Maryland’s Gold Mining History


After a several month hiatus due to other job responsibilities, I am pleased to be back in the blogging business!  I would like to thank Gina Velosky for allowing me to post a blog on her interesting discovery.

Figure 1.  The earthenware crucible discovered in Seneca Park by Gina Veloksy.

Figure 1. The earthenware crucible discovered in Seneca Park by Gina Veloksy.

One of the perks of my job is that I get inquiries about the identity of objects that people have found on their properties or discovered at flea markets and antique shops. This week’s essay involves a nice little piece of pottery that was found by hiker Gina Velosky in a stream in Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg.* The coarse earthenware pot was about three inches in diameter, fitting nicely in the palm of the hand, with a little lip or spout along the rim.

The coarse nature of the piece, and particularly a large firing flaw along the outside surface, pointed to its utilitarian nature. It was definitely not a pre-contact Native American vessel, since it appeared to have some slight traces of glaze or slip on the interior. The piece was intriguing and unlike anything I had ever seen, so I showed the photo to several colleagues. Historic St. Mary’s City archaeologist Silas Hurry solved the mystery, suggesting that it might have been used in metalworking as a crucible.

From there, solving the mystery of this little pot was easy! The vessel was a crucible for assaying gold. The assay process has been used for centuries to determine the metal content of ores that contain precious metals. Seneca Creek State Park contains a defunct gold mine, in use between the 1850s and 1950s (RunDC 2014).

Having lived in North Carolina, which had its own gold rush and actually minted gold coins beginning in the mid-1830s, I was familiar with that state’s gold mining history. But I was unaware that Maryland, too, had gold mining in its past. Gold was first reported in in Montgomery County in 1849 (Kuff 1987). The timing of this discovery coincided with the California gold rush, which eclipsed Maryland’s discovery.

Figure 3.   Water tower and other structures associated with the Maryland Gold Mine.  The longest lasting mine in the state, it closed just prior to World War II.  It is located in the C & O Canal Historical Park.

Figure 2. Water tower and other structures associated with the Maryland Gold Mine. The longest lasting mine in the state, it closed just prior to World War II. It is located in the C & O Canal Historical Park.

Maryland’s gold was panned from streams as well as removed both from traditional, deep mines. The state’s first mine—the Maryland Gold Mine near Great Falls in Montgomery County—was not opened until 1868 (Slagle 2011).   Some artifacts from the Maryland Mine are held today at the Gold Mining Camp Museum at Monroe Park in Goldvein, Virginia (Faquier County 2014). Over the next eighty or so years, many other lode mines were placed in the northern and central parts of the state, particularly the Great Falls area along the Potomac River. Despite the number of mines, the amount of gold actually recovered was quite limited–only 5,000 ounces of gold are recorded by the U. S. Mint as having come from Maryland during that period (Nelson 2000).

The death knell of Maryland’s mines came during the Great Depression when Franklin Roosevelt froze the price of gold, making the cost of mining exceed profits from the precious metal (Kelly 2011). There is still an active interest in prospecting for gold in Maryland, with numerous websites guiding enthusiasts towards locations where small amounts of gold can be found through panning.

Figure 3.  Gold in a quartz matrix, also known as a gold specimen.

Figure 3. Gold in a quartz matrix, also known as a gold specimen.

By all account, the Seneca Creek StatePark mine never produced much gold (nor did any of Maryland’s other mines, compared with other gold-producing regions). But I like to think of that little crucible, lost for perhaps a hundred or more years in the stream bed, representing someone’s dreams of striking it rich.

*Ms. Velosky recognized the historical importance of her find and turned it over to staff at Seneca Creek State Park, so its story can be shared with the public. While finding pieces of the past is exciting, the public should be aware that any artifacts found on state parks are the property of the State of Maryland.

References

Fauquier County. 2014  Monroe Park and the Gold Mining Camp Museum. Website             http://www.fauquiercounty.gov/government/departments/parksrec/index.cfm?action=Monroe accessed July 3, 2014.

Kelly, John. 2011  Maryland Mine: Fueling Gold-Filled Dreams in Montgomery in Days Gone By. Website http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/maryland-mine-fueling-gold-filled-dreams-in-montgomery-in-days-gone-by/2011/04/14/AFrys3kE_story.html accessed July 2, 2014.

Kuff, Karen R. 1987  Gold In Maryland. Website http://www.mgs.md.gov/geology/minerals_energy_resources/gold.html accessed July 2, 2014.

Nelson, Jack.  2000  Gold and Other Minerals of Rock Run, Montgomery County, Maryland. Mineral News, Vol. 16, No. 3, March, 2000. Accessed July 7, 2014 at http://web.archive.org/web/20060924104119/www.mineralcollecting.org/articles/15.shtml

RunDC. 2014  Black Hill Regional Park, Little Seneca Lake. Website http://www.rundc.com/Doc/MD/Montgomery/BHLSenecaL.htm, accessed July 2014.

