Historical Society of Southwest Virginia


Return to Historical Society of Southwest Virginia

Return to Historical Sketches




By James A. Dougherty
A Geographical Approach to the Legends of Silver Mine     

Southwestern Virginia, Southern West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Upper East Tennesseeall claim the mining of silver by one Swift, who is variously called "John", "George", "William",and "Tom". North Carolina and Pennsylvania are claimed by many as Swift's headquarters in his mining operations. Of the many legends concerning the mine(s), all seem to fall generally into two categories: the "Kentucky Legends" and the "Clinch Legends". By word "Kentucky", reference is made to all the legends which place the mine(s) of Swift in the present states of Kentucky or West Virginia, including the headwaters of the Big Sandy, the Kentucky, the Cumberland the Red Rivers. By the "Clinch Legends", reference is made to the area drained by the Clinch River and its tributaries in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

For practical purposes, the division of the large area by watersheds is a better way of grouping the stories into categories than to follow state lines. Further investigation also reveals that there are many so-called "fringe areas" that have, by virtue of their own geography, a peculiar version of Swift's mining exploits, although all of the stories basically fall into the Clinch and Kentucky grouping. Among the Kentucky legends one may further derive a different account of the legend for each of the major watersheds in Eastern Kentucky: the Red River, the Cumberland, the Kentucky, and the Big Sandy. These four major rivers may further be divided into tributaries which have a peculiar version of the legend. For example, the Tug Fork Levisa (Louisa) Fords of the Big Sandy have their own separate accounts of Swift's mine, the Levisa Fork claiming Dickenson Co., VA, and Floyd Co. and Pike Co., KY, as the location of Swift's Mine, and the Tug Fork being assumed by residents of Buchanan Co., VA, and northern Pike Co., KY, as Swift's seat of operations. Although they have not necessarily been the origin of different accounts of the Mine Story. John's Creek (Levisa Fork) and Rockhouse Creek (Tug Fork) have seen their share of prospectors roaming the creek banks in search of Swift's smelter.     

Similarly, the Kentucky River Basin may be subdivided into isolated regions where muchsearching for the mine has been conducted. The different small creeks and valleys are almost too numerous to name without compiling an atlas of Kentucky, so only two will be mentioned here. They are the Red Bird River, sometimes called the Red Bird Fork of the Kentucky, and Devil's Creek, a branch of the Kentucky in Wolfe Co. Also, in Wolfe County is Swift's Camp Creek, a branch of the Red River, so named because Swift supposedly had his silver mining camp located there. A so-called "fringe" area of the Kentucky mine material is Bell Co., KY, in the Cumberland watershed. It has been the seat of much searching for the mine, although there is little material to substantiate a claim that the mine is there.     

In the Clinch area, conflicting accounts of the legend are not so various, but fairly close to the original source. Tazewell County is the exception to the amazing regularity in the Clinch legends . Tazewell County story is considered a Clinch story, no because of the similarity of the basic story, but simply because it is included in the Clinch Valley watershed. Actually, Tazewell has been the scene of much prospecting for Swift's Silver, especially along the ridges north of the Clinch, but the folklore of the County says little or nothing of Swift or his associates. The reason it must be considered a fringe area and contradictory to the Clinch hypothesis is that a very small vein of silver, which some called Swift's Silver Mine, was discovered near Jeffersonville, the present town of Tazewell. (1) The Clinch version is concerned mainly with Scott and Wise Counties, VA, although the area of Claiborne and Hancock counties, TN, has been mentioned by some.     

In Kentucky there are at least three creeks named "Rockhouse," presumably for a peculiar rockhouse found on the banks of each. The mention of a peculiar rockhouse in nearly all the legends or the mine may cause one to surmise that these creeks were more likely to be named thus because those who first named them may have been aware of, or looking for, a peculiar rockhouse. (2)      Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River was so named because Swift bored holes in some silver pigs and put a tug through them to tie them together. He is thought to have dropped some of these in a fork of the Sandy while crossing it under the fire of Indians, hence the name "Tug Fork". (3)      At Pound Gap are many caves and Swift is supposed to have stored silver pig int he largest one of them. Past the Gap, on the Virginia side of Pine Mountain, there was a natural corridor formed by the lower ridges which could easily be barricaded to form a natural pound for Swift's horses, hence the name "Pound" and "Pound Gap". This explanation is used in both the Kentucky and Clinch narratives.      

