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Mines of the Nation's First Gold Rush

By Sylvia Gailey Head

When it was learned that gold had been found in the homeland of the Cherokees in North Georgia people came with their picks and shovels. Mines were opened, some with colorful stories and strange names. These stories have been repeated over the years in old newspapers; in magazines; in journals kept by those who were there; in private letters that became public; in books such as Cain's History of Lumpkin County and those published by what is today called The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and now they are repeated on the World Wide Web.

One of the first mines was then and is now called Petticoat Mine on Petticoat Branch. Dahlonega's newspaper, the Mountain Signal , in the July 3, 1875 edition, said, "in the days when the country was filled with intruders, some young men had found a very rich place. A company of ladies or women filled their petticoats with rocks, made war upon them, drove them away and took possession of the diggins and made lots of gold by it." If the women, when they tucked up their skirts and filled them with rocks, had been the first to find the gold, that was not mentioned.

Before the gold lottery, men from the Carolinas, Tennessee and Georgia were all working in the same stream when the Georgians and the men from Tennessee got into a dispute over the possession of the place, which ended in a fight and a number of men were seriously wounded. That became known as the Battle Branch Mine .

Several years later Major John Hockenhull came from England with a large family and very little money but he acquired the Battle Branch Mine . He engaged a dozen men and they started to work with enthusiasm. After two months all they had was a big hole and they were all "well nigh" discouraged. Hockenhull candidly explained his destitution and told them that if they would rather quit he would pay them their earned wages as soon as he could. All but one man, John Pasco, left. Five minutes after Hockenhull and Pasco started to work that afternoon they struck a rich pocket of gold followed by two more with nuggets from a pea to an acorn in size. Hockenhull quickly went from penury to prosperity and built a commodious home for his family in Dawson County. This became a part of the land bought by the U.S. Government reportedly for the use of the atomic energy program. It went to the Department of Defense and was used by Lockheed as a wind tunnel to test airplanes. Later, the land was said to have been under consideration by the city of Atlanta for a second airport, which has not yet been built.

There was a mine first called Ten-fifty-two because that was the number of the lot in the 1832 gold lottery, but it was known about before that time. As Harper's magazine wrote, "It was within the reservation (Cherokee) but men used to creep across to it at night, and carry home a meal-bag full of dirt, out of which they would pan from twenty to forty dollars the next day."

A letter to the National Intelligencer dated Dahlonega, Ga., April 30, l848, read in part, at the time of the land lottery " l052 figured in the dreams of every Georgian. Among the more crazy individuals...was one Mosely who had determined to draw the much talked of prize or purchase it of the winner, even though it should be at the cost of his entire property, which was quite large." The winner was Alfred Allison of Green County and Thomas Mosely got on his horse and went to Green County to buy 1052 . Allison told him that he did not want to sell but it might be bought for $30,000. A deal was made although Mosely was left with little for the operation of the mine and it failed to produce for the new owner. It was sold by the sheriff and Mosely, "a veritable beggar, left the country for parts unknown." A few years later Allison, who drew the lot, was again the owner and was realizing a handsome sum of money from newly discovered gold on his lottery prize.

When England's geologist, G. W Featherstonhough was in Dahlonega in l837, he visited 1052 and wrote in his journal, "I found about 300 tons of ore quarried and abandoned. The proprietor had given $30,000 for the vein and 40 acres of land, but being ignorant of the art of reducing ores, became discouraged and had given up. I had never seen a more promising vein, and it would be difficult to find one better situated for working. All the ore could be taken down the hill at a very slight expense, the water power was abundant and the lode inexhaustible, for it was six feet wide."

State geologist Yeates told the story of the Free Jim Mine as it was told to him by W.P. Price, a life long and prominent citizen of Dahlonega. Sometime in the l830's, a free negro by the name of James Boisclair came from Augusta, Ga. to Dahlonega and opened a cake and fruit store. He discovered, on lot 998, a vein of gold ore and wanted to buy it. Not being allowed, by law, to buy or sell real estate except through a guardian, Dr. Joseph J. Singleton became his representative. It is known that Boisclair owned the mine for many years and worked it with great success. The proceeds of this mine enabled him to establish the largest general merchandise store in the town, which also was a success. Then he established a bar room, which led to trouble. On the records of the Baptist Church of Dahlonega is an account of his being expelled for selling liquor on Sunday. However, he repented and was in time received again into the church.