Slagle, Jake. 2011  A Maryland Native Gold Classic. Mineral Bliss.   Website http://mineralbliss.blogspot.com/2011/07/maryland-native-gold-classic.html accessed July 2, 2014.

Richard Bennett III – Colonial Tycoon


Figure 1: 18th-century ceramics from the Bennett’s Chapel site.

Figure 1: 18th-century ceramics from the Bennett’s Chapel site.

Moderator’s note:  This week’s blog entry was written by Adam Oster.   Adam is a graduating senior at Patuxent High School in Lusby, Maryland.  He will be attending the US Naval Academy next semester.  He started his internship at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab in March, 2014.  

For my internship at Jefferson Patterson Park’s MAC Lab, I was assigned the job of cleaning and labeling artifacts from a site on Bennett’s Point in Queen Anne’s County. The artifacts came from the area in and around the ruins of Bennett’s Chapel, which is the burial place of Richard Bennett III, one of the richest men in colonial history. Many of the artifacts were from later time periods, but the few early 18th-century artifacts which I cleaned included pottery shards, a few of which mated to each other like puzzle pieces. When I was asked to write this blog post, the staff at the MAC Lab suggested that I research the background of Mr. Bennett. So, once I finished labeling all of the artifacts, I began to look at pieces of history.

Richard Bennett was one of the first tycoons ever. His entire life, he purchased acres upon acres of land whenever the opportunity presented itself. By his death, he owned 23,000 acres, one of the only colonial merchant fleets, and the Wye Mill (famous for the Wye Oak, which was only 160 years old at the time). His influence was felt across the entirety of the Maryland Eastern Shore.

Mr. Bennett did not own any land in Calvert County, yet there are interesting connections which tie this millionaire to Calvert

Figure 2: Artist’s conception of the Smith house where Elizabeth Bennett lived.  Painting by Tim Scheirer.

Figure 2: Artist’s conception of the Smith house where Elizabeth Bennett lived. Painting by Tim Scheirer.

County, to the MAC Lab at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, and even to a house two miles from my own. Buried next to Richard Bennett is his wife, Elizabeth Rousby (I will try not to make this post a list of genealogies). Elizabeth was the daughter of Barbara Morgan and John Rousby, and her childhood home was located on Rousby Hall Road in southern Calvert County, barely two miles from my own home and my high school, and thus Mr. Bennett is tied to my neighborhood. His connections reach further still. Even when I am driving from school to the MAC Lab, I am driving toward the history of Richard Bennett. When Elizabeth was very young, her father died and her mother remarried to Richard Smith Jr. Elizabeth moved with her mother to Mr. Smith’s residence, located on the land that is now Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. The Smith house site, now known as “King’s Reach,” was excavated by JPPM archaeologists in the 1980s. Elizabeth was very young when her family moved, so the Smith residence could be where Richard Bennett visited and courted her. As Richard Bennett’s wife, Elizabeth Rousby was influential in her husband’s career. All of the land on Bennett’s Point, including that on which the chapel and the Bennett house resided, was inherited by Elizabeth Rousby from her maternal aunt. The chapel where Richard and Elizabeth are buried can also be credited to Elizabeth and her side of the family; Elizabeth’s aunt asked for the chapel to be built as a part of her last will and testament.

Today, Richard Bennett is mostly forgotten, and his fortune was largely divided at the time of his death. What information I was able to garner about Bennett shares similarities with the artifacts from his chapel. What I learned of him needed to be pieced together from multiple sources, just as the shards were pieced together. What I learned about archeology from my internship is that history must be pieced together just like its artifacts.

Maryland’s Wine Industry: A Long History


Figure 1.  Complete wine bottle from the King’s Reach site.

Figure 1. Complete wine bottle from the King’s Reach site.

As the days grow longer and the weather warmer (finally!), my thoughts begin to turn to a nice glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. And how lucky we are to have Perigeaux Vineyards and Winery right up the road from us at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum-a nice Friday happy hour venue!

Sales of Maryland wines totaled over 24 million dollars in fiscal year 2011 (Maryland Wine 2014) and the industry continues to grow. The late 17th-century wine bottle shown here was recovered at the King’s Reach plantation site (18CV83) in Calvert County, today home to at least five wineries. The modern production of wine in Maryland can be dated back to 1945, when Philip Wagner opened Maryland’s first winery, Boordy Vineyards, in Baltimore County (Appellation America 2014).

But winemaking has a long history in our state, dating back as far as the early days of the colony. In February of 1638, Father Andrew White wrote to Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore to urge him to consider viticulture as a viable source of income for the colony. Father White had apparently tasted wine made from the local muscadine grape the previous year and pronounced it “not inferior in its age to any wine of Spaigne” (Lee 1889). Continue reading

Hoover Campaign Button: Maryland and the Great Depression


Figure 1.  Hoover presidential campaign lapel pin recovered from a drainpipe that served the Wysing Lung Laundry, Sharp Street, Baltimore.  Photo, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

Figure 1. Hoover presidential campaign lapel pin recovered from a drainpipe that served the Wysing Lung Laundry, Sharp Street, Baltimore. Photo, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

Measuring just 7/8” in length and just 1/4′” tall, this small, unassuming lapel pin bears little resemblance to flashy political campaign buttons of today. Its original background of deep blue paint did not survive the four decades it spent lodged in a wastewater pipe underneath the streets of Baltimore, overlooked by its owner and lost from a garment during a visit to a commercial laundry.