The only settlement from existing in the area (Swift mined somewhere between 1750 and 1770) was Castle's Camp (now Castlewood, VA). Another famous landmark supposedly used by Swift was the Wilderness Trail of Daniel Boone. Here follows a list of some of the places commonly associated with the mine legends:     

Rivers: Clinch and Guest, Powell, Red, Red Bird, Kentucky, Cumberland, Big Sandy - Levisa and Tug Forks, Upper Yadkin Creeks: Swift Camp, Upper and Lower Devil's, Big Stoney, Hoot-Owl Branch, Rockhouse, Indian, Bear Pen, Bull Run, John's, Paint     
Towns: Paintsville, Campton, Mount Sterling, Glen Cairn, Alexandria, Fort Pitt, Castlewood, Pound, Fort Blackmore, Jeffersonville (Tazewell), Norton, Maysville     
Gaps: Moccasin, Pound, Breaks of the Sandy, Nancy's, Little and Big Stone Mountains and Ridges: Clinch, Sandy, Cumberland, Pine, Stone     
Counties: Wise, Scott, Russell, Dickenson, Tazewell, Buchanan of Virginia; Letcher, Pike, Magoffin, Bell, Wolfe, Clarke, Morgan of Kentucky; Claiborne, Hancock, Hawkins of Tennessee.     

Perhaps, with the geography of the area in mind, a look at the legends will be more meaningful. The Account of Swift' Silver Mine According to the Kentucky Legends      The basic approach to the story of Swift peculiar to the Kentucky versions may be seen best through two good examples of Kentucky narrative. A narrative referring to particular events in more detail than any other is the story of John Swift narrated by Alley's Journal. This story is not necessarily more accurate than the others, nor can Alley's copy of Swift's Journal be ascertained to be the original Swift Journal, but the account is very complete. Here follows a paraphrase of the story in Alley's Journal:     

In the spring of 1760 a preliminary journey was made by Swift, Hazlitt, Ireland, Blackburn, McClintock, and Staley to make necessary arrangements for the mining operation. Among thethings accomplished was the building of a furnace and the burning of wood to make a pit of charcoal somewhere about the "Breaks" of the Sandy River. From that point in Southeastern Kentucky, they went southwesterly and found more mines. There they made more furnaces and burned more charcoal. They departed from the mines and arrived in Alexandria, VA, December 19, 1760. A man by the name of Montgomery and cut the dies for the molds. He was very good at the task, for he had been employed by the Royal Mint in London. It was during this winter that the company was reorganized and fifteen shares were allotted.     

The party took many pack horses and left for the mines June 25, 1761. Upon reaching the forks of the Sandy River, they divided into two smaller parties, one of the groups going to work the mines they had discovered the previous year. After a very prosperous year, they returned to Alexandria December 2, 1761. Some of the miners were left behind, but the managers of the mine returned.      

In 1762 the party left Alexandria during the last week of March and went west by the way of Fort Pitt. On the way two horses drowned in the waters of the Kanawha River. At the forks of the Sandy, the members of the group cast lots to see which ones would have to mine. Later on, when they reached the mines, they discovered that the men who had been left behind to work the mines during the winter had become dissatisfied. After a prosperous year of mining, they left the mines on the first day of September, 1762, and returned to Alexandria. They had done well enough to double the number of pace horses for the next year.     

In 1763 the pack train left Alexandria on April 21, 1763, for the West. This also was a good season at the mines, and the group left for Alexandria September 16 and arrived October 31.      In 1764 the French and Indian War hindered their going to the mine by way of Fort Pitt, so the party went by way of New River and the Cumberland Gap, arriving at the lower mines on July 11, 1764. This year was not a very good one. They left the mines November 8, 1764, and went to the home of Mundy in North Carolina by the way of New River.     

In 1765 the miners set out from Munday's house April 14, 1765, went by way of Ingle's Ferry on New River, and reached the lower mines May 2, 1765. 1765 was a good season at the mines. Much of the silver and the ore was placed in a great cave, and the group went through Pound Gap on the return to Munday's house, arriving there November 20, 1765. In the celebration of Christmas holiday of 1765, Fletcher and Flint, two of the company, were drinking and came to blows with their swords. They were wounded and thus delayed the trop back to the mine. The two men made their wills and hid their money int he vicinity of Munday's house. Flint buried 240,000 Crowns and Fletcher hit 460,000. It was on the sixth day of June when the party left for their return trip to the mines, and shortly thereafter, on the second day of July, Fletcher died.      1766 was not a very good year, for many of their miners mutinied and fled. The men tried to conceal the mines and returned to their homes, leaving November 6, 1766, and arriving December 6, 1766.     

