Gold-digging in Georgia: America’s First Gold Rush

California’s romanticized gold rush days obscure a longer history of American gold mining, one with deep roots in the southern Appalachian Mountains. A history of north Georgia from the late 1820s until the Civil War is a story of America’s first major gold rush, a southern one that preceded the California frenzy. This antebellum Appalachian gold rush served as one of the many southern paths to industrialism; what began as a small extractive industry quickly reached an industrial scale. It was a crucial developmental period in Appalachian industrial history and that of the nation’s mineral economy.

Georgia gold fever, while profitable, was also destructive as it remade local economies, societies, and environments. In pursuit of wealth, miners ripped apart stream beds and hillsides, cut down forests, and erected miles of wooden flumes and towns of wooden shacks. Public and private mints sprang up to transform precious metal into currency and, with the help of the state and federal governments, speculators obsessed with the prospect of riches drove the Cherokee from Georgia.


This exhibit is based on the article “From Georgia to California and Back: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Southern Gold Mining” by Dr. Drew Swanson, published in the Georgia Historical Quarterly, courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society. The Hargrett Library is thankful to Dr. Swanson for allowing the use of his research to guide the development of the exhibition and its content.

This exhibit was made possible by the generous support of John F. McMullan, the James W. Woodruff, Sr. Center for the Natural History of Georgia, and the Stephen E. Draper Center and Archives for the Study of Water Law and Policy.