When gold was discovered in California, he contracted with forty or fifty miners to go with him to seek their fortune. He was to pay their way and they were to give him, as compensation, half of their first year's earnings. He had been in California only a short time when he became involved in a dispute over a claim and was shot and killed. The Free Jim Mine is now underneath the Pine Tree Mfg. plant and other business houses within the city limits of Dahlonega.

The Griscom lot (996) was granted to Drewry Wall in the l832 lottery, who later sold it to Jesse C. Henly. Henly then sold a half interest to John W. Grady. One night Henly was pushed out of the court house door by a drunken man and falling on the sharp edge of a step he was injured internally and soon died. The coroner of the county levied on the dead man's property to pay the cost of the inquest. The half interest belonging to Henly's estate was sold by the sheriff and was deeded by him to William Martin.

One old fellow reminiscing about the Boly Fields Mine on the Chestatee River said, "when this writer saw it, there had been hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gold taken out, and there was a section of the vein uncovered in the bed of the river, over which the water poured, the surface of which was literally covered with gold for about six feet by two. It was about the size and shape of a good sized coffin lid. Thirty-seven hundred pennyweights of gold was taken out at one blast one afternoon in a few minutes. (A pennyweight amounts to about one dollar). Old man Fields was offered $100,000 for the lot by northern capitalists but refused to sell for less than half a million. The trade was not made, and in a short time the vein was exhausted or lost, and has not been found since."

There was a mine called the Auraria until it was bought by John F. Bigbee and Company. Then it was changed to the Josephine , which was the name of Bigbee's wife. "State geologist Yeates wrote, "Probably no mine in the county has been so productive, as a gravel placer, as the Josephine " and John Lilly with one helper, "took 1,050 dwts of gold from an area of auriferous gravel eight by ten feet square" and "it is said, that this mine has been the largest producer of nuggets in Lumpkin County." One nugget is said to have weighed 300 dwts.

There was a mine called the Pigeon Roost, which became part of the Barlow . Prof. A. W. Cain tells how it got its name. " Pigeon Roost is a place four miles south of Dahlonega where the passenger pigeons formerly roosted in immense numbers. (As late as the Civil War) these birds thronged the heavens in countless millions, literally darkening the sky in their flight. At the place where they roosted, the boughs were stripped from the trees and large limbs were frequently broken off by their weight. Strange to say that of all this vast number of passenger pigeons that were once seen, not a single representative is left, the last one in the world having died at one o'clock on the afternoon of September 1, l914."

When G. W. Featherstonhough was in Dahlonega he wrote in his journal, "...we rode to the washing establishment of a Mr. Miller, at the head of Pigeon Roost Creek, which was all ransacked and dug up like the other streams; here I was made acquainted with a fact which rather puzzled me...Mr. Miller showed us a log of pine-wood of large dimensions, lying upon the naked talcose slate exactly in the spot where it was found after the superincumbent soil had been removed. He assured us that he was present when it was found buried beneath the gravel, and that gravel was covered with the usual blue clay and superficial soil, the whole deposited between the rock and the surface being 21 feet deep...I examined this log very carefully: one end of it was worn away into a crescent-like form by the trituration of other substances; the other side which laid upon the rock, was perfectly clean, and bore distinct marks of the slate impressed upon it, whilst the top had quartz gravel thickly indented into it. Part of the outside of the log was carbonized while the inside was quite fresh, though somewhat discoloured.

"I felt much interested in contemplating this representative of the ancient forest of this continent, of the period of which it is most difficult to form any conjecture that will be universally approved of. Nevertheless, there may have been a state of things which admits of it being consistent with everything else we observe. The interval of time betwixt the retreat of the ocean from this part of the country and the excavation by retrocession of the valley where this log was found, may have been so long as to admit the growth of trees."

