Silver in Virginia

English colonists who settled in Virginia were aware of the gold and silver that the Spanish extracted from South and Central America. Thomas Hariot reported that the colonists at Roanoke Island sailed 150 miles up the Roanoke River in 1585. They met Native Americans who reported that further inland:1

...are mountains and Rivers that yield also white grains of Metal, which is to be deemed Silver. For confirmation whereof at the time of our first arrival in the Country, I saw with some others with me, two small pieces of silver grossly beaten about the weight of a Teston [small English coin], hanging in the ears of a Wiroans or chief Lord that dwelt about four score miles from us; of whom through inquiry, by the number of days and the way, I learned that it had come to his hands from the same place or near, where I after understood the copper was made and the white grains of metal found. The aforesaid copper we also found by trial to hold silver.

In 1670, John Lederer explored southwest from Fort Henry on the Appomattox River and reached the town of Ushery in the Piedmont of North Carolina. The residents there noticed the silver pommel on the handle of his sword, and told him that the rival tribe living on the other side of "Lake Ushery" had hatchets made of silver. The residents also told him that the women of the tribe were warriors who fired arrows over the heads of their husbands at their enemies; they may have entertained themselves by telling tales to the stranger.

Lederer acquired "Some pieces of Silver unwrought" at Ushery, in part to prove he had reached that location. He claimed in his journal that the Spanish silver mines were a jouney of just several days away from Ushery. He did not try to visit them, fearing he would be perceived as a spy and held captive.2

The early colonists failed to find precious metals in Virginia, but exploration continued as settlement moved west.

In 1704-06, Frantz Ludwig Michel explored the Potomac River and the Shenandoah River upstream of Harpers Ferry. He claimed to have discovered silver deposits. He returned to Europe in order to recruit Swiss and German settlers who could develop mines, but in 1710 ended up sailing to Carolina with Baron Christoph von Graffenried to develop land claims at New Bern.

Michel died in Carolina during the Tuscarora rebellion. Baron Christoph von Graffenried went into debt and lost control of the colony at New Bern, then came to Virginia in 1712 to search for silver ore along the Potomac River near what is now Harpers Ferry. Graffenried was broke when he returned to Europe.

In London, he encountered a group of German iron miners. They were there because Graffenried and Michel had sent a recruiter in 1710 to the town of Siegen. Graffenried and Michel planned to return from New Bern with profits from transporting settlers there, then organize a new silver-mining settlement in Virginia along the Potomac River.

Graffenried and Virginia's colonial agent, Nathaniel Blakiston, arranged to place the miners on a ship to Virginia, promising that Governor Spottswood would pay for their costs. The governor was surprised when the immigrants arrived, but he paid the ship captain 150 pounds and sent the immigrants on the Rapidan River as his indentured servants. The first Germanna colony lated four years, and never mined for silver (or iron).

there was an appearance of a silver mine by it."3

Governor Spotswood thought there might be silver on Mine Run
Governor Spotswood thought there might be silver on Mine Run
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Silver ore in Virginia is associated with other metallic ores, and gold ore in the Piedmont includes 10% silver. Production in Virginia was primarily as by-product from extraction at lead-zinc and copper deposits. The first silver production was in 1885, and the last in 1945. Over those 60 years, about 90,000 troy ounces was produced in Virginia.4

An examination in 1984 of the Buck Mountain mine in Amherst County included a sample that assayed at 5.4 ounces of silver per ton, plus an additional 0.07 ounces of gold per ton. The site had a 14-inch thick zone of:5, altered, metallic sulfide... [with] disseminated mineralization was observed in the country rock up to a thickness of 3 feet, directly adjacent to the shear zone.

Minerals of Virginia

Frantz Ludwig Michel

John Lederer


silver production in Virginia lasted between 1885-1945
silver production in Virginia lasted between 1885-1945
Source: Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, Silver in Virginia


1. Thomas Hariot, A brief and true report of the new found land of Virginia, London, 1590, (last checked August 15, 2021)
2. Sir William Talbot (translator), The Discoveries of John Lederer, 1672, posted online by University of North Carolina, Research Laboratories of Archaeology, p. 18, p.27, (last checked September 2, 2021)
3. Alonzo Thomas Dill, "Michel, Frantz Ludwig," NCpedia, 1991,; Edward Porter Alexander (editor), The Journal of John Fontaine, and Irish Huguenot Son in Spain and Virginia 1710-1719, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1972, p. 103,; John Blankenbaker, "Germanna History," short notes #1-2, #557-559, (last checked October 9, 2021) 4. Palmer C. Sweet , "Silver in Virginia," Virginia Minerals, Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, Volume 22, Number 1 (February 1976), pp.9-10, (last checked August 30, 2021)
5. D. Allen Penick, Jr., Palmer C. Sweet, "Gold - Silver Rediscovered In Old Amherst County Mine," Virginia Minerals, Volume 30, Number 2 (May 1984), (last checked August 30, 2021)

Rocks and Ridges - The Geology of Virginia
Virginia Places