THE LEGEND OF SWIFT'S SILVER MINE
By James A. Dougherty
A Geographical Approach to the Legends of Silver Mine
Southern West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Upper East Tennesseeall
the mining of silver by one Swift, who is variously called "John",
"William",and "Tom". North Carolina and Pennsylvania are claimed by
as Swift's headquarters in his mining operations. Of the many legends
the mine(s), all seem to fall generally into two categories: the
Legends" and the "Clinch Legends". By word "Kentucky", reference is
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.
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
because it is included in the Clinch Valley watershed. Actually,
has been the
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.
from existing in the area (Swift mined somewhere between 1750 and 1770)
was Castle's Camp (now Castlewood, VA). Another famous landmark
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:
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
to the story of Swift peculiar to the Kentucky versions may be seen
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
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.
follows a paraphrase of the
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.
a large train, they left on the first of October and arrived on the
of November, 1767. The year as a good one, and the group this time
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
June 4, 1768, the date of the arrival not known. After a good year,
and some left the mines on the twenty-ninth of October, 1768. At the
Sandy River, the party
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.
of May, 1769, the group left Munday's house and returned to the mines
way of New River and Cumberland gap. The pack train was large and
and the progress was slow. The date of the arrival at the lower mines
June 24, 1769. All the party were determined to quit the mine, the
were paid their wages seven-fold, and much was stored in the "great
of the Shawnees." The return by way of the Big Sandy and Fort Pitt began
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.
the Kentucky hypothesis is as follows:
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
a team of Swift, Staley, Blackburn, Ireland, and others visited the
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
Samuel Blackburn, Henry Hazlitt, Isaac Campbell, Moses Fletcher, Abram
Flint, Harmon Staley, William Wilton, John, Motts, Alexander Bartol,
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.
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
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)
regarding Swift is that he was a murderer. In 1790 he and the other
of the original party (Munday, McClintock, two Frenchmen, and two
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
preface to the
Kentucky Legend, the following background is quoted from Swift's
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.
Dougherty gave a brief extemporaneous resume' of the Clinch Valley
He did not leave a typed copy. One version of the Clinch Valley legend
has been appended to the paper by Luther F. Addington.)
taken by many of the older folk of the Clinch area (all non-literary
has it that the Melungeons, an unknown race in Hancock Co., Tn, and
Co., VA, were the first miners of Swift's Silver Mines, having been
to work the mines by Swift and his associates. The odd conglomeration
people still preserves a slight racial unity, and in the Fort
area, where the mine has long been sought, they are called
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
Most of the Clinch legends claim their origin from Bean Station, TN.
point is disputed, however, for residents of Bell Co., KY, claim that
Ford, a few miles north of Cumberland Gap, was previously and
called "Bean Station." That is the reason, say the Kentuckians that
have been misled into hunting for the mine in the Clinch Valley. J.
Miller, a historical-interest columnist for the "Middlesboro Daily New"
told the present writer that James Renfro once owned the site of the
of Pineville, KY. He
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
information given in this paper, there is no proof of any fact given
the present author would deem as worthy to stand before any strict
of Inquiry. About one Jonathan W. Swift, however, the following
may be safely and accurately be made: a man by the name of Jonathan
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
a prominent citizen. In 1786, he signed a petition to the Virginia
Assembly regarding aid for Alexandria Academy, established by George
(23) In 1787, he signed a petition to the Assembly regarding wheat
(24) In 1790, he was mentioned in the Assembly regarding the sale of
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
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.
the County is drained by the Levisa Fork of the Sandy River and thus
be included in the Kentucky Legends. However, the approach
version of the mine story has the same method of approach that is
to the Clinch tales - I. e. counting the fourth ridge from the Blue
(28) Some of the material mentioned, though, is referring to the Big
and its tributaries. According to the tale, Swift, Jefferson, and
discovered the mine, but could not work it and covered the entrance.
there they journeyed to Castle's Woods, but Munday was killed in a
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:
"Me and my
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
through a bluffy region; thence from there to a cliff on the right,
up a creek, crossing in the opposite direction to the cliff, thence
a bottom by an old Indian grave yard; thence by said branch to a
or deer lick gap, thence
A Historicol-Critical Comment
like very much to answer the following questions:
Newton Harman, Sr., Annals of Tazewell Co., VA, 2 vols. (Richmond,
I: 385. (2) A rockhouse is a
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