"Although there are very ancient tales of gold being found upon Exmoor, in lumps and solid hummocks, and of men who slew one another for it, this deep digging and great labour seemed to me a dangerous and unholy enterprise"

Gold appears to have been discovered in at least two Devonshire districts prior to the seventeenth century. 

Gold Quartz, Torquay
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGold Quartz, Torquay - Credit: Rob Lavinsky
Legend has it that the North Molton mines were worked by the Romans, and subsequently in the reign of King John, as royal mines, stated to be rich in gold and silver and copper. Folklore suggests that the gold in these mines was used to fund a raid into Wales in the time of Edward I. In 1840, a small company worked the North Molton mines for copper, under the title of "Prince Albert Mine." The copper was found to contain a considerable percentage of gold. The Devonshire Directory for 1856 indicates that "about 1840, gold was found in a large lump or pocket" - although this has since been disputed. 

According to Lyson in his History, during the reign of Edward I, especially in the year 1296, great profit was derived from the Devon mines at Combe Martin and Beer Alston (a silver mine) and 360 miners were forcibly removed from their homes in Wales and Derbyshire, and made to work in these royal mines. In the reigns of Elizabeth, and later, William and Mary, the Combe Martin mines were again worked, but with little success, and probably only for the sake of their silver.