The earliest English settlers of the Virginia Company were looking for gold. The Spanish had conquered seized vast amounts of gold in Central and South America, but the English did not discover any native societies in North America that had mined and accumulated gold.
The first gold rush in the United States occurred in North Carolina, nearly two centuries after Jamestown was settled. In 1799, a 12-year old boy found a heavy rock with a yellow color near the site of modern Charlotte. The family used it as a doorstop until 1802, when a North Carolina jeweler bought the rock for $3.50. After he revealed the doorstop was a 17 pound gold nugget, the gold rush began in the western North Carolina Piedmont.1
The gold veins in the Piedmont bedrock may have been created during the time volcanic islands were formed in the Iapetus Ocean separate from the continental crust of Virginia. Gold veins may have formed when the Piedmont was formed in the Taconic, Acadian, and Appalachian orogenies.
The veins may be younger, dating from the time when Pangea split up. Triassic basins developed when the crust thinned, and earthquakes were a common occurrence. As the faults moved, the sediments in the basins tilted and molten basalt at great depth jetted through cracks to the surface. When the pressure of the overlying rock was released briefly during earthquakes, other fluids may also have boiled up towards the surface. When silica cooled back into hard rock, it formed quartz veins - and in those locations where gold had been a component of the molten fluids at depth, those quartz veins included gold deposits.2
All commercial gold mines in Virginia closed down after World War II. The price of gold was fixed by the Federal government at $35/ounce, but the cost of mining in the post-war economic boom exceeded that price.
In 2014, the Board of County Supervisors in Goochland County approved a proposal to re-open the Moss Mine, which had operated intermittently between 1835-1939. Constant flooding by groundwater had limited the ability to excavate the gold ore through shafts.
The new proposal was to develop an open pit mine the size of a football field, following a 2-wide gold vein down to 125 feet in depth. Gold would be obtained by "free milling," using water and gravity to physically separate the gold from worthless quartz and other materials without use of cyanide, mercury, or other chemicals. The applicant described the project as a mine clean-up project, and even suggested he might obtain government funding for site reclamation. The soil was contaminated with mercury, which had been used in the past to separate out the gold particles.
Extracting the gold was expected to take just three years. Afterwards, the waste rock would be replaced in the pit, the site would be reclaimed, and a wetland created. The projected $2 million cost for mining might be offset by the gold that would be extracted, but at a minimum the property would be more marketable after removal of the mercury.3