Swift’s Silver: Weird Appalachian Cases

Jonathon Swift and the legend of the Swift's Silver Mines is one of the tales that has gone from generation to generation

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Now sit right down and stay a spell while we will spin you a yarn of mystery, silver, adventure, and treasure hunters. Jonathon Swift and the legend of the Swift’s Silver Mines is one of the tales that has gone from generation to generation with several people claiming that they have found the actual mine.

Treasure hunters from around the region have claimed that the mines do exist in eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia, or eastern Tennessee. Over the years, thousands of people have spent time, money, and resources in the search of the elusive mine.

Photograph from the top of Pine Mountain overlooking Kentucky.  The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent in July 2022.
Photograph from the top of Pine Mountain overlooking Kentucky. The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent in July 2022.

There are countless books, articles, videos, maps, magazine and newspaper articles, and documentation that can be found for those that have the silver hunting spirit. Every county in eastern Kentucky has staked a claim in possibly being the location of Swift’s Silver mine.

Jonathon Swift the silver ore miner is not to be confused with Jonathon Swift the novelist. Both men are Englishmen and lived around the same time frame. However, there are no known records of the birth or death of the silver ore miner or of him owning any property of his own. Cherokee legend holds that Swift was killed by a party of Native Americans who took the maps and charts of the mines from his body. There is also evidence that Swift was arrested and charged with counterfeiting in North Carolina and the charges were later dropped.

How the Legend Goes

Map of Jonathon Swift's Silver Mine as found online.
Map of Jonathon Swift’s Silver Mine as found online.

Before the time of Daniel Boone, in 1760, an Englishman went exploring the New World. Entering into the heavily forested area deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, Swift was on several mining expeditions in the region.

The journal explains that Swift went on to see a wounded bear that led him to a cave filled with silver ore. For the next nine years of his life, Swift would return to the cave and smelt down the silver to carry out of the mine as silver bars and minted coins.

According to several articles, Swift would make extra minted coins and silver bars and hide them in various caves, under rocks in riverbeds, and bury them in several places around the area for his future. Supposedly several of these “stashes” have been found throughout the area over time which led credence to the Swift’s Silver legend.

According to the legend, Swift would stop all mining then wall up his cave and hide any remaining evidence of his silver. He faced Native American attacks, a mutiny by his crew, questions as to where his mine was, and other troubles.

Swift would leave his journals with a woman he was sweet on named Mrs. Renfro. Mrs. Renfro was the widow of Joseph Renfro of Bean Station, Tennessee. According to other sources, Mrs. Renfro was Mrs. Winters and her husband was killed in an attack by the Native Americans in the area.

Charges of Counterfeiting

A story of the Swift's Silver Mine as written in the Albuquerque morning journal. [volume], May 31, 1922, CITY EDITION, Image 8
A story of the Swift’s Silver Mine as written in the Albuquerque morning journal. [volume], May 31, 1922, CITY EDITION, Image 8

According to the Alburquerque Morning Journal dated May 31, 1922, they discovered a newspaper article that claims that Swift was arrested. The article was from the Greenup Independent dated February 1873. In this article, Swift had taken the silver that he found in Kentucky and brought it home to North Carolina. His neighbors became suspicious and had him arrested for counterfeiting.

Because no coin mint existed in the United States at that time, the only test for money was the purity in which the coins were made. Because the coins that Swift had made were of pure silver, the charges against him were dismissed.

There are two endings to Swift’s story.

In the first version, he did plan on returning to the mine at a later date but was stricken blind and could not locate the mine again. In the second version, Swift took several men and Native Americans with him. They located the mine. After mining more silver, that night he killed the entire party and returned to the lady in Bean Station. After discovering what he had done she had him leave her house. In both cases, Swift would lose his eyesight and never return to the mine again.

John Filson

John Filson, Kentucky historian.  The date and artist of the portrait are unknown.
John Filson, Kentucky historian. 1747 – October 1788 The date and artist of the portrait are unknown.

An early surveyor, historian, and biographer of Jonathon Swift and Daniel Boone is one of the earliest sources used by Treasure Hunters. It appears that he made journals and maps of the areas described by Swift for the location of the mine.

In 1788, Filson seems to have referenced Swift’s Silver Mine in his documents. However, Filson would later disappear along with any further knowledge about the mine that he had.

There are many people who point to the idea that Filson had a financial motivation behind his writings and the promotion of the legend. Like many fiction and non-fiction writers of the day, Filson would use the idea of hidden treasure, pirates, and Native American raids, which led to a sense of adventure for his readers.