The next year, with a large train, they left on the first of October and arrived on the fourth of November, 1767. The year as a good one, and the group this time returned to the East by way of Fort Pitt, arriving in Alexandria on the seventh of May, 1768. A great train was made up, and the return to the mine began June 4, 1768, the date of the arrival not known. After a good year, Swift and some left the mines on the twenty-ninth of October, 1768. At the Big Sandy River, the party was ambushed, Campbell and Hazlitt killed, and Staley wounded. The group arrived at the house of Munday December 14, 1768.      After the arrival in North Carolina, Hazlitt died December 24, 1768. The men got scared of North Carolina, that their money would be cheated out of them, and so they closed the branch of their operations in that State.     

On the sixteenth of May, 1769, the group left Munday's house and returned to the mines by way of New River and Cumberland gap. The pack train was large and unwieldy, and the progress was slow. The date of the arrival at the lower mines was June 24, 1769. All the party were determined to quit the mine, the workmen were paid their wages seven-fold, and much was stored in the "great cavern of the Shawnees." The return by way of the Big Sandy and Fort Pitt began October 9, 1769 and terminated at Alexandria December 11, 1769. All operations were closed out. (4)      

The Alley Journal is written more or less as a diary and of course leaves out more background information vital to the Kentucky Legend. A narrative of Swift's biographical travel experiences is enlightening in that it "catches the loose ends" of the Journal.      A condensation of the Kentucky hypothesis is as follows:      

Swift was an Englishman who first came to Virginia and then to North Carolina. If he had been a sailor, it was earlier, for he spent his latter days in the wilderness of North Carolina and Virginia. He was a trader and an adventurer who had the daring, courage, and contempt for danger characteristic of Englishmen. He was educated and wrote with a good hand. He knew higher mathematics for he used astronomical calculations in his Journal. He was self-reliant and capable of maintaining himself in transactions of magnitude. He was an organizer and leader of men.     

In 1753 and probably a few years before, he traded with the Indians and was connected with the English fur traders in what is now Ohio.      As a fur trader, he spent much time with the Shawnees, married the daughter of a chief, and fathered a few children. Other accounts have it, though, that his wife was half French and either Shawnee or Wyandott, her father having been the Frenchman.      While trading with the Indians, he was captured by the French, but escaped through the help of two Frenchmen he knew. After his escape, he went to Virginia, and later fought in the Army of Braddock and Washington at Fort Dungannon.     

While on Braddock's ill-fated expedition to the French fort, he met and came to know well the following men from North Carolina; James Ireland, Samuel Blackburn, Isaac Campbell, Abram Flint, Harmon Staley, Shadrach Jefferson, and Jonathan Munday. All these men lived about the head of the Yadkin, the South Yadkins, and the Catawba Rivers in North Carolina.      Swift learned about the silver mines from the Indians with whom he traded. The mines had been worked for several years by the French and the Indians. The Indians were Shawnees, although the Cherokee still claimed the area where the mine was.      In the year 1760 a team of Swift, Staley, Blackburn, Ireland, and others visited the mines to make preliminary investigations, but did not work any ore. The next year they returned with the following men on the crew: Swift, Jonathan Munday, Seth Montgomery, James Ireland, Shadrack Jefferson, Joshua McClintock, Samuel Blackburn, Henry Hazlitt, Isaac Campbell, Moses Fletcher, Abram Flint, Harmon Staley, William Wilton, John, Motts, Alexander Bartol, and Jeremiah Bates. Some Frenchmen, including Pierre St. Martin and Andrew Renound, and some Shawnees were along also. These latter men met the party at Fort Pitt.      

The men procured their tools at Alexandria. Along the way they bought some maize from the Indians in Ohio.       Seth Montgomery and Henry Hazlitt lived in Alexandria, and they were the ones who furnished the money for the group.      Swift followed Braddock's trail to Fort Pitt, then to the present site of Charleston, West Virginia, and then went to the forks of the Great Sandy Creek. The pack horses followed each other single file under the command of the Frenchmen, and often there were as many as 1000 horses in the train. At the forks of the Sandy, some were to go up the West or Louisa (Levisa) Fork and the others on west.      

