Sam Martin’s claim was possibly the first major gold find in the state, and Brindletown became a destination city. (Tents and dirt roads.) In History of North Carolina, Mildred Fosset wrote that at one time Brindletown had 3000-5000 people working the mines. In the twelve to fifteen miles of Upper and Lower Jamestown, 600-5000. One hundred forty years later only 33 people were employed by the mining industry. Last month at the Gold Festival in Old Fort, I learned there are many who insist there is still gold in these hills and continue the search.
Benjamin Brackett paid $7 a month for labor (plus shelter and food.) Slave owners of the 1840’s clothed their own workers that they rented out to the mining industry. In his diary, James Hervey Greenlee (of the Turkey Grove estate in the Pleasant Gardens area) records, “John came from the mines to let us know Albert was dead. Died this morning about 3:00. John went back with Leander, Albert’s father, to bury him.” There was no explanation of his death, but another entry reports slaves were “ill-treated.” “They are not going back.”
Last year on a tour of the McDowell Historical Society, Richard Buchanan said that the slaves worked the mines ten hours a day, six days a week, for other people. Some of the mine owners would let them work on their own time, and they could pan for gold for themselves. “A lot of them bought their freedom.” It is possible that some of the slaves might have kept some of the gold as they went along but not all miners were fair to them. Avarice does not bring out lofty thoughts from the human mind.
Gold was found in creeks and pockets on hillsides, old stream channels, and quartz veins on Huntsville Mountain, Vein Mountain and at Brackett Town. The shelters for the miners were crude lean-tos and flimsy sheds. Villages popped up temporarily, like Minersville, Dealsville, Crossroads (later Dysartsville), Rhom Town, and Pattenville. They got their basic supplies through wagon trains at inflated prices and paid with grains of gold. Mr. Buchanan talked about the lack of experience in using mercury which is almost the same weight as gold and “will jump on the gold and cover it up” if it gets anywhere near. This was a procedure used to collect the tiny gold grains. “But these guys didn’t know how dangerous it was to cook in the same pan. They put mercury in there to get the gold, and then when they got ready to eat, they would use the same pan for supper.” Another reason for the miner’s short life span in the early days.
An enterprising German immigrant recognized that transporting the local gold all the way to the only mint in Philadelphia could be dangerous. He appealed to the miners who wanted to spend less investment and more time on their claims. Christopher Bechtler opened a jewelry and clock-making business in the big city of Rutherfordton in July of 1830. His story was part of a documentary run at the Gold Festival this year and can be seen on line at http://goldfever.unctv.org. (Also see http://visitncgold.com.) In 1831, he and his sons “produced the first gold dollars struck in the United States.” The smaller denomination must have been handier for the miners and pioneers buying supplies along the road.
Many a diligent worker spent hours in the creek, and when one grandma found a gold nugget in a chicken gizzard, everyone was even more vigilant. You can imagine people carrying around pouches of gold, wanting to find out how much they had. And in a free market system, entrepreneurs found a way. The merchants got little scales and were happy to oblige with a random value. The Bechtler’s had a more professional approach and became the leaders in the industry. For a while. The government opened a mint in Charlotte in 1837, and soon the Bechtlers were out of business. In 1840, Bechtler reported that his mint had coined $2,248,840 from 1831 to 1840. (www.southerngoldsociety.org) For fifty years, North Carolina led the nation in gold production. By 1950 the action had moved to California.
In doing my own creative research, I saw that Sam Martin from PA was one of the hordes to go west when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, CA, near San Francisco in 1849. He took his wife and four kids, so he must have had a nest egg. My imagination wonders if this is the same Sam Martin who came through Brindletown. I don’t know. However, the California Sam has a monument because of his relationship with the local Indians. There has to be a story here somewhere.
As a free side note, my specialty, I must mention that in the most northern part of the county, a group of fishermen noticed native trout disappearing through apparently solid rock. Henry E. Colton, who led the expedition, wrote about the discovery of Linville Caverns in the 1858 issue of The North Carolina Presbyterian. “We emerged into an immense passage whose roof was far beyond the reach of the glare of our torches.” The article must have been widely read. During the Civil War, locals noticed wisps of smoke escaping from rocks. They investigated and found three deserters from both armies hiding out in the caves. The slackers were returned to their regiments and punished severely. I think they were hung. http://linville.caverns.com
Many of the mountain communities and families were split in their allegiance to partial truth. The Civil War remains a prime example of the consequences of pride and prejudice. And not getting along with others, i.e., forgetting The Golden Rule.
In 1863, Trinity United Methodist Church was founded in the Dysartsville community. There is more than one civil war soldier buried there, and many Uptons and Bracketts. The church building is different but the spirit of the church is still an anchor for contemporary lives.