Gold, Silver, Copper and Greenstone

Spanish Carrack - FMNH
Spanish Carrack – FMNH

In many sections of his book, René Goulaine de Laudonniére discussed being given or seeing gold chains, gold sheets, gold nuggets, slabs of silver and silver ore.  The valuable metals were always in the possession of the provincial leaders or town chiefs.  Both at Charlesfort and Fort Caroline, the former owners of the gold and silver consistently stated that these precious commodities came from the mountains to the north.   This is exactly what the Natives in the Florida Panhandle told members of the de Soto Expedition and South Carolina Natives told Spanish Captain Juan Pardo in 1567.

By late 1564 food had become scarce at Fort Carolina because local Indians had become somewhat hostile to the colonists. The Frenchmen had not committed any atrocities toward their neighbors, but the locals were getting tired of feeding a foreign people, who showed signs of wanting the take over their land.  A faction of the garrison staged a mutiny.   René Goulaine de Laudonniére was not murdered, but he was put in chains, while his officers were disarmed.  The mutineers resented rationing and their commander’s plans to build a boat and return to France.  They demanded the right to both contact the Spanish for food (not a good idea) and also make contact with the Apalachee gold miners in the Georgia Mountains.

Three small parties or individuals were given permission to explore widely in the Southeast. La Roche Ferriére headed north on the May River to find the Native gold mines. As proof of his success in finding trade opportunities with the Mountain Apalache’s, he shipped back to Fort Caroline mantles woven with feathers, quivers covered with choice furs, arrows tipped with gold, quartz crystals and green stone celts that looked like jade or beryl.  American anthropologists and historians have consistently scoffed at this statement in the memoirs of Fort Caroline survivors.  Modern scholars knew for a fact that it was blarney intended to entice the King of France into financing another expedition.  “No Apalache’s lived in the Georgia Mountains and there was no greenstone resembling jade there.”

These academicians should have done their homework.  The gold deposits in north-central Georgia are often associated with deposits of rock known as green schist or greenstone.  In pre-European times, the Muskogean Indians living in the Etowah Valley would manufacture celts and wedges from greenstone then export them to other provinces in the lower Southeast.  There is also a green marble found in the gold-bearing soils of western Lumpkin, western Dawson and Pickens Counties, Georgia. It is a semi-precious stone that is superior to the jadeite minded in southern Mexico.

The first major gold rush in the United States occurred in the North Georgia Mountains.  Gold was rediscovered in the Nacoochee Valley in 1828, shortly after that area of Georgia had been ceded to the state by the Cherokee Indians.  A sudden wave of prospectors and geologists determined that the gold bearing veins covered much of the north-central and western part of the state, generally paralleling the Chattahoochee River.

It had been known for a long time that there was gold somewhere in the Georgia Mountains. As soon as the memoirs of René de Laudonniére were published, European maps carried broad labels that described the Appalachian Mountains as being gold-bearing (see Part Six.) Miners employed by Senator John C. Calhoun found the ruins of a mining village on Dukes Creek in the Nacoochee Valley.  Mining activities revealed numerous wrought iron tools that were typical of the 16th and 17th century.  A Spanish cigar mold was also discovered.  The archeological site is described in Charles C. Jones 1873 book on the Native Americans of Georgia.

During the early 1690s a combined British-Native American expedition had observed many smoke plumes rising from the Nacoochee Valley.  The Native guides told the British officers that the smoke was being created by Spanish gold miners smelting gold and working silver.  These gold miners were probably Sephardic Jews.  It is also quite likely that they paid off officials in St. Augustine, 360 miles away, to avoid harassment from the Spanish Inquisition. Queen Anne’s war began in 1701, but England and Spain were not on best of terms before then.  The British let the Cherokees do their dirty work.  The miners were most likely massacred by Indians.

There are no significant deposits of silver in the Georgia Mountains, but some silver ore is found in the Snowbird and Nantahala Mountains that adjoin Nantahala Gorge.  Silver ore was never mined commercially while the area was part of the United States.  However, the earliest Anglo-American settlers did find primitive silver mines immediately east of the Nantahala Outdoor Recreation Center.

Gemology, History,

Thornton, Richard. Sixteenth Century French Exploration of the Southeast. Web. See Further: People of One Fire. Georgia, © 2012.

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