Finding gold in New England would be a great way to spend your summer vacation this year. True, your chances of striking it rich are practically nil, but it's an opportunity for sightseeing in the countryside and getting as much outdoor exercise as you might want, at your own pace, as well as plenty of sunshine (if the notoriously fickle New England weather cooperates). You might even come home with a little gold dust.
♦ There's gold in them thar hills
Gold fever, inspired by the fabulous tales and tangible wealth the Spanish were extracting from the New World, motivated some of the first colonists to seek their fortunes on the east coast of North America. Captain John Smith complained, in 1608, that among some of his people, “[t]here was no talke, no hope, nor worke, but dig gold, wash gold, refine gold, load gold.”
In 1614, Epenow, a Native American resident of Capewack (Martha’s Vinyard) who had been kidnapped by European sailors, told his captors about a gold mine back home. Influential men in England were contacted and a ship was dispatched to Capewack, bearing Epenow and three other natives, as well as hopeful colonists and prospectors. However, once they had brought him home, Epenow escaped, leaving the Europeans empty-handed, for there was no gold mine anywhere in the area.
Things got real in 1799, when a young boy found a 17-pound nugget some 30 miles east of Charlotte, North Carolina, and the million-dollar Southern gold boom began. Many big strikes happened in Canada, too, but it wasn’t until the early 1800s that gold rush days came to New England.
In 1826, a 6.5-ounce nugget was found in Vermont’s West River near Newfane, and the glitter of gold was spotted in Buffalo Brook by a former California 49er in 1850. Small finds happened in many areas, for example, near Lyman, Maine, in 1864. Several mines also operated in the Bath area, and even Maine’s beach sands became known for their occasional gold deposits. Some small mines operated profitably in the western White Mountains of New Hampshire, and a few finds even happened in Massachusetts (Dedham, 1863) and Connecticut.
The New England gold boom was all pretty much over by the end of the 19th century, but individuals have continued to find small amounts of gold there ever since. Accidental discoveries also occur from time to time. For example, workers dredging out an area near Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, Maine, for a parking lot in the 20th century were surprised and very delighted to see some glittering grains of gold come up along with all the muddy debris...but that was all there was, and the area ended up as intended - a parking lot, not a gold mine.
♦ Vacationing for (mostly) fun and (maybe) a little profit
Prospecting isn’t a big tourist industry in New England, but some locales in former gold boom areas are fairly well known, including Coos Canyon along the Swift River in Maine, and the Wild Ammonoosuc River near Bath, New Hampshire, where entrepreneurs sometimes rent equipment or even provide free lessons on the basics of panning gold.
Libraries may help you find more information on potential gold sites in New England, as some of the best books, like John Hiller’s “New England Placer Gold” and “Yankee Placer Gold” are out of print. State geologist offices and online rock-hound and metal-detection forums are other good resources for tips on where to go, prospecting techniques and equipment, as well as what to expect during an outing and how to dress and prepare for it so you can enjoy it safely and comfortably.
Will you get rich? In a word, no. America is a net gold exporter and consistently ranks among the top five gold-producing countries world-wide, but the major US lode and placer mines are big operations, processing many tons of ore daily, and none is located in New England.
Too, as the United States Geological Survey (USGS) puts it, “Over the past several centuries the country has been thoroughly searched by prospectors...Serious prospecting should not be attempted by anyone without sufficient capital to support a long and possibly discouraging campaign of preliminary work. The prospective gold seeker must have ample funds to travel to and from the region he selects to prospect and to support the venture. He must be prepared to undergo physical hardships, possess a car capable of traveling the roughest and steepest roads, and not be discouraged by repeated disappointments.”
Will you have fun, if you spend your summer vacation this way? Driving up into the New England hills on a sunny summer day to wade through cool streams and brooks, socializing with the locals and with other vacationers, and maybe even earning the reward of a little golden flake in your panning bowl...fun?
Look Here! Granite State has a Gilded Side! Boston.com
“History of Gold in New England” thread, Northeast Metal Detecting online forum
Charlotte: History. Gold fever spurs boom. City-Data.com
Travels and works of Captain John Smith: President of Virginia and Admiral of New England, 1580-1631, page 104
An historical memoir of the colony of New Plymouth, Vol. 2. Francis Baylies
Industrial Progress in Gold Mining: A Review of the Gold Mining Industry in the United States. The Mears Chlorination Company. 1880.