The mines were connected by a short road made by the miners. Somewhere between the Breaks of the Sandy and Pound Gap in Pine Mountain there was a large cave which went from one side of the mountain to the other. Some of Swift's mines were in this vicinity, and they made the cave a storage place for the silver they obtained. (5) Because the romance of obtaining a hidden lode stirs the imagination of most men, generally the other Kentucky legends are vague and ambiguous about Swift and his associates, but explicit and lucid on where the treasure may be found. As early as 1840 John D. Shane, in the "Draper Papers", said that Swift "had considerable mechanical genius, and possessed a knowledge of the art of refining silver". He further explained that Indians took Swift down a river to Maysville and after landing and going over a rich alluvial tract, went into mountains and found the silver ore in a cave, or rock house. Shane further explains in great detail where Swift had his smelter, coined money, hid treasures, and later searched in vain for the mine. (6)      

Thomas D. Clarke relates in his book "The Kentucky", substantially the Kentucky Legend, but at one point disagrees with the other accounts of the legend by saying that Swift was a sea captain ready to sail for Cuba when he learned about the silver from Munday, with whom he contracted to find the mine. After working the mine once, Swift was kept prisoner in the Tower of London for disputing British Colonial policies, and when he returned he was blind and could find nothing. (7)      Also a part of the Kentucky Legend is a story about money being buried under a large flat rock in a rockhouse. The Draper Papers seem to be the earliest account of the flat rock in rockhouse story (8) (disregarding a similar story in the Clinch Legend). Almost all of the later narratives of the mine and the attempts to find it mention this prize in the rockhouse. At least two of the Kentucky family of legends supplement the basic narrative by specifically pointing out the where-abouts of buried treasure, mentioning caches next to a large creek flowing south, near some marked trees, near a large white oak, and in a rockhouse. (9)       Other sources advance the idea that Christopher Gist discovered silver on his exploration in 1751 and told Swift about it. Furthermore, he and Swift worked together on the subject founding Gist's Station (Coeburn, VA) as an outlet for the silver-trading business. (10)     

Another common tradition regarding Swift is that he was a murderer. In 1790 he and the other survivors of the original party (Munday, McClintock, two Frenchmen, and two Shawnees) arrived at the mines and checked their caches. Discovering that nothing had been taken elsewhere, they returned to the great "Shawnee Cave" in Pine Mountain, and while the others lay sleeping, he killed them all with a sword.  From that moment an act of God caused him to go blind and made the money inaccessible to any with avarice in his eyes. After crawling back to civilization, Swift, though blinded, directed later searches to find the mine, but all were to no avail. (11) By one source this is the Clarke County story. (12) According to some he only killed Munday (who was the only one with him), but all agree that his soul was damned and he confessed the murders on his death bed. (13)     

As a preface to the Kentucky Legend, the following background is quoted from Swift's Journal:      Sir William Berkely, Governor of Virginia, was informed by the Indians in 1784, "that within five days" journey to the Westward and by South there is a great high mountain, and at the foot thereof great Rivers that run into the sea; and that there are men that come hither in ships (but not the same that ours be), they wear apparel and have reed caps on their heads, and ride on Beastes like our horses, but have much longer ears, and other circumstances they declare for the certainty of the Kanawha, Kentucky Cumberland and Tennessee, whose waters flow from the western slope of the Allegheny Mountains to the Ohio and Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico, long before frequented by Spainards. (14)     

Finally, legend tells that Swift was a counterfeiter and buccaneer on the Spanish main, and brought ore to the wilderness to smelt, only using the mine story as a cover. He is also reported to have made bogus money in England and thus was in America as an exile. He was supposed to have made three silver dollars with the ore needed to make one. (15) The Clinch Legends      The so-called "Clinch" version of the story of Swift's mine is peculiar to Southwest Virginia an the Clinch watershed. The following legend, which purports to have been written by Swift, has inconsistencies and fallacies, but its thoroughness and proximity to the other Clinch narratives is through enough to allow it to be the representative for them.      (At this point Mr. Dougherty gave a brief extemporaneous resume' of the Clinch Valley tale. He did not leave a typed copy. One version of the Clinch Valley legend has been appended to the paper by Luther F. Addington.)     

