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January 4, 2013 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham Gold


Shaft mining in central Virginia, c. 1865 (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine)

Thomas Baldwin’s Gazetteer of the United States (1854) noted that in Buckingham County, “Gold mines are worked in the vicinity of Willis Mountain, and yield large profits.”

When the Gazetteer was published, it had only been six years since the frenzy of the California Gold Rush. Prior to 1848, the gold vein that runs through Buckingham County and environs was one of the richest in the nation.  In 1832, the first commercial gold mine in Buckingham was established at Bernard Gaines Booker’s plantation, located about three miles from Sprouse’s Corner. It is remembered by the Booker family that Capt. Booker sported his wealth by adorning his carriage driver’s jacket with large buttons made of Buckingham gold. The Bondurant “strike” was not far behind. Soon the Buckingham “gold rush” was on, with many of Buckingham’s industrious men forming gold mining companies. By 1837, at least nine were incorporated.

In December of 1865, just after the Civil War had ended, a journalist for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine visited some of Buckingham’s still active mining enterprises owned by Buckingham families Lightfoot, Bumpus, Ford, Hobson, Ayres, and Duncan’s mine (also operated by Apperson and LeSueur). The writer traveled from Fluvanna County, across the James River and the Canal, journeying to “the renowned County of Buckingham,” stating, “I apply that epithet to it, because it has always borne the character of being the richest mineral county in the State of Virginia.”

Folks still pan for gold in Buckingham County. Central Virginia Gold Prospectors maintain a website:


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  1. Joanne Yeck / Jan 4 2013 10:21 am

    Many thanks for this wonderful information about the Booker family and the Buckingham Booker Gold Mine. One of the mines incorporated in 1837 was Austin’s Gold Mine Company, headed by James M. Austin. Was he connected to Archibald Austin and the Bookers and is this Archibald Austin the politician and lawyer?

  2. Richard Morris / Jan 4 2013 10:10 am

    Peter Stratton Booker the son of Bernard Gaines Booker married Elizabeth Ann Morris. She was my great greataunt.

    Bernard Gaines Booker, son of Marshall and Martha “Patsy (Gaines) Booker, was born circa 1787 in Cumberland County Virginia and died in Calloway County, Kentucky in July 1859. His death record stated that he died of palsy; that he was a farmer. His maternal grandfather, Bernard Gaines, gave him a mill, called Booker’s Mill, in Cumberland County in 1806. Grandfather Gaines bought a rifle for BGB on Nov. 16, 1805.’°’ Bernard moved from Cumberland County to Buckingham County about 1811. where he became interested in gold mining. He served in the War of 1812 with Capt. William Moseley’s Company of Cavalry, attached to the First Regiment, Virginia Militia. His rank was Cornet, which was a junior officer who carried the colors (flags).

    In 1817, he received 182 acres from the estate of his deceased maternal grandfather, Bernard Gaines. One of the properties that BGB acquired was later known as “The Booker Gold Mine.” It was located west of Willis Mountain and on the west side of U. S. Route 15. The mine helped him become a wealthy person, with slaves, servants, and horses and carriages. Oral history says that he had gold buttons made for the vests of his servants, and bridles and harnesses of gold for his team of horses. As often happens when a person is “born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” or makes easy money, it is easily lost. He sold part of the gold mine property in 1838 to James Garnett and William M. Moseley. It is believed that this signaled the beginning of financial problems for, in 1843-1844, he sold the remainder of his land in Buckingham County, including 694 acres sold to George W. Kyle in 1843 and 721 acres to Obadiah F. Reynolds in 1844.105 The 1843 personal tax records reveal that he owned forty-six slaves, twelve horses, a coach and a gold watch. In 1844, he paid taxes on ten slaves, twelve horses, and a gold watch (he no longer owned a coach or carriage). Evidently, he sold his gold watch in 1845 for in 1846 he paid taxes on only six slaves and one horse. It appears that he went bankrupt in 1847 after paying taxes on four slaves and one horse.

    It appears that his assets were worth less than his debts in 1847, which caused him to search for another location. Being almost penniless, he wrote to his sister Grace R. (Booker) Austin for assistance. She failed to respond and, on Aug. 23, 1847, he made another appeal. “My dear Sister, I have written to you several times to know if you are willing to let me have one of the beds and furniture that Aunt Glover left at your house at the time of her death. I shall start to the West in a few weeks and I wish to take the bed and furniture with me. The 1830 and 1840 censuses for Buckingham County show two females in the household of the Archibald Austin family who were born between 1760-1770. It appears that one of the ladies was Mrs. Patsy (Gaines) Booker, widow of Marshall Booker, and the other lady may have been Patsy’s sister “Aunt Glover.”

    Bernard had no money to purchase land in Kentucky when resettled his family during the fall of 1847. He is found on the 18 U.S. Census for Calloway County, Kentucky, family No. 540 enumerated by the census-taker William Poindexter Guthrey, who was a native of Buckingham County. All of BGB’s children moved with him to Kentucky except Martha G. (Booker) Shepherd, Peter Stratton Booker, and Marshall Booker.

    Bernard G. Booker married Mary Stratton, daughter of Peter and Mary N. (Steger) Stratton. Mary was born on Dec. 31, 1792 Powhatan County, Virginia and died in June or July of 1862 Pleasant Hill, Calloway County, Kentucky. He was not able recover from his financial losses in Buckingham County. A search of land records in Calloway County shows no evidence that I owned land or taxable personal property before his death in 185 His wife Mary and her son Samuel Jennings Booker jointly bought a house in 1860 on a 1 ½ -acre lot in Pleasant Hill, on the road that leads from Murray, Kentucky to Paris, Tennessee. They paid $550 to the grantor 0. A. and Susan C. Schrader. Apparently the s1ave labor was used to pay the rent or mortgage payments and living expenses, but this income may have ceased after the Civil War when slaves were declared to be free.

    The history of Bernard G. Booker was lost to his descendants who remained in Buckingham County. This compiler has been researching the family since 1966. Not one researcher nor descendant knew or reported that B. G. died penniless in Kentucky. The ownership of the Buckingham Booker Gold Mine is common knowledge among descendants, a bragging point. The consensus among descendants is that BGB died in Buckingham County and was buried in an unmarked grave. Likewise, his living descendants in Calloway County knew nothing about his coming from Buckingham County, Virginia as a former man of wealth. This fact is highlighted by the research effort of Joseph D. Eggleston, then president of Hampden-Sydney College, who sought an answer to the mystery of Bernard G. Booker. He tried to reach Shepherd families in Buckingham County who were descendants of Martha G. (Booker) Shepherd. They did not respond, even though Eggleston told a member of the Twyman family to “Stir them up!” At last the story is known and is being told in the twenty-first century for the first time.

    From the book “Waltons of old Virginia” by Wilmer L. Kerns, Ph.D. Page 310

    • Kimberly / May 28 2013 8:49 am

      Richard – I have had much contact with Wilmer Kerns and have his book. His wife and I are descendents of two different sons of Martha Gaines Booker. In fact my 3rd GGF was named for BG. Do you have any information independent of Wilmer’s about the Bookers or Shepherds?

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