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Thursday, May 17, 2012

John Winthrop the Younger and the Golden Rings

John Winthrop the Younger - Public Domain from the CT State Library

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States is credited with finding the first gold on his estates in Virginia in 1797, but the first gold in the Colonies was discovered in Connecticut by John Winthrop the Younger, Connecticut’s first governor in the mid-1600s.  John had a great interest in metallurgy and was one of the driving spirits behind the Saugus Iron Works in Saugus, Massachusetts.  During this period he tried to interest the settlers of Massachusetts in the mineral wealth of the colony.

In 1635 after he returned from England he went to the Connecticut Colony as governor of Connecticut for one year under the Saye and Sele Patent where he sent out a party to build a fort at Saybrook at the mouth of the Connecticut River.  After a year he returned to Massachusetts where he studied science for a time.  He then returned to Connecticut when he received title to lands in 1645 to lands in south-eastern Connecticut where he founded in 1646 New London.

In 1662 he obtained in England the charter from the Crown that united the two colonies of Connecticut and New Haven.  At the time he was also the governor of Connecticut and in 1675 one of the commissioners of the United Colonies of New England.

Winthrop was also a member of the Royal Society in London to which he submitted two papers, “Some Natural Curiosities of New England” and “Description, Culture and Use of Maize.”  It was in the first that he recounted his trip to Great Mountain in Cobalt, Connecticut with his man-servant where for a period of three weeks they mined gold then cast the proceeds of their mining trip into gold rings.

It is quite possible that J.R.R. Tolkien heard about the gold rings Winthrop cast and incorporated the tale into his Trilogy “The Lord of the Rings.”  Tolkien was also a member of the Royal Society, and had access to their archives.

In 1984 Anthony Philpotts a geology professor from the University of Connecticut and his class discovered gold at the cobalt mine in Cobalt that assayed at 6 ounces per ton in roughly the same area as where Winthrop had worked almost three hundred years ago.  The gold was found in a quartzite formation that extends from Great Mountain, Connecticut northwards to western New Hampshire.    

According to the president of Yale Stiles, “Winthrop came back to New London with plenty of gold.”

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