county, visited a tract he had drawn in Habersham, where finding it apparently of no value, gave it to his entertainer, Powel, for his night's lodging, and gave a written promise to execute titles.-- Shortly after gold was discovered on it, and Powel got $4000 for it.  The original owner threw no difficulty in the way when informed of its value but promptly and honestly made titles.  It now belongs to D. Blake, who gave $5,300 for it.  Many impositions have been successfully practised in the sale of lots by what is termed salting, that is a few penny weights of gold are judiciously sprinkled over those parts exhibiting the other decisive signs of its existence, so that as the proof is in, the "panning," the gold gold hunter must inevitably find some "particles" and bids accordingly.  A gentleman at whose house we staid one night was duped in this way, but now laughs at the deception as it only cost him a few hundred dollars.  He placed twelve hands at work, who after thirty days of incessant labor exhibited about $13 worth of gold as the result!  There being no possibility of proving deception there is no redress.

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