Gold Occurrences in Virginia

The first printed reference the gold being found in Virginia was in 1782, when it was reported by Thomas Jefferson involving a 4 pound piece of gold bearing rock that was found on a north side of the Rappahannock River at a distance of about 4 miles below its falls. This was only the first report because gold was produced in Virginia amounting to about 100,000 troy ounces dating from 18 42 1947 when the last of the over 301 gold mines and prospects in the state closed down.

Alluvial (Placer) Gravel containing placer gold.
Photo by Dennis Garrett

The bulk of this gold was discovered in the so-called Gold-Pyrite Belt that essentially includes the Piedmont and the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. By May of 1995 the division of mineral resources had documented 301 mines and prospects producing gold and silver or places where they are known to have occurred.

Besides the placer deposits that are found in the areas of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Mountains that contain gold; it is also found as free gold in quartz veins, or it may occur with pyrite as thin films on the crystal faces between individual pirate crystals. Gold also is known to occur as an alloy with other base metals in various massive sulfide deposits. It is the weathering of these kind of deposits that produces placer gold that can occur as grains, flakes or sometimes even nuggets of free gold.

The first lode deposit of gold that was discovered in Virginia occurred during 1806 at the Whitehall mine that was 1.5 miles to the northwest of the Shady Grove Church in the western part of Spotsylvania County. The Virginia Mining Company of New York has the title of being the first mining company in Virginia to produce lode gold. This company operated a lode deposit of gold in the so-called “Grasty” tract along Mine Run in Orange County for over 100 years from 1831 to 1934 of over a century. Old records show that at least five mining companies operated in the general area in period from 1831 until 1910 having several different episodes of substantial mining activity.

During the early 1800s: Virginia was often extracted from what are termed shallow saprolites that were formed by deep weathering of the rock that contained lode gold. The type of gold mining that occurred in these deposits was relatively simple because labor was cheap so they were able to use hand shoveling; panning, sluicing and dredging that could be accomplished without any further processing. This type of deposit is able to produce gold at a profit in 1837 if there was a dollar's worth of gold available from every bushel of ore. At the time it was estimated the cost of mining 100 pounds of rock was about $.35 per bushel. Deposits of this type were mined until the deposits were exhausted.

Once saprolite deposits were used up the miners had to resort to underground mining methods for the recovery of gold. Operating in underground gold mine is far more expensive than working placer deposits because the ore is in the form of a hard rock that has to be pulverized before any kind of recovery system can be used. During the decades preceding the Civil War it has been estimated that lode gold mines of Virginia produced about 3000 ounces of gold every year.

It was the California Gold Rush of 1849 that really spell the death knell to gold mining in Virginia because many of the miners moved to California allowing gold production in Virginia to decline. During the Civil War gold mining operations throughout the South were destroyed as a matter of policy by the Union Army.

During a meeting of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) in early March of 2008 the author was speaking with some other mining executives where it was revealed that one of the main targets for exploration in the near future would be in the southern Appalachians. Even if the big boys haven't arrived yet there are hundreds of part-time gold miners that have been combing the hills and valleys of Virginia for gold.