An investigation by Mr. Francis L. Berkley; curator of manuscripts for the University of Virginia Library, showed the preceding document bogus. He said that it was "spurious" and pure "tommy rot". His criticism challenged the phraseology, handwriting, and materials in the paper. He said that "smelter", as a place where ore is smelted, was a word not used at that time, that the London Company went out of existence in 1624, and that the way s's and and's were formed is a style of handwriting not known in 1775. Furthermore, the woven paper is too modern for 1775, the variety of paper then in use having been "laid paper". The "soft, furry fell from much crumpling" tends to indicate that the document has been crumpled time and time again in a deliberate attempt to give it an aged look. Finally, the ink itself is not durable enough to have lasted since. (17) It is known that many Swift mine maps were sold to money-hungry residents of the Clinch Valley for considerable sums of money. It is then conceivable that the mine journals and maps were sold by some patient chiseler as a money-making scheme? If so, the Clinch Legends will rank among hoaxes as first class. Many have been fooled if the tale is false, for the present author has consulted then Swift Journals like the one mentioned above, most of them so similar that phrases, clauses, and sentences are often identical. This is to say nothing of the many legends and searches for the mine, which are voluminous in the Clinch Valley area.     
A fanciful notion taken by many of the older folk of the Clinch area (all non-literary information) has it that the Melungeons, an unknown race in Hancock Co., Tn, and Scott Co., VA, were the first miners of Swift's Silver Mines, having been imported to work the mines by Swift and his associates. The odd conglomeration of people still preserves a slight racial unity, and in the Fort Blackmore-Dungannon area, where the mine has long been sought, they are called "Ramps". An article in "The Tennessee Conservationist" reports that they were counterfeiters of gold and silver and their money had more precious metal than did that minted by the United States Mine, and it was circulated without question. The silver the Melungeons used in their counterfeit coins came from Straight Creek, a tributary of the Cumberland River. A family named Mullins were the makers of the silver money in that section. (19)     

Common to the Clinch legends and many of the Kentucky ones, too, is that Swift, after being blinded, returned to the home of the Widow Renfro, at Bean Station, TN, and there tried to find the mine, but after failing, drew many maps of how to reach his treasure, hoping someone would help him recover his mine. Most of the Clinch legends claim their origin from Bean Station, TN. This point is disputed, however, for residents of Bell Co., KY, claim that Cumberland Ford, a few miles north of Cumberland Gap, was previously and erroneously called "Bean Station." That is the reason, say the Kentuckians that Virginians have been misled into hunting for the mine in the Clinch Valley. J. Emerson Miller, a historical-interest columnist for the "Middlesboro Daily New" told the present writer that James Renfro once owned the site of the town of Pineville, KY. He lived at Cumberland Ford before being killed by a falling tree, and later Swift stayed with his widow and left a map with her. Bell and Harlan Counties have been, incidentally, the location of a considerable amount of searching for the mine. (20)      

Despite the close proximity of the phraseology of the Clinch Legends, the names employed for the chief actors in that drama are curiously different. Swift's name has been variously reported as "Tom", "John", and "George William", and he is known mainly as an English sailor or a Spanish Buccaneer. Munday has been classified as either an Indian, a Frenchman, and Englishman, or a Spainard. His last name has been spelled "Munday", "Monda", and "Mundy". He was a resident of East Tennessee or North Carolina. His Christian name has been reported as "Jonathan", "John Martin", and "George".       Blackburn was said to have returned with Swift, been captured by the Indians, blinded, and later escaped and killed Swift. He was a Yadkin River resident and was a trader with the Overhill Cherokees. (21)     

Shadrach Jefferson, or T. S. Jefferson was either a silversmith of Alexandria, VA, or a fourteen-year old boy to care for horses who was finally killed by Swift.       Swift himself, in most of the Clinch Legends, is in one way treated consistently, in that he is rarely called "John". He is usually called an English mariner or smith. According to a fringe source, there were two Swifts - John and William. They were brothers and both silversmiths. (22) Swift was a merchant from Alexandria, a trader with the Indians, or a resident of the Upper Yadkin area.     

