During the Georgia gold rush, trade suffered due to a shortage of sound money. There were few coins in circulation and most business was by barter. Templeton Reid was a Milledgeville silversmith and expert machinist, saw an answer to the problem. He decided to buy raw gold, refine it and stamp coins of proven value, acceptable in any transaction. In 1830 he came to Gainesville, Georgia and opened an assay office. With machines and dies of his design and make he bran to strike coins of $2.50, $5.00, and $10.00 denominations.
By: Jack Schley
The City of Columbus is far removed from the mountains of Appalachia that wrinkle the land in the northern corners of the state of Georgia. By way of the Chattahoochee River, however, Columbus is directly linked to those mountains where the waters of that river originate. There was a feverish time over a century ago when from those headwaters great wealth was once reaped by bent-back pioneers. The substance of that fever and raw form of wealth was gold. The discovery of the yellow metal in the black dirt and clear water is what led to rapid settlement of the mountains by fortune seekers. The Gold Rush era in Georgia was a distinctive social, economic, and political event in the state; the earth pulled their youth.
Templeton Reid came as the latter when he arrived to Columbus in the 1830s. Though not a miner in the strictest sense, he did participate in the Gold Rush around Dahlonega, Georgia, in Lumpkin County. His life created little public interest while it was occurring and he left very little behind to permit further study. Not even a photo or likeness of the man is known to exist. The evidence of his personal time that does remain, however, has inspired much reflection. This is not for his achievements; rather, for the impact of his failures on a specific chapter of federal history in Georgia that is shared by very few other states.
The discovery of a sixteen pound nugget of solid gold in North Carolina in 1799 did not ignite the same excitement as the discovery of gold in Cherokee territory in north Georgia in 1828. When a young boy named Benjamin Parks came home from hunting deer with a gold nugget in his pocket in present day Lumpkin County, Georgia, word spread across the country that the First Gold Rush in U.S. history was underway in Georgia. The land where Parks had been hunting belonged to the Cherokee Nation of Native Americans. Access to that land was limited so the first miners in Georgia were a lawless crowd of frontiersmen. These men would secret themselves into the Cherokee Territory at night with nothing but a shovel and an empty meal-bag. There was one piece of land along Yahoola Creek where it was known that one full bag of dirt pulled from the bank of the creek could yield $20 to $40 in gold. The Cherokees hold on their ancestral land in Georgia did not last long once these reports were printed. There was literally money laying on the ground in Georgia.
Templeton Reid was a mechanic: a talented one. He lived in Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1830 before moving to Gainesville. He was an experienced machinist making cotton gins, rifles, watches, and jewelry. The move to Gainesville was the beginning of the venture that defines his life today. The gold dust and nuggets the miners were bringing to town from the mountains were readily accepted but difficult to use in the markets. The weight, and thus the value, of any quantity of gold was a constant debate. The raw gold needed to be fixed in a recognizable and trusted form but the U.S. Mint was over five hundred miles away in Philadelphia.
Templeton Reid created a press and engraved dies of his own making that could stamp coins with a denomination in U.S. dollars. His private mint was located in Gainesville and began taking in raw gold in 1830 to be melted and minted into $2.50, $5, and $10 gold coins.
In the beginning, the newspaper was his ally spreading the word of his service to the miners in Georgia. One article reported that he was minting $700 in gold coins a day. It is believed presently that in just three months of operation Templeton Reid made at total of about 1,500 coins. The term of his venture was so short due to subsequent newspaper articles that criticized Reid’s ability as a coiner.
Those articles ran in papers across the state, including in Columbus. One of his $10 coins was reportedly taken to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia to be assayed for its weight and purity to determine its true value. The Mint reported the coin to contain $9.38 in gold. A deficit of $0.62 was unacceptable in 1830. Reid’s mistake was in believing that gold pulled from the earth was pure, when in fact it is not and must be refined to remove the impurities. Nonetheless, Reid defended his work against the anonymous writer in the papers, but the fact remained that his coins were not worth the amount stamped on them. They lost favor in the marketplace and he closed his business. As he left town, however, the demand for converting the raw gold into coins remained. Out of overwhelming public demand, the U.S. government created the first branch of the Mint in 1835, which created three new facilities in the south, and the Mint at Dahlonega, Georgia, began making U.S. gold coins with a “D” mintmark in 1838.
