The California Gold Rush has been the subject of interest to Americans over the last century and a half. Legends, stories, and histories about it fill book store and library shelves. This is understandable. Striking “pay dirt” was a dream come true to the early settlers who risked life and limb to follow that dream. Their stories remain vital and exciting, and glamorous to this day.
What is confusing, though, is why a very similar Gold Rush twenty years earlier has been so comparatively ignored. Some claim that Rush was started when Benjamin Parks discovered gold in White County, Georgia in 1828. Other stories Claim that Jessie Hogan first found gold in Dehlonega on Ward’s Creek. Another tale credits John Witheroods, finding a large nugget in White County on Duke’s Creek. Whoever the credit truly belongs to, mining operations were in full swing in White County, Georgia by 1829 and by 1830 had spread to Lumpkin, Union, and Cherokee Counties as well.
By late in 1829 thousands of prospectors from all over the states had swarmed to Georgia, an onslaught still referred to as the “Great Intrusion”. It is this Rush that led to the “Trail of Tears” when the government drove the Cherokees, who had been panning gold in Georgia since before the white man settled in the area., out of Georgia in response to the ever growing conquest of gold by the white man.
The Gold mining industries boomed in Georgia, with towns springing up here and there almost over night. The government built a mint in Dahlonega in 1838 in reaction to the large amounts of metal being unearthed. In 1849 word of the California discovery of gold reached the East coast. As prospectors packed their pans and shovels and headed West, mining began to taper off and had almost died by 1858. In the 1880’s with the invention of hydraulic mining, the industry began to pick up again and gold is still being mined in Georgia today.
Evidence of the country’s first Gold Rush can be see today in Atlanta where the State Building is crowned with a dome of gold from the mines of Dehlonega.
© Sally Taylor