Of all the above information given in this paper, there is no proof of any fact given which the present author would deem as worthy to stand before any strict Court of Inquiry. About one Jonathan W. Swift, however, the following statement may be safely and accurately be made: a man by the name of Jonathan Swift, J. W. Swift, Jonathan W. Swift, or J. Swift did live in Alexandria, VA in the latter half of the Eighteenth Century and has often been considered a prominent citizen. In 1786, he signed a petition to the Virginia General Assembly regarding aid for Alexandria Academy, established by George Washington. (23) In 1787, he signed a petition to the Assembly regarding wheat inspection. (24) In 1790, he was mentioned in the Assembly regarding the sale of lots in Portsmouth. (25) In 1792, he signed a petition to the Assembly along with other Alexandria merchants requesting the establishment of a state bank in Alexandria. (26) Soon after the death of President Washington, he became a charter member of the Washington Society and was their first treasurer. (Later members of the club, incidentally, were to include Francis Scott Key and John Marshall.) (27) Is this the same Swift? - it is extremely doubtful.      There remains yet but one area of the Clinch Legend not yet covered - Dickenson Co., VA. Dickenson County is, for the purposes of this paper, a fringe area and really does not fit into either of the two major classifications. Geographically, the County is drained by the Levisa Fork of the Sandy River and thus should be included in the Kentucky Legends. However, the approach to the story of the mine is a little unique, but it more closely resembles the Clinch Legend Family in form.       The Dickenson County version of the mine story has the same method of approach that is similar to the Clinch tales - I. e. counting the fourth ridge from the Blue Ridge. (28) Some of the material mentioned, though, is referring to the Big Sandy and its tributaries. According to the tale, Swift, Jefferson, and Munday discovered the mine, but could not work it and covered the entrance. From there they journeyed to Castle's Woods, but Munday was killed in a quarrel over the division of spoils and the Indians stole the rest. Swift returned to the fort, but soon lost his sight. He got the assistance of the grandfathers of Morgan Lipps, Covey Holebrook, and Eli Hill and an Old Man Castle. He took them to Nancy Gap on Sandy Ridge and told them to look for a forked Dogwood tree. They could not find anything, so Swift broke down and cried like a baby. (29) A Version of the Clinch Valley Legend      This account was published in Charles A. Johnson's History of Wise County. Mr. Johnson said, "The date from which this sketch is prepared is taken from a copy of what is said to be one of Swift's original 'Mine Maps and Mine History'. The copy is thought to be a century and a half old. It was so old and so delicate it had to be handled with utmost care, and looked to be in powdered condition ready to fall apart."     

Quoting from the journal: "In the year 1738-39 a Frenchman was captured by the Cherokees and taken from the territory now known as North Carolina into the Mountains to the westward. They led him to an ancient silver mine, known only to the Indians.      "The Frenchman remained with the Indians three years, then, making his escape, returned to his home in North Carolina. While he was with the Indians they took him to a silver mine. He marked the place with the intention of returning to the mine at some future time. He had not remained at home very long until he decided to return to the mine and work up some rich ore.     

"He employed a silversmith named Swift to accompany him. They returned to the silver mine by the route that had been mapped out by the Frenchman, and on reaching the mine it was examined by Swift, the silversmith, and pronounced to be the richest known. They succeeded in coining up lots of the rich metal into French crowns - enough for two horse loads.      "Then they decided to return home. After remaining at their homes in North Carolina three months, they decided to return again to the mine, which they attempted to do, but reaching the section where the mine was supposed to be located, and failing to find it after diligent search for several days, they gave up all hope of ever finding it. After such hope was abandoned, Swift gave out maps and charts describing the mine, also a waybill to its location which reads as follows:                       

Swift's Directions      "Me and my guide coming to the min, marked our path by rocks, creeks, gaps, and maps on trees. Traveling 35 to 40 miles, crossing a mountain and rocky region, we came through large gaps filled with Indians, called Mecca. From there through a bluffy region; thence from there to a cliff on the right, thence up a creek, crossing in the opposite direction to the cliff, thence through a bottom by an old Indian grave yard; thence by said branch to a buffalo or deer lick gap, thence through the gap to a valley running east and west, thence four or five miles to a half moon shaped rock house in the mountain on a little creek full of cedars and spruce pines where we smelted our silver ore; thence back eastward to a ridge that runneth eastward to a saddle gap in the ridge where the mine is. At the mouth of the mine stands a tree to which is tacked a card bearing the words, "Swift and Munday's Mine Map. Take Notice."     

"In the mine is pick and canteen we left and also money moulds. Our sheep skin aprons was also left in the rockhouse and loads of coined French crowns buried on the right side as you go in the rockhouse. The ore was in a gray rock with a sandstone ridge running nearby.      

"The mouth of the mine as about as large as a hogshead or barrel and dropped straight down in the ground for about ten foot, then made off level." A Historicol-Critical Comment      The author would like very much to answer the following questions:      Who was John Swift?      Did he really live, mine silver, and coin money?      Did he have a mine? If so, where?      What is the origin of the different and conflicting accounts of the mine?      Is there still buried in the Southern Appalachians a vast lode of treasure?      Were the many people "taken in" by swindlers selling treasure maps completely fooled, or is there some truth to the story?      What part did the Shawnee Indians play in the mine story? The Spainards? The French?      Diligent research and more careful historical criticism not in the scope of this paper might perhaps yield the answers, or at least partial answers, to these questions. Some of them will perhaps never be answered. Either way, they have not been answered in this paper. Was the man who said the story Swift's Silver Mine "...is based apparently on old tales told by the Cherokee Indians.." correct? (30) Or are several generations of mountain people correct in saying that there was and is a Swift Silver Mine that cannot be discovered because of the intervention of the wrath of a God who says, "the love of money is the root of all evil".      The following poem, taken from Southeastern Kentucky folklore suggests the evasiveness of the mine:                   

