By Henry P. Scalf
We now approach with hesitancy a discussion of the real or mythical Jonathan
Swift, who, with several companions is said to have explored Eastern Kentucky in the decade
of 1760-1769. That there was a real Jonathan Swift, historians are quite generally agreed.
Whether or not he was an Englishman, no one knows, but it is quite reasonably accepted that
he was. That he explored Eastern Kentucky is also generally accepted, but that he engaged in
extensive operations of silver mining is heavily discounted. He kept a journal, it is said, of his
trips into Eastern Kentucky, and recorded his adventures as well as the place he cached his
vast silver stores. We cannot say the journal is genuine. There exists numerous copies of what
is said to be Swift s original journal. The copies may be partially or wholly spurious, or
if copied from what was considered as the original penned by Swift, this so-called
original may have been a complete fabrication. What is said to be the original was left
by Swift with Mrs. Joseph Renfro of Bean s Station in East Tennessee. Copies, or partial
copies, were in circulation on Big Sandy at one time. Judge Richard Apperson of Mount
Sterling had a copy or copies. Robert Alley of Johnson Co., KY, brought a copy from East
Tennessee. Other so-called copies existed, and in substance these manuscripts agree. It is
chiefly from these old manuscripts, supplemented by other questionable material,
that we reconstruct the story of Jonathan Swift - a story approached with hesitancy. But as the
legend is so persistent, the interest so widespread in East Kentucky, and the fact that
historians of the past have given his "explorations" a varying credence, it is related
here as one of the many legends of history that intrude so often upon the careful record of events.
Jonathan Swift was an Indian fur trader previous to Braddock s defeat. He had
been upon the waters of the Ohio some time in the early p art of the 1750-1760 decade, and
was an accomplished woodsman. He spent considerable time with the Shawnee Indians,
perhaps had a wife of their tribe. Swift was with Braddock on his disastrous march into the
Western woods, and while upon this journey met with those men that became his
companions in the years to come. These men were North Carolinans and their names were
Samuel Blackburn, James Ireland, Abrom Flint, Harman Staley, Isaac Campbell,
Jonathan Mundy, and Shadrach Jefferson. With Swift as leader, they began to trade with
Just how Swift and his men acquired knowledge of silver mines even legend does not
state very accurately, but having learned of the mines, Swift took other men into the proposed
working project. These were John Watts, Seth Montgomery, Jeremiah Bates, Alexander
Bartal, William Wilton, Joshua McClintock, Henry Hazlitt, and Moses Fletcher. With the
party were Shawnee and Frenchmen. Obtaining supplies from Alexandria, VA, this
group entered the Ohio Valley in 1760 to operate the mines. They came by way of
Braddock s Trail to Fort Pitt and to the site of Charleston on the Kanawha, arriving finally at
the forks of the Big Sandy where Louisa now stands. The expedition split, one group going
up the Louisa Fork and the other going on westward. The Louisa Fork detail of the
expedition built furnaces and mined around "The Breaks" of Sandy. This early expedition
of Swift and his men to Big Sandy seems to have been more or less an exploratory journey,
but having located mines and in general prepared for the next year s trip, they went
back to Alexandria, arriving on December 10, 1760.
Seth Montgomery, one of the party, had worked in the Royal Mint at London. After
his arrival at Alexandria, he began to engrave and cut the dies for coinage of silver and gold.
The Alley Journal says: "Montgomery bought two additional vessels to sail to the Spanish
seas and return with cargoes suited to our enterprise." This is one of the many bits of
internal evidence from the journals that Swift and his men were really pirates, operating
upon the Spanish seas, and carrying their metal booty into the Western woods for coinage.
In 1761, a reorganized expedition set out for the mines. At the forks of Big Sandy
the expedition again divided, as the year before. Having made considerable progress in
mining this year, the leaders returned to Alexandria, arriving at that city, December 2,
1761. Mining crews had been left to continue operations through the winter. When the
leaders reached Alexandria they found that their vessels from the Spanish Seas had arrived
and five more vessels were put into this service. Five more vessels, it seems to us, was
quite a flotilla for the purpose of bringing supplies to a small wilderness mining party.