Thirty-four of the 40 acre gold lots drawn in the 1832 land lottery formed a mine called the Barlow . According to the state's geologists in Bulletin 4-A, number 747 was its principal lot. It was drawn by Martin Strother of Newton County who sold it to Farish Carter. As the Barlow was thought by many to be the richest of mines, Carter was called by many, the richest man in Georgia. He bought many acres of land in Cass (renamed Bartow) County where his harvests of oats were legendary. If one wanted to stress the immensity of something, it was always "more than Carter had oats," which can sometimes be heard today. Cartersville, Ga. got his name.

Following are the names of some of the many people who at one time or another bought and sold parts or undivided parts of the famous lot numbered 747: Thomas J. Rusk, the son of an Irish stonemason, a lawyer and resident of Habersham County, who attended court and bought mining property in Lumpkin County. He invested heavily in a company whose managers embezzled its funds and fled to Texas. Rusk pursued them there only to find that they had squandered the money. He remained in Texas to fight in its wars, to serve as its Chief Justice, to help accomplish its annexation to the U. S. and to represent it in the Senate. Many years later another member of this family, Dean Rusk, was in Washington as Secretary of State.

Robert H. Moore came to Dahlonega from Clarke County 1839 bringing slaves to dig for gold. Unlike most who came seeking their fortune, he became a permanent citizen who, at one time, was coiner of the U. S. Branch Mint and he is there today through the lives of his descendants.

General Andrew Jackson Hansell, lived in Dahlonega for thirty years. He was a fighter who fought in the War of 1812 and the Civil War and he fought in the streets according to little Emily Rossignol in a letter she wrote to her uncle while the family lived at Harrison Riley's hotel. She was the daughter of Paul Rossignol, the second superintendent of the U. S. Branch Mint at Dahlonega. After saying that Dahlonega was the same as far as fights were concerned, she added "the other day whilst all the family and the bridal party were walking in the piazza, Gen. Hansell and Doctor McAfee had a most dreadful fight before the Gen's law office, quite near us you know.

"Gen. H. grasped a piece of board that chanced to be near him and knocked the Dr. on the head and laid him prostrate with the first blow. He then jumped on him and continued to beat him on the head with the board until he was covered with blood. As soon as the latter could use his hands he seized a pistol which the Gen. no sooner perceived than he started in a race for his office, instead of disarming his foe.

"As he ran, the Dr. took him to fire but his pistol fortunately snapped. He fired the second time but the Gen. had reached the door and escaped unhurt through a back window.

"I believe all is made up now."

A history of Cobb County tells that General Hansell was in Roswell after the Civil War as president of Roswell Factory and lived in Mimosa Hall, famous for its architectural beauty.

Dr. M. H. VanDyke, the man who with Amory Dexter, a civil engineer, built the Yahoola Ditch , a system of dams, ditches, tunnels and trestles that began at the headwaters of Yahoola Creek seven or eight miles north of Dahlonega. This aqueduct was some twenty-five miles long to allow for gravity to deliver water with enough force to wash down hillsides. The beauty of wooded hills and valleys was destroyed by man's greed for gold.

And there were John C. Calhoun, the powerful United States Senator from South Carolina and General U. S. Grant, subsequently President of the United States, who also had obtained some of the prized lot.

The Hand and Barlow United Gold Mines and Hydraulic Works of Georgia with its principal office in Milwaukee, Wis. finally obtained the whole of lot # 747 along with the other lots aforementioned. Samuel L. M. Barlow gave the mine its name and Nathan H. Hand had bought, repaired, and improved the Yahoola Ditch and brought an extension of it to the Barlow . It was renamed the Hand Ditch .

These are a few of the mines that supplied the U. S. Branch Mint at Dahlonega with the gold to make into money. One with a story that should be told is the Calhoun , first called the Obar , Lumpkin County's oldest mine and the one with the longest history. And there is Findley Ridge , with its highest point, Crown Mountain , only a half mile from the court house and within the town of Dahlonega. It is riddled by mines with their tunnels and cuts and shafts and shoots chasing veins of gold.

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