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7 Questions with State Director Sprague | State Spotlights: Maryland & Delaware

The "Big Mama" Nugget, Abandoned Gold Mines, Shipwrecks and more from the Delmarva Peninsula

by GPAA Admin

7 Questions with State Director Sprague | State Spotlights: Maryland & Delaware
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7 Questions with Maryland State Director Scott Sprague

from the 2019 May/June GPAA Gold Prospectors Magazine


1) Where can GPAA Members prospect in your state? (GPAA Claims)

Although the closest GPAA/LDMA properties are over 400 miles away, the Central Maryland (Frederick) GPAA Chapter has a few locations that can be used during chapter outings where gold can be found.


2) Are there any public places prospect and treasure hunt?

There are a few public places to prospect and treasure hunt in Maryland. The Calvert Cliffs region of Maryland is home to over 600 species fossils. There are some public access, pay-to-park locations where fossil collecting is allowed, including Calvert Cliffs State Park. Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland, is a location where you can dig for fossils under the supervision of a park ranger on certain Saturdays of the month call the park before heading out to verify they are open, (301) 627-1286.


3) Are there any relevant places of interest?

Maryland is rich in history and has historical sites all over the state. Whether your history interests are geological, cultural or national, there is something for everyone in Maryland.


4) What are some recommended tools and techniques?

For gold recovery on private property, basic panning and crevicing are the best methods.


5) Are there any rules & regulations prospectors should be aware of?

Rules for prospecting and relic hunting vary depending on the type of property and its governing agency. All prospecting and relic hunting activities on National Park property is strictly prohibited. A permit from the Maryland Historical Trust is required for any archaeological investigations on state owned or managed land. Some cities and counties allow the use of metal detectors for recovering modern coins and jewelry in public parks with the proper permit. With the exception of a few parks where detecting is prohibited altogether, designated swimming beaches operated by the Maryland Park Service require a permit from the park manager. Recreational prospecting and relic hunting can only be done on private property with the land owner’s permission. Discovery of any relics, prehistoric or historic artifacts on private property should be reported to the Maryland Historical Trust, but do not require a permit.


6) What else should prospectors know before prospecting in your state?

There is gold found in Maryland, some of it just a few miles from our nation’s capital. A lot of the old mine sites are located on some type of park property where mineral collection is prohibited, but there are some streams and tailing piles on private property that are still producing gold. Always obtain permission from the landowner before entering any private property.


7) Are there any must-see places for anyone visiting your state?

Maryland’s proximity to Washington, D.C., makes for an easy visit to one of our nation’s largest gem and mineral collections. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History displays fossils, gems and minerals from all over the world!


Scott Sprague is the GPAA State Director for Maryland. Please refer to the GPAA Publications for contact information.



The "Big Mama" Nugget, Abandoned Gold Mines, Shipwrecks, and Gilded Coastlines - Treasures from the Delmarva Peninsula

from the 2019 May/June GPAA Gold Prospectors Magazine


by Emily Simmons


From the sandy shores that face the windblown waters of the Atlantic, to the rolling farmlands that quilt the south, there is vast variety in the beautiful landscapes that unite the small state of Maryland. Diverse climates and geographical features have earned the tiny state the nickname America in Miniature.

The dominating presence of the Chesapeake Bay divides Maryland’s eastern shore from its western mainland. The salty tang of the windblown bay waters indicates its rich seafood bounty — the Chesapeake provides Maryland with blue crab, countless shellfish, striped bass, and oysters. Birthplace of the famous Old Bay Seasoning, the Chesapeake is known for deliciously fresh seafood meals. Branching off into various cities along Maryland’s land mass, the Chesapeake is home of the historic Annapolis Harbor and the still-bustling Baltimore Inner Harbor. 

Baltimore’s harbor is flanked by historical, cobblestone towns that provide excellent shopping and eating. Resting place of famous poet Edgar Allan Poe and home to the National Aquarium, Baltimore is an artsy town that you don’t want to miss. 

Annapolis features its own set of cobblestone towns and holds a wealth of historic and political sites of interest. Running southwest of Annapolis brings you to the nation’s capital, which holds its own wealth of history, beauty, and monuments. East of the Annapolis Harbor and across the Bay Bridge brings you to Maryland’s Eastern Shore where you can enjoy Ocean City’s bustling boardwalk and soak in some summer sun. 

