Copper in Virginia

locations of copper ore in Virginia
locations of copper ore in Virginia
Source: Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, Copper

Virginia has copper-bearing ore. Native copper was found in the Blue Ridge and extracted by Native Americans, then pounded into desired shapes for use as an ornament. Copper was a prestige product highly valued by Native American leaders. When polished, it was one of the few shiny items in their world.

Prior to arrival of European sailors and colonists, additional supplies of copper were imported from deposits near the Great Lakes. Trade routes between the Mississippi River and the Southeast were in place at least 3,500 years ago, at the end of the Archaic Period. Archeologists have found Great Lakes copper in Georgia, placed in burial sites.1

When English colonists arrived in Virginia, the Siouan-speaking Monacan tribe occupied the territory in which Virginia copper was found. They may also have controlled the trade routes from the Great Lakes. Powhatan was paramount chief, with authority over much of the Algonquian-speaking Coastal Plain in a territory called Tsenacommacah.

However, there were no copper outcrops on the Coastal Plain. Access to that prestige good made Powhatan dependent upon rivals living west of the Fall Line. They chose to trade, despite the rivalry between the two groups.

When the English settled at Jamestown, they created a massive increase in the copper supply. One reason Powhatan may have chosen to allow the struggling community of "tassantassas" (strangers) to survive was his expectation that they would eliminate his need to acquire copper from sources he did not control west of the Fall Line.2

Copper was mined at the "Gossan Lead" in Carroll County until 1859. The primary ore there was about 0.5-0.7% copper, but near the surface copper sulphide was converted to copper sulphate and transported down by groundwater to a secondary mineralized zone. The ore mined before the Civil War had 14% copper.3

the Gossan Lead in Carroll County had 14% copper ore
the Gossan Lead in Carroll County had 14% copper ore
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), The Gossan Lead, Carroll County, Virginia (Figure 1)

the vein of copper-rich ore at Gossan Lead in Carroll County was below the iron-rich gossan layer on the surface
the vein of copper-rich ore at Gossan Lead in Carroll County was below the iron-rich gossan layer on the surface
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), The Gossan Lead, Carroll County, Virginia (Figure 3)

Native Americans in (modern) Montgomery County acquired copper in the Contact Period via from trade from the coastline
Native Americans in (modern) Montgomery County acquired copper in the Contact Period via from trade from the coastline
Source: Virginia Humanities, Virginia Indian Archive, Tubular Copper Beads

stone ornaments were popular decorative items before European colonists brought copper
stone ornaments were popular decorative items before European colonists brought copper
Source: Virginia Humanities, Virginia Indian Archive, Polished Stone Gorgets and Pendants

copper deposits in the Blue Ridge are associated with different types of ore copper deposits in the Blue Ridge are associated with different types of ore
copper deposits in the Blue Ridge are associated with different types of ore
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Copper Deposits of the United States (p.111)

copper ore mined in Floyd, Carroll, and Grayson counties in the 1850's was shipped to Baltimore
copper ore mined in Floyd, Carroll, and Grayson counties in the 1850's was shipped to Baltimore
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Copper Deposits of the United States (p.115)

copper ore was found with the Great Gossan lead deposit in Southwest Virginia
copper ore was found with the Great Gossan lead deposit in Southwest Virginia
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Copper Deposits of the United States (p.117)

Links

References

1. "Discovery of copper band shows Native Americans engaged in trade more extensively than thought," Archeology News Network, August 7, 2018, https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2018/08/discovery-of-copper-band-shows-native.html; Matthew C. Sanger, Mark A. Hill, Gregory D. Lattanzi, Brian D. Padgett, Clark Spencer Larsen, Brendan J. Culleton, Douglas J. Kennett, Laure Dussubieux, Matthew F. Napolitano, Sebastien Lacombe, and David Hurst Thomas, "Early metal use and crematory practices in the American Southeast," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 14, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1808819115 (last checked August 17, 2018)
2. Jeffrey L. Hantman, "Between Powhatan and Quirank: Reconstructing Monacan Culture and History in the Context of Jamestown," American Anthropologist, New Series, Volume 92, Number 3 (September, 1990), https://www.jstor.org/stable/680342 (last checked June 29, 2019)
3. R. J. Wright, N. D. Raman, "The Gossan Lead, Carroll County, Virginia," US Geological Survey, 1948, pp.1-3, pp.18-19, https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1948/0003/report.pdf (last checked August 8, 2020)


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