By the year 1762 this business of wilderness mining had grown apace. Their
western pack trains were enlarged, and leaving Fort Pitt in March, they proceeded to the Forks
of Sandy. Though the winter mining had been satisfactory, the crew had been in the
wilderness so long they were dissatisfied. This may have been the reason that the summer s
operations were cut short, for Swift and others started back to Alexandria the first of
The succeeding year s record is much the same. They mined in 1763 and in 1764.
The latter year seemed to have been one of little profit, due to the disturbed border
situation. In the year 1765, a new route was used by way of Ingles Ferry on the New River.
What they called their lower mines were worked this year. It was a very profitable year;
immense sums of metal were recovered, coined, and cached in the wilderness. This
season they returned by way of the Louisa Fork and through Pound Gap to Mundy s
house on the Yadkin River. At Christmas 1765 Fletcher and Flint,
in a drunken row, so severely wounded each other that recovery was doubtful. Thinking
they must surely die, each buried here on the Yadkin his part of the treasure. Flint deposited
in the earth 240,000 crowns, and Fletcher stored in mother earth somewhere the fabulous
sum of 360,200 crowns. Fletcher died in early July, but Flint recovered. Meantime, the
expedition had again gone out, having left on June 6, 1766. This year was one of serious
mutiny on the part of the men, who deserted and returned to the Eastern settlements.
The year 1767 was of little event in their operations. They were ambushed by
Indians the next year, 1768, at the Forks of Sandy. Campbell was killed and Staley and
Hazlitt wounded. Their operations ceased in 1769 because they had prospered to satisfy
ever their greatest desires, and because years on the frontier had "worn away our strength."
According to the Swift story, fabulous sums of money in bullion had been cached in
the wilderness, with no attempt, it seems, to recover it until 1790. In that year, Swift, who
was growing old and whose eyesight was fading, came back to the Western woods.
Besides Swift, the party consisted of McClintock, Mundy, two Frenchmen, and two
Shawnee Indians. They found their great but scattered stores secure and untouched, and
when at last they came to the largest accumulation of treasure which had been
stored in a great cave, Swift conceived the idea of murder to obtain all of it for himself.
At length, when his companions slept, unconscious of the bloody treachery in the
heart of their leader, Swift stealthily arose from the group of prostrate forms about the
fire. He was consumed with his passion for murder and blood-stained riches. His
countenance was changed. The keen blade of his scalping knife glittered coldly in the baleful
light that fitfully fluttered up from the dying camp fire. Noiseless did he glide from one
victim to another. The panther of the forest, a ghost, a phantom, a spectre, could not have
moved or acted with greater stealth. Quickly was the dastardly deed done. With stoke
sudden, silent, deadly, did the reeking blade enter the heart of each of his associates,
But not yet was his crime fully consummated. The Shawnees were sleeping in
the great cave. Thither came Swift on further murder. His every faculty was quickened, his
every act deliberate. There was no haste - there manifested no premeditated order of events.
With torches held aloft, at his solicitation, they together looked upon the treasure. At sight of
it, his inflamed passions broke into an insane fury. With the yell of a demoniac, he leaped
upon the aged and unsuspecting Shawnees. In a moment they were lying lifeless, and Swift
was alone in the darkness, and from that hour did providence smite him with an almost total
blindness. He groped his way from the wilderness to civilization. The riches, bought
with his soul, were left in the trackless forest wasters. They are guarded by the bones of the
innocent slain. And no man hath looked upon them to this day.
From Kentucky s Last Frontier by
Henry P. Scalf, pages 44 to 47. Published by
Pikeville College Press of the Appalachian
Studies Center, Pikeville, KY, 1972.
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