The Silver Mine of Swift,
A fine will-o-the-wisp
Left in a heroic age
For a vision of the sage
With reason bereft. (31)

FOOTNOTE PAGE: (1) John Newton Harman, Sr., Annals of Tazewell Co., VA, 2 vols. (Richmond, 1922), I: 385. (2) A rockhouse is a large overhanging rock, usually over a stream, so named because early woodsmen could obtain shelter from the weather in the area underneath its protruding upper ledge or in the cave which could often be found at the base of the rockhouse. (3) John D. Shane in The Draper Collection of Manuscripts, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 12CC211. (4) William Connelley and E. M. Coulter, HISTORY OF KENTUCKY, 5 vols. (Chicago, 1922), I: 131. (5) Ibid, I: 123, 4. The above eleven paragraphs are based upon the account given in this reference. (6) Shane, Draper Collection, 12CC11-41. (7) Thomas D. Clark, THE KENTUCKY (New York, 1942), p. 23. (8) Shane, Draper Collection, 16 CC314-17, 322-25. (9) See James Lane Allen, LOUISVILLE COURIER-JOURNAL, December 12, 1959, or John M. Ross, "Kentucky's Annual Hunt for John Swift's Treasure", 1930. (10) James Taylor Adams, "John Swift's Silver", THE KNOXVILLE JOURNAL, August 1, 1937. (11) Connelley and Coulter, HISTORY OF KENTUCKY, I: 122. (12) Clark, THE KENTUCKY, p. 28. (13) Ibid; see also Adams, KNOXVILLE JOURNAL, August 1, 1937; and Draper Papers 12CC211. (14) Connelley and Coulter, HISTORY OF KENTUCKY, p. 111. (15) ibid, 123. See also Ross, "Hunt for Swift's Treasure". (16) This affidavit supposedly of Swift is from the private papers of the late A. Hardee Dougherty of Russellville, TN, and is now in the possession of the present author.  (17) This information was rendered to the present author orally at the University of Virginia Library April 21, 1961, by Mr. Francis L. Berkely, Jr., associate librarian, and two of his staff - Miss Ann Freudenberg and Mr. Robert E. Stocking. (19) Melungeons: The Mystery People of Tennessee," THE TENNESSEE CONSERVATIONIST, August, 1959, p. 18. In checking the Court Records at Abingdon, VA, it was discovered that one Jackson Mullins was sentenced to the Federal Penitentiary in Albany, New York, for coining counterfeit money. (Court Order Book, U. S. District Court, Western District of Virginia, Abingdon, March 20, 1871-1877, pp. 204, 237, 242-3). (20) Oral material from J. Emerson Miller, 414 Lynwood Ave., Middlesboro, KY (21) Adams, MIDDLESBORO DAILY NEWS, July 2, 1959 (22) Adams KNOXVILLE JOURNAL, August 1, 1937. The idea that there were two Swifts is a unique one. In no other account is that fact revealed; thus, it is here considered a "fringe" story - historically, not geographically. (23) J. A. C. Chandler and E. G. Swem, eds., WILLIAM AND MARY COLLEGE HISTORICAL QUARTERLY, Vol. I, Series 2, January , 1921, Number 1. (24) Ibid, Vol. II, Series 2, October, 1922, Number 4, p. 291. (25) William Waller Hening, THE STATUTES AT LARGE, 12 vols. (Philadelphia, 1823), XIII: 175. (26) WILLIAM AND MARY QUARTERLY, Vol. III, Series 2, July, 1923, Number 3, p. 207. (27) Lyon G. Tyler, ed., TYLER'S QUARTERLY HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL MAGAZINE, Vol. IX, Number 3, January, 1928, p. 150. (28) Mrs. Palmer P. Ball, "Dickenson County Silver Mine Still Causes Big Talk", BRISTOL HERALD COURIER, March 26, 1961. P. 5-B. (29) Elihu Jasper Sutherland, MEET VIRGINIA'S BABY (Clintwood, 1955), p. 265. (30) Ibid, 264 (31) Harvey Fuson, HISTORY OF BELL COUNTY, 2 vols. (New York, 1947), I:      BIBLIOGRAPHY USED IN THE PREPARATION OF THIS PAPER:      BOOKS: Clark, Thomas D., THE KENTUCKY. New York; J. J. Little and Ives Company, 1942.; Court Order Book, U. S. District Court, Western District, Abingdon, March 20, 1871-1877, pp. 204, 237, 242-3; Fuson, Harvey, HISTORY OF BELL COUNTY. New York: Hobson Press, 1947; Harmon, John Newton, Sr., ANNALS OF TAZEWELL COUNTY, VIRGINIA. 