Spotsylvania is situated almost directly in the middle of a gold-pyrite belt that runs 140 miles through 12 counties from Fairfax to Buckingham. At least six major mines operated in the county, some as early as 1804. Those mines were the Mitchell Mine, the Grindstone, the Johnston Hill, the Higgins, the Whitehall and the Goodwin, which was the third largest gold mine in the United States between 1830-1849. Their yield included not only gold, but silver, lead, copper, zinc, hematite, galena, and quartz among others, and provided nontraditional employment to rural men of all races.
Mining reached its "peak by the 1880s and was severely diminished when it became known that territory in the west had opened and gold was found in California. The last commercial gold mine in Virginia closed in 1947 and the ruins of the Goodwin Mine are now located within nearby Lake Anna State Park.
There appears to have been an intimate pocket of free African American men and women around the Mitchell Mine area. We know of three such families who were free before the Civil War: those of Molly Pierce, Sally Ham and John King.
Molly Pierce (aka Polly), born to unknown parentage, was free as early as 1830 when we ﬁnd her listed in the U.S. Census along with a free Negro female aged 10-24. We have no indication of how she earned her living, but she purchased 30 acres from Joseph Mitchell, the heir to the Mitchell Mine estate, on March 16, 1833. By 1840, the historical record tells us that she lived with one free negro male. His name, according to her last will and testament, was Gilbert Baylor. She and Mr. Baylor had a close relationship for some time because she purchased his freedom from Robert Crutchﬁeld who was holding him in trust because Andrew Mitchell - the owner of the mine since 1796 - could not pay his debt. The couple lived together until her death in 1859. She willed her entire estate to Mr. Baylor who in turn, willed his possessions to his family, including his brother and daughter, as well as to those he considered his friends — regardless of their race.
Another free Negro woman in the area was Sally Ham, born -1810. She purchased 50 acres next to the Mitchell Mine for $125 from William and Mary Andrews on October 19, 1838. The Andrews couple were proprietors of Andrews Tavern and Post Office, Sally Ham began using the surname "Coleman" in honor of her companion, Lindsey Coleman. She birthed 11 known children, and died — 1890 still owning her 50 acres. Seven of her heirs survived and divided the family property between themselves.
Our ﬁnal example is John King, an accomplished carpenter. Born ~1784 to unnamed parentage, he purchased 68 acres in 1846 from Herod and Nancy Wright for $115. Adjacent to the Grindstone Mine, his property was situated between the families of Thomas and Robert Mastin and only four miles from the Ham property. Mr. King lived with his wife Jane and their daughter (also named Jane) until his death on May 7, 1860, of dropsy at age 76. In today's language, dropsy would best be described as swelling due to congestive heart failure. At the time of his death, his real estate was valued at $160 and his personal holdings were $35. His widow lived another 14 years, dying of graceful old age at 80 in 1874.
(left side) Left to right: Gold, tool used to pour ore, hematite
(right side) Right: sketch of Andrews Tavern is courtesy James Roger Mansﬁeld (1977), A History of Early Spotsylvania, Orange, VA: Green Publishers, Inc., page 147. (The book is owned by TL Miller)
Andrews Tavern was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Its architectural style is federal and its period of significance was from 1800-1849. It is now a private dwelling located in the Glenora section of the Livingston District in Spotsylvania County.
The African American Heritage Trail is supported in part by a Preserve America grant administered by the National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. This product is based upon work assisted by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of the Interior.