2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 206-16
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


SMITH, Michael S. and HINES, Elizabeth, Department of Geography and Geology, University of North Carolina Wilmington, 601 South College Road, Wilmington, NC 28403, smithms@uncw.edu

Gold mining suffered a major decline in North Carolina after the discovery of the richer and more extensive gold deposits in California in 1848. However, the renewed interest in the southern gold fields triggered by the spectacular production in California led investors from the northern states to shop for mining properties during the growing national prosperity of the early 1850’s. The North Carolina gold miners who did not join the western rush continued to work the shafts of the Piedmont using new and increasingly sophisticated innovations such as hydraulic mining techniques and mercury amalgamation from California, until the advent of the Civil War.

From the end of Reconstruction (1877) to 1930, gold mining in North Carolina was sporadic and often funded by outside investors, which led to some rampant speculation and get-rich-quick schemes. The work of the North Carolina Geological Survey under W. C. Kerr (1865-1882), and later publications by Nitze and Hanna (1896) and Nitze and Wilkins (1897), produced a flurry of complimentary scientific papers about various mining regions that were read by mining engineers as well as by potential investors. The glimmers of promise brought about by these reports, as well as the newspaper stories and articles, provided the speculators with a framework for their scams.

Probably the most flamboyant of these grifters was Walter George Newman (1860-1918), who epitomized the credo of this period - speculate, sell mining stocks, and run away with the profits. Although speculators like Newman reinvigorated the mining industry to line their own pockets, they generally produced little gold. This was because copper mining, with gold and silver as secondary products, drove most of the mining fervor during this period. It used increasing complex technology and had associated environmental issues. Even with the technology and the labor available, more money was made selling paper or speculating on metals futures than by actually extracting gold, silver, or copper from the earth.

Following the Great Depression of the 1930s, gold prices and production slowly increased until the Second World War, but never became a major industry in the South as they were out-competed by more profitable gold fields in the western United States, Alaska, Canada, Australia, and South Africa.