Swift's  Silver Mine
by Emory Hamilton

       Related by Emory L. Hamilton. From the Anniversary edition of the Daily News,
  Middlesboro, KY, August 1940. From the WPA Project Papers, The Alderman Library, The
  University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.

       One of the most told stories of Bell Co. and southeastern Kentucky is the tale of
  the famous Swift Silver Mine, and no historical edition relating to this area would be
  complete without some mention of the belief that the Englishman and his companions
  discovered and worked silver mines in the territory which is now Kentucky.
       Whether Jonathan Swift actually  discovered or visited any silver mines is not
  definitely known, although the firm contention of many people that Swift found and exploited
  large deposits of he precious material has persisted through five generations. There is,
  however little doubt that Swift and his associates visited this area for some important
  purpose and that they were among the earliest of the English speaking peoples to explore this
  section and remain for any considerable length of time. That they were pursuing some
  important objective is believed by historians to be reflected in the fact that Swift and his
  associates made annual journeys into the wilderness between the Cumberland Mountains
  and the Ohio River for a decade.

  Maps Purported

       Stories of great treasures left by the daring Swift and his men persist in Kentucky,
  Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, ennsylvania and the Carolinas. In the
  eighteenth century, the belief in the actuality of the famous Swift Silver Mines were wide
  spread. Maps purporting to show the locationsof the deposits of ore were printed in the publications of the time. One such map, published in 1793, located the mines as lying between the headwaters of the Kentucky and Big Sandy Rivers. A "History of Kentucky" written by William Elsey Connelley and E. M. Coulter, dited by Judge Charles Kerr, and published by the American Historical Society, of
  Chicago and New York, records that James Adair was among the first white men to trade
  with the Cherokees, having established a profitable trade with the Overhill Cherokees before the English explored the headquarters of the Clinch and Holston rivers to any great extent.
       "Within twenty miles of Fort Louden," according to a quotation from Adair s writings
  reproduced in the history, "there is a great plenty of whetstones for rezors, of red, white
  and black colours. The silver mines are so rich, that by digging about ten yards deep, some
  desperate vagabonds found at sundry times, so much rich ore as to enable them to counterfeit
  dollars to a great amount, a horse load of which was detected, in passing for the purpose
  of negroes of Augusta."

  Geologists Deny Deposits

       Other historians have recorded the stories of hunters and traders which tend to
  substantiate Adair s statements.  But, at the same time, Geologists have
  held that there is no appreciable deposits of silver in the area. The following is from the
  "Preliminary Report on the Geology of the Upper Kentucky River" as published by the
  Geological Survey of Kentucky: "Considerable time and means have
  been spent in desultory and unavailing search for silver in various localities of this region, as
  well as elsewhere in this coalfield, it is desirable to state that as yet no indication of
  any deposit of silver ore worth exploitation has been discovered in the Appalachian coal fields;
  and also that no true vein of any kind has been found in the eastern field of the State,
  excepting the one here described under the caption of iron ore. From the facts after such
  investigation in this field as has been made, it may be assumed as reasonably certain that no
  paying quantity of silver ore will be found in it, though it is beyond dispute that occasional
  silver-bearing ore has been found in exceedingly small quantities. The rugged
  conglomerate cliffs, which have attracted the most search are not more likely to contain
  silver than other smoother surfaces. The legends in the mountains from Pennsylvania to
  Georgia and North Carolina, may be left to those who wish to believe them. It should be
  known, that the North American Indians had no knowledge of mining or metallurgy."

  Mentioned With Murder

       In another history of Kentucky, Swift s Silver Mines are mentioned incidentally in connection with the murder of Col. James Harrod, founder of Harrodsburg, the first settlement in the state.
       As nearly as the date has been ascertained, it was in July, 1793, that a fellow by the name of Bridges claimed to have discovered Swift s Silver Mines and asked Col. Harrod to go with him and help him
  develop them. Prior to that Col. Harrod and Bridges had had some difficulties over
  property. Mrs. Harrod is said to have warned her husband that she feared a plot to murder
  him, but he insisted on going in search of the mine. A third man, however, was let into the
  secret and asked to join the party. The three set up at the Three Forks of the Kentucky River, where Bridges said the mine was located. They separated to hunt game, according to the account of the trip, with
  Col. Harrod taking the river bank, Bridges a few hundred yards from him, and the third man
  closer to the camp.
       Shortly after they had separated this man heard a shot in the vicinity where Col. Harrod was hunting. He returned to camp, where he found Bridges, who explained that he had seen a fresh Indian sign and believed Harrod had been murdered. Bridges later went to Lexington and  sold some furs and a pair of silver cuff buttons on which there was engraved the initial "H". They were sent to Mrs. Harrod, who identified them as those of her husband. Bridges fled and never returned to the section.
       Col. Harrod s interest in the mine is believed by historians to lend some credence to
  the story. He was born in Bedford Co., PA, in 1742, and grew up in an area in which Swift
  and his associates had spent much time. It has been hinted by some writers that Col. Harrod
  may have been acquainted with Swift. At least his readiness to accompany Bridges is regarded
  as proof that men who had an opportunity to know the facts believed in the existence of the mine.