As Templeton Reid moved his life away from Dahlonega to Columbus, there were many in Columbus making their way to Dahlonega. Miners from Columbus included some of the early leaders of the town. Allen Lawhon left Columbus for the north Georgia gold fields in 1849. He was a lawyer who served as the Intendant (unincorporated Mayor) of the Town of Columbus in 1832. There were even those who believed that the Chattahoochee River was pulling all that gold from the mountains as far south as Columbus. The City Council granted a permit to Dr. Stephen M. Ingersoll in 1838 to wash sand from the river bed for gold. A few small gold flakes were reportedly found in Columbus in 1830; however, this was likely an attempt to put the fledgling town of Columbus on the map as the mass of arrivals to the state of Georgia poured in to participate in the Gold Rush. No further discoveries of gold in Columbus were ever reported by Dr. Ingersoll nor any other fortune seeker, but Dr. Ingersoll was known to be a wealthy man with a large secluded farm in Alabama.
Gold Rush fever in Georgia did not last very long. After all the surface gold had been cleaned away around Dahlonega there were rumors of another gold strike in California calling miners to head west. A crowd of those departing gathered in the town square in Dahlonega in 1849 COINAGE as the Assayer of the U.S. Mint at Dahlonega stepped out of the In 1842, the Philadelphia building. He proclaimed to the crowd of the immense wealth that Mint tested Templeton's remained in Georgia. Pointing to the mountain range behind him, coins and found that they a paraphrasing of his words heard by the miners that day became contained more gold famous: “There’s gold in them thar hills.”
Upon departing from the gold region of Georgia, Templeton Reid first made his way to Montgomery, Alabama, where he married Elizabeth Moulton in 1832. He may have been in Columbus as early as 1836 at perhaps middle age; his year of birth is believed to be 1789. Nothing is known about Elizabeth or even if she lived in Columbus. Templeton operated his Reid Cotton Gin Manufacturing business out of a large wooden building on the southwest corner of 11th Street and 1st Avenue, today the site of a gated parking lot next to the Old School Barber Shoppe. He was called an eccentric genius at that time but also “his own worst enemy.” It is believed that he had a gambling problem and his business endeavors in Columbus appear to have been less than prosperous as most of his tools were seized by the court in a debt collection lawsuit in 1850. Reid did develop a working model of his own improved and patented cotton gin in 1851 and was bound for the World’s Fair in London to display it. His machine was believed to be of some remark but Mr. Reid never made it to London. His body was found on the banks of the Chattahoochee River south of town in late summer of 1851. He was found below a spring at the bottom of a high bank of the river. It was believed that he fell while trying to reach the spring. His body was buried in an unmarked grave in Linwood Cemetery in Columbus, the location of which, as with much of this man’s life, remains a mystery today.
Much of the gold mining in Georgia was commercialized early on and conducted by large corporations. A few of the wealthy businessmen from Columbus were shareholders in those corporations. The war years of the 1860s interrupted the mining but once they resumed after the war it was reported that a million dollars in gold was removed from Georgia in 1880. Gold continues to be found around Dahlonega today, although, these current operations are featured as a tourist attraction rather than earth-moving mineral ventures.
Templeton Reid’s controversial coins of 1830 are known today in small numbers as some of the earliest private minted gold coins in the U.S. from the First Gold Rush in U.S. history. They are highly sought after by collectors and fetch high prices on the rare occasion that one crosses an auction block. They are one of the few remaining legacies of this man and the ingenuity of the frontiersmen who lived and worked in Columbus in the early decades of this City. SVM