U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008

Gold in Virginia

I noticed that nobody mentioned gold at all, on the wiki or in class, aside from the 3 G’s.  Well, it’s true that the colonists didn’t find any gold, but that’s not because Virginia doesn’t have any.  What a lot of people don’t know, even those who have lived in VA a long time, is that VA has a significant history of gold mining.  (yes, I’m going into this, because I gave tours of an old gold mine site and gold panning workshops all summer long).

Running from the DC/MD area about 200 miles southwest into central Virginia is what’s known as the Gold-Pyrite belt, rich in not only those but other minerals such as iron, lead, zinc, and copper.  So the colonists weren’t terribly far off.  However, it would take nearly 200 years-1806- before Virginians would discover any of the numerous gold deposits that existed.  There grew to be about 170 gold mines in VA, with the most productive mines in Spotsylvania, Orange, and Fauquier counties.  VA was the country’s #3 gold-producing state from 1830-1850, peaking in the 1840s, before the CA gold rush that meant lots of experienced prospectors and miners left VA.  With disruptions during the Civil War and World War I, gold mining continued, albeit at a much lower production rate than before, until WWII, when nationwide gold mines were closed to redirect production efforts elsewhere to more important industry.  The most

And that’s just part of it.

It surprised me that John Smith didn’t say much about gold in his account.  Well, at least he didn’t lie and say they found some when they didn’t.  Plenty of Spaniards before them died searching the current US SW, and beyond, for the fabled seven cities of gold, and the colonists, as we know, were also led to believe that they would be able to find gold easily once they were in the New World.  They actually ended up collecting pyrite for a good while before they realized it wasn’t gold.

And not just gold, too.  Governor Ratcliffe gives the impression that gold is all he cared about (then again, Disney HAS to have an egotistical, GREEDY antagonist).  What about looking for any resource they could send back to England?  Exploitation, exploitation.  That seems to be Disney’s tamed version, like all they wanted was gold, which they didn’t find, and trees to build Jamestown with.  On that matter, picking up off of the beautiful forest-turned-wasteland idea, the gold-digging song is the only time in the movie when we see any effects of the colonists upon the landscape (other than Jamestown).


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