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.
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 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.
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.
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.