Following the Ocean City shoreline up north past Selbyville will bring you into the tiny state of Delaware. The second-smallest state in the U.S., Delaware is a sandy wilderness wedged between the eastern edge of Maryland and the chilly Atlantic Ocean.  Both states will please the coastal lovers, outdoorsmen, history buffs, and yes, even gold prospectors — the picturesque golden glint of the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean is not the only gold you will find along the eastern shore. 


All that Glitters         

Of the two states, Maryland features a landscape better suited for natural gold formation.  A state with diverse landscapes, Maryland is divided into six distinct physiographic provinces — Appalachian Plateau, Ridge and Valley, Blue Ridge, Piedmont, and Atlantic Coastal Plain.  Maryland’s Piedmont region is part of the larger Piedmont Plateau, which stretches from central Alabama up toward New Jersey. A highland bordered by the Appalachian Mountains on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, this belt of metamorphic rock is rife with placer minerals, including gold. Characterized by quartz veins that erratically crisscross the metamorphic rocks, this Piedmont region contains the majority of gold found within Maryland.  Plenty of placer gold displaced from erosion over time can be found downstream of these gold-bearing quartz veins, making Maryland a great place for placer mining.


Conversely, Delaware’s landscape — composed of mainly sand and gravel deposits — is exceedingly poor for gold and mineral deposits.  While Delaware’s record of gold mining is relatively nonexistent, the history of swashbuckling pirates and treacherous shipwrecks has gilded the coastline with sunken treasures. Those who prefer metal detecting over placer mining may find more pleasure along Delaware’s sandy shore.  


The Wealth of the Potomac

Any reliable historic account of gold in Maryland begins with the rushing waters of the Potomac River. Covering most of northern and western Maryland, the Potomac watershed cuts through Washington, D.C., and surrounding counties and then flows out toward the Chesapeake Bay.  Encompassing large swaths of Maryland, the Potomac makes a dramatic mark on the state, but its pinnacle of beauty and power has its debut in the Great Falls area. 

A series of rapids and waterfalls running through both Virginia and Maryland, Great Falls is where the Potomac reaches dangerous speeds as it rushes through the Mather Gorge and splashes over craggy rocks and cliffs.

On the Maryland side, you can view this spectacular display from the varying heights of Billy Goat Trail — one of the many hiking trails in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park that brings you close to the Potomac. Offering an exhilarating challenge for the white-water rafting adrenaline junkies and arduous, scenic walks for the nature lovers, the C&O Canal National Historical Park has plenty for the history buffs as well. The Gold Mine Loop, one of the many C&O hiking trails, will take you back in history to the beginnings of Maryland’s gold mining rush.

Just under 2 miles, the Gold Mine Loop is a winding, scenic route that takes you past the original site of Maryland’s most famous gold mine, Maryland Mine. Opened in 1867, this mine experienced various periods of operation and abandonment. Its most fruitful year was 1890 when large amounts of gold were extracted. While other mines were opened and operated within the surrounding area, Maryland Mine was soon abandoned (operations ended in 1915) but it was never forgotten. Marking the beginning of gold operation and production in Maryland, Maryland Mine remains an important historical site as the grounds of the state’s first gold discovery.
Though sources vary on exact details, we can thank a Civil War Pvt. McCleary and the 71st Pennsylvania Regiment for Maryland’s gold discovery. In 1861, the regiment was encamped outside of Washington, D.C., in the vicinity of the Great Falls. Legend tells that McCleary was cleaning out the regiment’s frying pans in the Potomac River with sand and water when he spotted a shiny piece of gold. Other sources say that gold grains were spotted in one of the soldiers’ hair after a quick swim in the Potomac.

Where the details blur, the resulting actions are easy to follow. Pvt. McCleary returned to the area after the Civil War and sunk the shaft that would become Maryland Mine. Since the opening of that mine, gold was actively prospected and produced in Maryland until 1940.  Though gold fever was high at this time, Maryland’s promise of riches fell short of expectation. The start of World War II brought an end to the gold rush era, with a total of only 6,000 troy ounces of gold production being recorded in Maryland.