  On Clear Creek

       Narrowing the legends of Swift to Bell County, we find accounts of mining operations
  on Clear Creek. Collin s "History of Kentucky," under the heading of "Swift s Silver Mine," has this to say:
       "In 1854-5, while making geological investigations in the southeast part of
  Kentucky, as part of the official survey of the state, Prof. David Dale Owen examined the
  supposed location of the notorious Swift Mine on the southeast side of Log Mountain only a
  few miles from Cumberland Ford, then in Knox County, now in Josh Bell, or rather Bell
  County. The Indians are said in former times to have made reservations of 30 miles square,
  on a branch of the Laurel Fork of Clear Creek. Benjamin Herndon, an old explorer and a man
  well acquainted with the county, guided him to a spot where the ore was supposed to be
  obtained by the Indians, and afterwards by Swift and his party. It proved to be a kidney-
  shaped mass of dark gray argillaceous iron stone, containing some accidental minerals
  sparingly disseminated, such as sulphuret of Zinc and lead - which proved on examination
  to be hydrated silicate of alumina. This ore originated in a thick mass of dark bituminous
  argillaceous shade, with some coal interstratified, that occurs from 500 to 600 feet
  up in the Log Mountain.

  Haywood Report

       Another historian who devoted some time and study to the legends of the Swift Mine
  was Judge John Haywood, who came from  North Carolina to Tennessee in 1822. He was
  the author of a civil and political history of the area covering the period from the time of the
  earliest settlement up to the year of 1796. The following is an excerpt from
  Haywood s writings: "Cumberland Mountains bear N. 46 degrees E.; and between the Laurel Mountain
  and the Cumberland Mountain, Cumberland River breaks through and about ten miles north
  of the State Line is Clear Creek, which discharges itself into the Cumberland, bearing
  northeast till it reaches the river. It rises between the great Laurel Hill and Cumberland
  Mountain; its length is about fifteen miles. Not far from its head rises also the South fork of
  the Cumberland, in the state of Kentucky, and runs westwardly. On Clear Creek are two old
  furnaces, about halfway between the head and mouth of the creek - first discovered by hunters
 in the time of the first settlements made in this country."

  Furnaces Found

  These furnaces then exhibited very ancient appearances; and in them were charcoals and
  cinders - very unlike iron cinders, as they have no marks of the rust iron cinders are said
  uniformly to have in a few years. There are also a number of like furnaces on the South
  Fork, bearing similar marks, and seemingly of a very ancient date.
       One Swift came to East Tennessee in 1790 and in 1791; and was at Bean s Station,
  on his way to a part of the country near which these furnaces are. He had with him a journal
  of his former transactions by which it appeared that in 1761, 1762, and 1763, and afterwards
  in 1767, he, two Frenchmen, and some few others had a furnace somewhere along the Red
  Bird Fork of Kentucky River - which runs towards Cumberland River and Mountain
  northeast of the mouth of Clear Creek. He and his associates made silver in large quantities at
  the last mentioned furnace; they got the ore from a cave about three miles from the place
  where this furnace stood. The Indians becoming troublesome he went off, and the
  Frenchmen went toward the place now called Nashville. Swift was deterred form the
  prosecution of his last journey by the reports he heard of Indian hostility, and returned home
  - leaving his journals in the possession of Mrs. Renfro.
       (The Mrs. Renfro to whom Judge Haywood referred is identified as the widow of
  Joseph Renfro, who was killed by the Indians during the time when the territory was a part of
  North Carolina. In compensation, the state granted Mrs. Renfro a large tract of land, and
  she reputedly lived on a large estate near Bean s Station. It has been said that Swift was
  desirous of marrying her.)

  Frenchmen Disappear

       The two Frenchman who paddled down the Cumberland in a canoe "toward the
  place noe called Nashville" were never heard of again according to this account. The
  following year, Swift returned to Bean s Station, but a disease of his eyes had rendered
  him almost blind. Even with the aid of his journal, he was unable to again, locate his
  mines or his treasures. He returned to North Carolina to consult a half-breed Cherokee
  Indian physician and surgeon. He never returned to Tennessee, and it has never been
  definitely learned when he died or under what circumstances.
       Some indication of the treasure which Swift was attempting to relocate may be
  gained from this excerpt from his journal which has been reprinted in at least two
  Kentucky histories:
       "On the 1st of September, 1769, we left between 22,000 and 30,000 dollars and
  crowns on a large creek, running near a south course. Close to the spot we marked our names
  on a beech tree - with a compass, square, and trowell. No great distance from this place we
  left $15,000 of the same kind, marking three or four trees with marks. Not far from these, we
  left the prize, near a forked white oak, and about three feet underground, and laid two
  long stones across it, marking several stones close about it. At the Forks of Sandy, close by
  the Forks, is a small rock; has a spring in one end of it. Between it and a small branch we hid
  a prize under the ground; it was valued t $6,000. We likewise left $3,000 buried in the
  rocks of the rockhouse."