2 vols. Richmond: W. C. Hill Printing Company, 1922; Hening, William Waller, THE STATUTES AT LARGE, BEING A COLLECTION OF ALL THE LAWS OF VIRGINIA FROM THE FIRST SESSION OF THE LEGISLATURE IN THE YEAR 1619. 12 vols. Philadelphia: Thomas Desilver, 1823; Connelly, William and E. M. Coulter, HISTORY OF KENTUCKY. 5 vols. Edited by Charles Kerr. Chicago: American Historical Society, 1922; Sutherland, Elihu Jasper, MEET VIRGINIA'S BABY, Clintwood, VA: Dickenson Co. Diamond Jubilee Commission, 1955.      PERIODICALS: Adams, James Taylor, "John Swift's Silver", THE KNOXVILLE JOURNAL, August 1, 1937; Middlesboro Daily News, July 2, 1959; Allen, James Lane, LOUISVILLE COURIER JOURNAL, December 12, 1959; Ball, Mrs. Palmer R., BRISTOL HERALD COURIER, March 26, 1961, p. 5-B; Chandler, J. A. C. and E. G. Swem, eds., WILLIAM AND MARY COLLEGE HISTORICAL QUARTERLY, Vols. I, II, and III. (1921, 1922, and 1923) Series 2; Ross, John M., "Kentucky's Annual Hunt for John Swift's Treasure," The name of the newspaper not known, sometime in 1930, p. 12; Hale and Merritt, "The Melungeons of East Tennessee," A HISTORY OF TENNESSEE AND TENNESSEANS in "Melungeons: The Mystery People of Tennessee", The Tennessee Conservationist, August, 1959, Vol. 25, Number 8, p. 18; Tyler, Lyon G., TYLER'S QUARTERLY HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL MAGAZINE, Vol. IX, pp. 151, 58.      ORAL MATERIAL: Addington, Luther F., of Wise, VA, March 27, 1961; Berkley, Francis L., of The University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA, April 21, 1961. Also his staff - Miss Ann Freudenberg and Mr. Robert E. Stocking; Miller J. Emerson, 414 Lynwood Ave., Middlesboro, KY.      DOCUMENTS: Dougherty, Arthur Hardee: Private Papers. Correspondence and Maps. Russellville, TN; Dougherty, Arthur Hardee: Private Papers, Journal (Purported to be) of Swift, Russellville, TN; The Draper Collection of Manuscripts, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 11CC97-98; 12CC190, 210-12; 12CC54-55; 12CC121-25; 16CC314-17, 322-25; 12CC43-44; 12CC11-41.      BIBLIOGRAPHY OF OTHER USEFUL MATERIALS: Addington, Luther F., THE STORY OF WISE COUNTY (Virginia), Wise, VA: Centennial Committee and School Board of Wise Co., VA, 1956; Collins, Richard H., HISTORY OF KENTUCKY. Covington, KY: Collins and Company, 1878; Johnson, Charles A., A NARRATIVE HISTORY OF WISE COUNTY, VIRGINIA. Norton, VA: The Norton Press, 1938; Ridenour, Dr. G. L., THE LAND OF THE LAKE. LaFollette, TN, 1941; Swem, Earl G., VIRGINIA HISTORICAL INDEX, 2 vols., 2 parts, Roanoke, VA: Stone Printers, 1934, p. 842; Sykes, Arthur, "Lost Silver Mine", BREAKS CELEBRATION SOUVENIR PROGRAM, June 10, 1951, p. 67; Weaks, Mabel Clare, CALENDAR OF THE KENTUCKY PAPERS OF THE DRAPER COLLECTION OF MANUSCRIPTS. Madison, Wisconsin: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1925; Ball, Mrs. Palmer R., "The Vanishing Race", MOUNTAIN LIFE AND WORK, Vol. 36, Number 2, Summer 1960, p. 39.      


Return to Historical Sketches



 Copyright Notice
All files on this site are copyrighted by their creator. They may not be reproduced on another site without expressed written permission from webmaster. Although public information is not in and of itself
copyrightable, the format in which they are presented, the notes and
comments, etc., are.