Gold Concentration of the Piedmont

The concentration of gold in the Potomac area is a result of the river’s eroding waters that run through the previously mentioned Piedmont Plateau. The mineralized fault zones and quartz veins that populate the metamorphic rock of this region contain low concentrations of gold and other precious minerals. While there is limited lode gold that was extracted from these areas, the most successful mining operations that occurred in Maryland were placer mining operations.  The fast-flowing Potomac River cutting through these rocks is a companion to every river-panning prospector. The best spot for pan-mining is anywhere along the Potomac, particularly downstream of quartz-bearing rock. If you find such a place, stick to the first bend in the stream — gold is heavier than any other minerals found in stream waters, and your shiny treasures will mostly be found stuck along these areas.  

Though gold was once found (and continues to be) in Maryland, serious prospectors should keep in mind that Maryland’s gold production was never very fruitful. Most of the gold found today is specks and powder floating in the Potomac and tributary waters. However, if you are persistent enough you may find something big.


The ‘Big Mama’ Nugget

“It’s much like fishing,” says Alan Darby, Maryland resident and GPAA member. “The more you cast your line in the water, the more [likely] you are to catch a fish.” 

Darby has been gold prospecting in Maryland for 30-plus years.  His interest in mining was discovered after a Smithsonian Institution gold history tour of D.C. and Virginia. Amazed by the sheer number of old gold mines surrounding the nation’s capital, Darby decided to try his hand at prospecting in the streams and areas surrounding the old mines. Although it was the gold that sparked his interest, it was the nature that hooked him. 

“If I don’t find any gold, it’s OK by me. It gives me an excuse to be in the great outdoors,” comments Darby.  He loves to “sit by a stream, have lunch, enjoy a cigar and do a bit of panning” while observing the passing wildlife like deer, foxes, and owls. Darby keeps up his hobby, enjoying the surrounding nature and the occasional surprise of gold glinting in his pan.  One August day in 2017, while panning in Montgomery County, that surprise was very big indeed.

With the hot summer sun beating down on him, Darby decided to prospect in one of the deeper parts of the river as a way to cool down. Shoveling sand and sediment from a Montgomery County river bottom, Darby started to see specks of gold and lead shot. Lead shot, or old bullets, is always a good indication that gold may be nearby because the two materials have similar weight.  Excited, Darby kept digging until he pulled up his shovel and spotted “the find of a lifetime.” There glinting in his shovel was the “biggest piece of gold [he had ever seen in] 30-plus years of prospecting.”  Weighing in at 1.73 ounces, the nugget that Darby found that day is the biggest ever found in Maryland to date. Darby said he was so happy and shocked when he found it that he jumped up onto the river bank and “danced a jig, howling at the sun.” 

A hefty handful, the shiny nugget is a point of pride for Darby and other Maryland prospectors.  While it may be demure in comparison to Western nuggets, it is proof that the East Coast holds its own in gold. 

Whether prospecting is a main concern of yours or not, Maryland has much to offer.  The state’s beautiful nature — trickling streams, babbling creek waters, sharp and tall rocks thrusting through the earth, chirping and singing wildlife, crisp air and soft winds — is a delight to eyes, ears, and lungs. Close to the nation’s capital, there are plenty historic sites and places of interest. For seafood and beach lovers, Maryland’s Eastern Shore is sure to please. If you find yourself on the Eastern Shore, Delaware is also well worth a visit.




Shipwreck Coast

Delaware is a tiny state that occupies the northeastern portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. Delaware has a rich Native American history and beautiful coastal lands, many of them protected by state parks. Though beautiful, these sandy lands are unfortunately negatively correlated with gold and precious mineral formation. But don’t let that dismay your hopes of finding treasure in Delaware. 

This small shoreline state was once witness to many relentless battles fought between the Atlantic and the ships that braved its stormy waters. Forever the victor, the rough Atlantic Ocean tore down and sunk numerous ships during the 17th and 18th centuries. Nicknamed the “Shipwreck Coast,” Delaware’s coastal seabed harbors the ghostly remains of these unfortunate ships as well as all the cargo and treasure they once held.  

Delaware’s Mid-Atlantic location is historically significant as the first colonies were erected in this region of North America. Its proximity to the Annapolis and Baltimore harbors, the Delaware River, and Philadelphia meant the Delaware coast was constantly frequented by colonial and pirate vessels. Ships from England, Spain, and France once braved the rough Atlantic waters to fortify their fledgling colonies’ supplies.