  Several Trips

       The journal, which was accepted as authentic by the historians, is said to have
  referred in some detail to trips in 1761, 1762, 1764, 1768-69. Further, it alluded to three
  other trips of which Swift made no record. If the account dated September 1, 1769, is an
  indication, Swift must have secreted a vast treasure in the wilderness.
       Research has shown that Jonathan Swift was a daring, courageous, cold-blooded
  Englishman. However, it has not shown anything o f his ancestry, nor has it revealed
  why and when he came to the New World. Knowledge of his life in the back
  country was preserved only through tradition, but it is held by some historians to be
  reasonably certain that in 1753 he was a well established Indian trader, and had probably
  been so engaged for a number of years before that date.
       On the other hand, it was believed by some that Swift was a buccaneer, who sailed
  the ocean to prey on Spanish merchantmen, and that he secreted his booty in the
  wilderness, making his trips for that purpose, and using the story of the silver mines to
  conceal the actual purpose of his treks. One believer in this tradition was the
  late William J. Reams, who grew up in Laurel County and who later moved to Kansas.
       Mr. Reams many years ago related to  William Elsey Connelley, on of the historians
  previously mentioned, a strange tale of  Jonathan Swift s trip in 1790.
       The story is that after making the journey in 1769, the last visit mentioned in
  Swift s Journal, no member of the party sought to claim any of the treasure until 1790.
  It had been agreed that no one would visit a cave in which the money was reputedly
  concealed. However, Swift and any three were given permission to carry away the money
  provided they kept a record and wronged no one.

  Murder Associates

       Twenty-one years after that agreement had been reached Swift gathered about him the
  survivors of his company and set out to reclaim the wealth, according to Ream s story.
  The party was composed of Swift, two Englishmen, named Monday and McClintock,
  two Frenchmen, and two Shawnee Indians. Monday and McClintock had been
  with Swift in his earliest explorations. The Shawnees had made trips later when Swift
  sought to legend of their tribe relating to a silver mine. The Frenchmen, apparently, are
  the two who, according to the other account, paddled down the Cumberland River toward
  Nashville and were never heard from again. They reached the mines and examined
  the treasure hidden at various points near their furnaces, according to Reams.
       When Swift again saw the great wealth, he resolved to possess it for himself.
  He concluded to murder the members of his party.
       According to tradition, Swift arose during the night, armed with a keen scalping
  knife. One by one he steadily murdered the Englishmen and Frenchmen as they slept near
  the camp fire. Then he went to the great cave, where the Shawnees were sleeping.
       He awakened them and ordered them to light torches. As they looked at the vast
  store of treasure he gave a demonical yell and leaped upon the unsuspected Indians. In a
  moment they were dead.

  Struck Blind

       Whether this story is based upon Swift s partial blindness as referred to in other
  accounts of his life and explorations has been the subject of some comment. Be that as it
  may, the Reams account concludes that after Swift had murdered the two Shawnees, he was
  struck almost totally blind.  He groped his way back to civilization, the account continues, leaving the
  great riches behind. Mr. Connelley and Mr. Coulter conclude their recounting of Ream s story with
  this paragraph:
       "Mr. Reams believed that Swift and his associates were buccaneers, and that they
  operated in the Spanish seas and against the Spanish coasts in America. It was his belief,
  that they carried their silver and gold into the wilderness and coined it. Their mines were
  myths, and only invented to conceal their real operations. He had no doubt that they left
  millions of coined silver and gold in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. And that it
  remains there to this hour." Much has been written about the famous Swift Silver Mines.
       But the location of the silver and gold - if it was actually burnished in this vicinity -
  remains the jealously guarded secret of the  majestic mountains.
       Many and varied are the traditional stories of the Swift Silver Mine. Many of the
  earliest pioneers of Wise Co. believed in the truth of the mine with an unshaken belief that
  it was in the fastness of the Stone Mountain. Many of them spent the entire period of their
  life in quest on the famed mine. Many believe the Valley running East and West to be that of
  Powell Valley as it lies East and West, the  large mountain referred to be High Knob and
  the Beaded Spring is definitely located in Scott Co., south of High Knob. A lady who was
  born and reared in Scott Co. near the little place that used to be known as __, VA, states
  that she knows where the Beaded Spring is. She states that the spring bubbles out under
  Stone Mountain and that small stones are washed out and in the center of these stones is
  a small hole and she says that as a child she and other children used to string these on
  strings and wear them for beads. Another old resident tells me that the older people have told
  him that at the lower end of the Norton Streets, leading West through the town and at the site
  of the sign boards near the Benge s Gap marker one time stood a large beech tree, with
  Swift s name carved on it and an arrow  pointing up Benge s Branch toward the High
  Knob. It is common knowledge to the older people of Wise Co. that a Deer Lick was on
  the flat just north of the Knob near the road leading from the Knob to Norton. Also the
  valley that Norton is located in runs East and West as well as that of Powell Valley. But
  Powell Valley is the only one in Wise Co. that has any cedars growing in it.
       Older people also state that at the same location as the beech tree at Norton once
  stood a spruce pine tree with a cedar growing in the top of it. One might go ahead and tell all
  the traditional stories about this mine and fill a complete book length novel.

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