This past April, Bunny and I traveled several days through the North Georgia Mountains. During the week, our excursion took us to the beautiful town of Dahlonega which is known for the first major American Gold Rush. In fact, the Georgia Gold Rush began twenty years before gold was discovered in California. The most widely accepted claim to the discovery of gold in Georgia was attributed to Benjamin Parks who found gold under a rock in 1828 while deer hunting. When word got out about gold being found, Parks is to have said, it seemed that within days the whole world must have heard for men came on foot, on horseback, and in wagons acting more like crazy men than anything else. Within a year, thousands of miners who were described as thieves, gamblers, and murderers descended on Georgia. One judge was to have said it formed a lawless, ungovernable community. The Gold Rush was intense for a while since the Georgia gold was such a high quality product and was said to have produced a higher percentage of gold than the later California mines. With the large number of unscrupulous miners looking for gold, numerous mines were illegally developed in the area. Miners that went into the Cherokee Nation Land came into conflict with the Cherokee Indians whose territory they were trespassing on. In a rash of gold fever, the miners raised immense political pressure against the Cherokee simply because they wanted the gold. Eventually the state government assumed ownership of the Cherokee Nation renaming it Cherokee County. In 1838 the Cherokee Indians who remain in the area were rounded up and forced to march to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears. In addition to destroying the Cherokee people in the area, the miners devastated the environment through ruthless mining methods. Entire mountains were leveled by the Hydraulic Mining Process where high pressured water was used to remove soil so that the gold could be easily found. At the height of the gold rush, around 15,000 miners moved to the town of Auraria that originally became the county seat. Later, the county government was moved to the town of Dahlonega which was named for the Cherokee word meaning yellow money or gold. Because of the large amount of gold being mined in Georgia, Congress approved a branch mint that opened in 1838 and remain opened until the unset of the Civil War. From around 1828 to 1848 Dahlonega produced around 35 million in gold coins. Gold mining continued in Dahlonega until around 1906 when the Consolidated Mining Company closed.
The old Dahlonega Court House is presently the home of the Dahlonega Gold Museum which chronicles the community’s gold rush story. With the loss of the gold industry in Dahlonega, the local people had to reinvent themselves. Today, the area is a successful tourist region, the rolling hills have become profitable vineyards, and the location of the former mint is the site of North Georgia College. The loss of Georgia Gold gave the people an opportunity to focus on new goals.
As I think about Williamsburg County, we may not have had gold in the ground, but we have enjoyed the benefit of gold in the fields and the golden era of our many communities. The railroad was important to towns like Lane, Salters, and Kingstree. Rich farm land and the golden tobacco leaf brought wealth to communities and families. Later industries produced good jobs and a comfortable way of life for local residents. Today, life is somewhat different in our community and for many families. With the loss of industries and other income producing jobs, many local residents believe that our best days are behind us. Perhaps we just need to be like the people of Dahlonega and focus on new goals and reinvent ourselves. This past week, Bunny and I had our friends Connie and Steve vacationing with us. One night the four of us were discussing life in Williamsburg County and Steve commented on the fact that he knew little about our community, but he was convinced that we were a community that did not work well together. He went on the say that Williamsburg County was charming with its history, the Black River, and the abundant natural resources. And, with our location near the beach and Charleston, the community should be as doing well. He said, as he saw it, if we all were working towards the goal of making Williamsburg successful, there would be no stopping us. Sometimes observers from the outside have a clearer picture of what is really going on in a community than the people living in the area. We may believe, say, and even try to work together for a better Williamsburg County, but if we can not convince a visitor, then we may be just fooling ourselves. The gold is not gone in Williamsburg County, we just need to adjust our goals to make it a better place to live and work for everyone.