As the Atlantic is known for its Nor’easters, freak storms, and rough waves, these early colonizers often met the end of their days in a salty grave. With more than 1,800 shipwrecks sitting on the floor of the Chesapeake and 2,000 in Delaware Bay, the amount of sunken supplies and treasures is extraordinary. Gold, silver, and other coins are constantly pulled ashore by the ebb and flow of the tide.


HMS DeBraak
            While numerous ships met their unfortunate ends along the Delaware coast, one of the most significant wrecks was that of the HMS De Braak.  Its notoriety has significance both histric and modern. A large warship built by the Dutch Republic, the HMS De Braak was captured by the British Royal Navy and served as a convoy ship to protect goods being brought to and from the New World. In May 1798, the ship happened upon and captured the Don Francisco Xavier, an enemy Spanish ship. With salvaged riches and Spanish prisoners aboard, the De Braak sailed for Delaware Bay. Promises of thousands of dollars in bounty for the prisoners drove Capt. James Drew to rush through the Atlantic, but he was stalled by the high winds of a freak storm. The De Braak capsized, sending Drew, the 35-man crew, and most of the prisoners to a watery death. Only three prisoners survived, bringing pockets full of gold coins to shore with them. 

The shine of these coins fueled rumors of sunken treasure among the remains of the wreck, which led to more than 30 individual salvage operations in the following decades. These operations were poorly executed and many important historical and archaeological artifacts were discarded, destroyed, and/or improperly handled (including human remains). Irreparable damage was done to the ship’s hull and the integrity of the archaeological site and, in the end, no treasure was found. 

The poor handling of the HMS De Braak and several other ruined shipwreck sites by treasure hunters in the 1970s led to the passing of the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act in 1988.  This law made any abandoned shipwreck sites property of the state. While access to the shipwrecks remains public, removal of any artifacts is forbidden. This law, however, only covers the site of the shipwreck. Any artifacts, coins, or treasures that are washed ashore by the ocean’s ebb and flow are considered the property of the lucky person who stumbles upon them.  And, as Delaware’s concentration of shipwrecks is freakishly high, the odds of finding a piece of these historical treasures are in your favor.


Metal Detecting along ‘Coin Beach’

These coins and other shipwreck artifacts are frequently found embedded along the sandy shoreline of Delaware’s coast.  Any beach with a particularly high concentration of these coins has been referred to as a “coin beach.” 

Lewes Beach, in particular, is a rather famous “coin beach” of Delaware. Historically significant as the site of Dutch colonization, Lewes remains an important coastal city. Home of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, Lewes is a quaint little town with long stretches of preserved state park beaches. The sandy shoreline of Lewes Beach is sprinkled with coins (gold and silver), shards of pottery, and other trinkets. While many locals and visitors have spent time picking through the sand for these treasures, metal detecting remains a valuable hobby at Lewes Beach. Big storms and swells bring a fresh round of treasures that are churned up by the angry ocean. 

Whether you are spending time along Delaware’s shoreline to seek a piece of the shipwreck treasure or simply to soak up the sun, always keep your eyes peeled for any shiny glint within the sand. 


Getting Out There

Those interested in prospecting have plenty of options in both Maryland and Delaware, but both states have rather strict regulations. Your best way of experiencing Maryland’s gold is by contacting Scott Sprague, Maryland’s GPAA president. Founded in 2012, the Maryland GPAA Chapter is focused on both the recreational practice of prospecting and spreading awareness of Maryland’s gold history. You can also participate in group digs and placer mining activities by joining the chapter. 

Maryland has very strict regulations — federal and state parks are strictly enforced as no-resource-removal areas, meaning without written permissions, removal of any rocks or minerals is strictly prohibited. The Maryland GPAA Chapter has obtained permits for mining on certain private property so that members can circumvent these regulations.

There is no GPAA chapter in Delaware as gold panning won’t produce anything worthwhile. While metal detecting is a popular pastime in Delaware, it is prohibited in national parks and preserved Indian burial grounds (there are a quite a few of these in Delaware, so be aware).

Though a trip to the eastern states of Maryland and Delaware won’t bring you your fortune in gold nuggets, you will strike it rich in adventure. Strikingly beautiful, both states have much to offer considering their small size. Home to sites that are both historically and contemporarily relevant, various state parks and diverse landmasses, beautiful rivers, estuaries, ocean and bay views, bounties of fresh seafood, and sunny shorelines, these two eastern states are well worth a visit.


Emily Simmons is an aspiring writer based in Maryland


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