Herbert Hoover, who ran in the 1928 presidential election against Al Smith (whose similarly-shaped campaign pin had a red background), easily won the election, carrying 40 out of 48 states. As a Republican, he had strong support from northern Protestants and western farmers, as well as support from minority groups. In Maryland, Hoover won the primary and had a majority vote in all but two counties during the election.

Figure 2.  Hoover campaign button.

Figure 2. Hoover campaign button.

Continue reading

Evergreen House – Context and the Past


In my last blog, I wrote about amusement parks in Maryland.  In that strange way serendipity works, I was inspired to write about a similar theme this week. On a recent commute, I was listening to a “Stuff You Missed in History” podcast about the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland. I had no idea the building that served as the inspiration for the Haunted Mansion was the Evergreen House on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. A quick Google Image search on both buildings confirmed the similarities between them (Figures 1 and 2).

evergreen house

Figure 1. The Evergreen House in Baltimore inspired the facade of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.

The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland is set in New Orleans Square, an area within the theme park based on 19th-century New Orleans.  Designers of the haunted house searched to no avail in that city and throughout the Deep South for architectural inspiration for the Haunted Mansion. The inspiration came instead from a mid-19th century Gilded Age mansion in Baltimore, once home to the railroad magnate Garrett family and now a 48-room museum and library.  The museum’s website describes the facility as “an intimate collection of fine and decorative arts, rare books and manuscripts assembled by two generations of the philanthropic Garrett family, and a vibrant, inspirational venue for contemporary artists” (Evergreen 2014).

disneyland haunted mansion

Figure 2. The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland with Thunder Mountain in the background.

danish axe

Figure 3. Danish ax or hammer from the Mayer Collection.

Continue reading

Waterfront Amusement Parks in Maryland


Figure 1.  A sample of beads from Brownie Beach.

Figure 1. A sample of beads from Brownie Beach.

Two or three times a year, staff at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab will get a call from a local citizen who has been beachcombing along the Chesapeake Bay at Brownie’s Beach.  While better known as a place for hunting fossils from the Miocene, the calls we get are about the small, colorful glass beads that are also a common find there.   Many people think they have discovered Indian trade beads, while in actuality the beads are of a more recent vintage.  Two likely explanations for why the beads are present at Brownie Beach have been posited:  that they are washing up from a 20th-century ship that wrecked nearby or that they were souvenirs from the now-defunct amusement park once located just to the north, in Chesapeake Beach.

Today’s thrill seekers flock to Six Flags, Disney World or Busch Gardens in search of lightning-fast roller coasters and laser light shows.  The precursors of these modern attractions were outdoor amusement parks, often located in waterfront resorts.  Here, the double attractions of sea bathing and carnival-type rides and games drew large crowds in the summers. Continue reading

Stone Tools and Environmental Reconstruction at the Indian Creek Site


Figure 1.  Projectile points from the Indian Creek V Site.

Figure 1. Projectile points from the Indian Creek V Site.

We probably all have an “arrowhead” or two kicking around in a drawer or shoebox tucked somewhere into the back of a closet.  I remember finding points similar to the ones depicted here while picking butterbeans and tomatoes in the family garden when I was a child.   Now that I am a full-blown archaeologist, I have been thoroughly trained to call them “points” rather than “arrowheads” (because some of them were affixed to spears and knives rather than arrows).  Another thing that I have learned is that the sharpened edges of points and other cutting tools can be used to help reconstruct the diet and the environment of the peoples that made and used them.

The Indian Creek V Site (18PR94) in Prince George’s County, Maryland dates to what archaeologists call the Archaic Period (9500 B.C. – 1250 B.C.). Excavations there revealed that Maryland Indians returned to the site regularly over thousands of years to obtain plants from the surrounding floodplains and wetlands.  A peat bog on the site preserved the largest collection of Archaic plant remains yet found in the region, of great value in reconstructing past environments (LeeDecker and Koldehoff  1991).  An assemblage of seeds, pieces of nutshell, and small charred wood fragments was recovered at the Indian Creek V Site. Over 10,000 fragments from 63 different plant species represented a wide variety of fruit, tubers, starchy seeds, nuts, shoots, and leaves. These plants would have been used for food and also as medicines, smoking material, and insect repellant. In addition, a pollen core from a nearby peat deposit provided a vegetation record for the terminal Pleistocene and Holocene epochs, allowing a detailed environmental reconstruction. Continue reading