by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
In the top center of this detail of Phillip Lea’s 1685 Map of North America are clearly labeled “mines.” That’s the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River, the Georgia Gold Belt and where I live. This is one of the maps I am using to identify Native American tribes, which disappeared before the United States became an independent country, but this map also proves that the English knew about the Sephardic Jewish gold mines in present-day North Georgia and gem mines in western North Carolina at least 150 years before the official beginning of the Georgia Gold Rush. Why is this fascinating chapter of America’s history being concealed from our history textbooks and online encyclopedias?
In late March 2010, former National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy somehow found out where my temporary cabin was on Fontana Lake in Graham County, NC and sent me an email. He wanted me to do field research for him, when the snow melted. About 10 days later, I stumbled upon an engraved rock at about 5400 feet elevation on Hooper’s Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was a Ladino Spanish inscription, announcing a marriage on September 15, 1615.
When told Roger about my discovery, he started over-paying me for his work with instructions to use that money to seek out the locations where the Sephardic Jewish colonists lived and also find the real 16th century routes of Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo. That is what I was doing a year an a half later, when I stumbled upon the stone ruins of a terrace complex at Track Rock Gap, GA. Roger told me that if I could find the architectural proof of the Jewish and Spanish colonists, we would co-author a book on these discoveries. Unfortunately, Roger died of cancer three month later on September 30, 2011.
Many old time residents of Graham County knew about the inscription on Hoopers Bald, but in an interview several years earlier with the local newspaper, the director of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee had told them that the words were misspelled Latin and that they were a Spanish land claim. The newspaper article was soon forgotten and the inscription had no governmental protection.
Florida students are told that in 1646, Spanish Governor Benito Ruíz de Salazar Vallecilla ordered construction of a road from St. Augustine to the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River in present-day Northeast Georgia, where a fort , small mission and trading post were built. Asturian miners were then recruited to colonize the region where Sephardic Jews had been mining gold, silver and gems for at least 65 years. This information is left out of both Georgia history texts and American history texts. Why?
Virginia students are told in their official history text that in 1646, merchant and entrepreneur Edward Bland, after spending five years in Spain and the Canary Islands, traveled to Jamestown, Virginia. He immediately had a secret meeting with Royalist Governor William Berkeley and then headed to the southern end of the Appalachians to “look after some investments.” That was obviously the trading post, built by Governor Vallecilla. Georgia students are never told this fact. North Carolina students are told that Bland traveled south to meet with great Cherokee chiefs. However, the Cherokees were in Quebec in 1646. None of the story can be found in American history texts.
European students learn that in 1653, Bland’s cousin, Richard Briggstock, spent the better part of a year as a guest of the King of Apalache, whose capital was in the Nacoochee Valley. Briggstock spent several days visiting with Spanish-speaking gold miners in the Nacoochee Valley and Spanish gem miners in the Franklin, NC area. In 1658, French Protestant historian and ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, wrote 10 chapters of his very popular book on the discoveries made by Briggstock. De Rochefort’s book is a standard text for history classes on 17th century America in European classrooms. It is virtually unknown in the United States.
Curious about the large Native American town in the Nacoochee Valley, named Apalache, which was on David Morden’s 1693 map of North America, Governor James Moore of South Carolina led a party of mounted Redcoats to the edge of the valley. From a high point they observed the smoke of dozens of Spanish gold smelters. Moore realized that they were greatly outnumbered by the Spaniards and so the party beat a hasty retreat. A few years later, the Cherokees reported to Moore that they had killed several bearded white men with dark complexions as they were exploring for gold near present-day Murphy, NC.
The late Dr. Brent Kennedy, who became famous for his research on the Melungeons, found a letter in the South Carolina archives from 1745 that provided more eyewitness accounts. A British Indian Agent reported that when the Cherokees FIRST went up the Tuckasegee River that year, they encountered very old villages, composed of log buildings with stone foundations and arched windows. The men there were “white men” but had “hairy” skin as dark as the Indians and long beards. The people “worshiped” a book. The Cherokees killed or drove off these long-time settlers and wanted a reward for their deeds. Brent found some ancient stones ruins on the Tucksegee River near Sylva and asked me to check them out. The stones had been quarried, but the ancient foundations had been intentionally torn up and the site was so overgrown with vegetation, it was almost impassible.
Brent got nowhere with North Carolina and Jackson County, NC officials when he tried to get state archaeologists to investigate the South Carolina archive and the stone ruins. He ran into a very hostile, stone bureaucratic wall. The “New” history of Western North Carolina makes the presence of 17th century Jewish villages impossible. Jackson County now advertises itself as being home of the Cherokee Indians for 10,000 years. The Cherokees claim to have build a large town with three mounds in Cullowhee, ten miles upstream from where Brent found the stone ruins. If North Carolina admitted this true history, then all their fake history would be exposed.
There IS architectural proof!
In his landmark book, Antiquities of the Southern Indians (1873), pioneer archaeologist, Charles C. Jones, Jr. described the ruins of two Spanish mining villages that 19th century gold miners had found in the Nacoochee Valley. Jones also described the artifacts unearthed at these sites, which were still in the possession of local families. The Americas Revealed patron, Ed Reilly, found digital copies of the articles on these villages in Georgia newspapers, right after the discoveries were made.
The official map of the Georgia Gold Fields, commissioned by Congress in 1832, includes a drawing of a Spanish bronze retort, used for refining gold. It was one of many such artifacts found by the Georgia miners, while extracting gold.
In his 1966 book, Archaeological Survey of Northern Georgia, archaeologist Robert Wauchope stated that in 1939, he had been shown hundreds of 16th and 17th century European artifacts by local farmers that had been unearthed by plows during the previous hundred years. He also found some ancient weapons, such as a matchlock arquebus, while digging through alluvial sand to get to a Proto-Creek town site.
Most of the mine timbers from these early Sephardic mines have radiocarbon dates in the period between 1585 and 1615. Geologists and anthropologists published books on these discoveries in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Their research was reported in several major newspapers in the Southeast. The year 1585 happens to be the exact time period when archaeologists think that the great town in Northwest Georgia of Kusa, with its 3000+ houses, was abandoned. A nearby silver mine at the base of Fort Mountain has a radiocarbon date of c. 1600 AD. Of course, not a word of these discoveries are mentioned in official state or American history textbooks . . . definitely not in the archaeology textbooks!
In the past year, using LIDAR, I have found very likely locations in the Nacoochee Valley for late 16th century or 17th century home sites. They are on natural terraces about 200 to 400 feet above the valley floor. All that remains visible on the surface are quarried basalt or greenstone bricks, plus some scattered detritus such as broken iron pots, etc. Quarried stone bricks were never used by the Anglo-Celtic settlers, who came into the valley in the 1800s. They wanted to be next to their fields down in the valley. Stone bricks is a style of medieval architecture that is typical of the Atlantic coastal regions of northwestern Iberia and southwestern France. Asturian gold miners would have come from that region.
As in the case with the Southern Appalachians “secret” Native American history, the only way to attract anyone’s attention seems to be Youtube videos. They get infinitely more views than this website. So one of my projects in 2020 is to create a high quality video on the forgotten French Huguenot, Jewish and Spanish colonists of 17th century North America.