Possible Locations and Variations

Photograph from the top of Pine Mountain overlooking Kentucky.  The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent in July 2022
Photograph from the top of Pine Mountain overlooking Kentucky. The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent in July 2022

Settlers in Wise County, Virginia believe that the mines can be found around Stone Mountain. Many of the local Native Americans confirmed that this was indeed the location of the mine. According to Chief Benge once said that “if the pale face knew what he knew they could shoe their horses cheaper with silver than with iron.” It is also said that one of Chief Benge’s captives is named Hans. G. Frenchman, was taken to the mine and wrote down the location for Jonathon Swift.

Settlers of Letcher County, Kentucky believe that the location of the mine is near Pound Gap on the Virginia and Kentucky state line. They claim that the Shawnee Tribesmen of the area claimed that Pine Mountain was called “Hollow Mountain” and that there was a tunnel that went completely through the mountain lined with silver.

People of Wolfe County, Kentucky believe that Swift’s Silver mine is located near Swift Creek. The residents celebrate the Swift’s Silver legend every year in Campton, Kentucky.

Other locations have been suggested to be in the area such as the confluence of the Russell Fok and Levisa rivers near Pikeville, Kentucky. And the junction of the Tug and Big Sandy rivers near Louisa, Kentucky. Such suggestions were made by the Dickerson County Herald on August 3, 1950.

Strange Occurrences and Disappearances Surround Swift’s Silver

The Daily Independent.  Thursday, October 2, 1890, Image 4
The Daily Independent. Thursday, October 2, 1890, Image 4

Over the years that have been many strange occurrences have sprung up with the legend of Swift’s Silver. Were they murders that occurred under the cover of treasure hunting, it is unclear. We will leave it to you to decide on the matter.

The Hand of “Monde”, “Munday” or “Monday”

One of the explorers of the area was a Frenchman named “Monday”, “Munday”, or “Monde”. Swift and the man were on a mining expedition when they were attacked by Native Americans. The two men ran into a hidden cave to escape their pursuers. While they were there, they discovered that the cave was full of silver ore.

Due to greed, or the thought that “Monde” would reveal the location of the mine, Swift killed him. However, “Monde” would get his spiritual revenge. When Swift would return to the mines, Monde’s spiritual hand would cover the compass so that he would not know the direction the mine was located.

The Disappearance of James Harrod

Daily public ledger. [volume], February 21, 1896, Image 1
Daily public ledger. [volume], February 21, 1896, Image 1

One of the hardy Kentucky pioneers, James Harrod also believed in the legend of the Swift’s Silver. While not as well known as Daniel Boone and other explorers of his day, Harrod did lead many expeditions into the Appalachian Mountains. According to his wife, a man named Bridges came to Harrod claiming to have found the Swift Silver Mine. Bridges wanted Harrod to help develop it.

Bridges and Harrod had a dispute several years earlier over land. Which had been resolved but it does not appear that one side had fully come to terms with the settlement.

Harrod, Bridges, and another unnamed man walked into the Kentucky woods together sometime in 1792. Harrod never returned home and his body was never found. Bridges maintained that Harrod separated from the party. Harrod’s wife maintained that Bridges and the other man murdered James over the land dispute. We have discovered the mystery surrounding James Harrod and are interested in a possible future article on him at a later date.

Solomon Mullins or “Money-making Sol”

Solomon Mullins or "Money-making Sol"  born 1782, died 1858.   The photographer, date, and location are all unknown.
Solomon Mullins or “Money-making Sol” was born in 1782, and died in 1858. The photographer, date, and location are all unknown.

Rumors abound when it comes to the story of Solomon Mullins. Mullins lived in an area that was then known as Holly Creek but today is known as Clintwood, Virginia. It is thought that Mullins found the silver mine on his property. He would make his coins in the privacy of one of the caves on his property that is today called “Sol’s Cliffs”.

Using the found silver ore, Mullins then began striking coins of his own. It is thought that he used one of his involuntary unpaid workers on his farm to use a hammer to strike the coins. Sol would never give the location of where he got his silver.

Mullins was caught by the U.S. detective for his making of counterfeit money scheme. He even tried to get the detective involved by striking a coin himself. This did not work. In early 1837, Mullins and two of his children, Peter and Spencer, were brought to trial and found guilty on the charge of counterfeiting. However, Mullins would flee the state of Virginia before he was sentenced.

Case for the Legend

Dickenson County herald.  August 03, 1950, Image 1
Dickenson County herald. August 03, 1950, Image 1

The Alburquerque Morning Journal dated May 31, 1922, again using the Greenup Independent newspaper source reports the following. Sometime in 1873, tools that were used to make the Swift’s Silver coins were found in Carter County, Kentucky. These tools fell from a cliff and were examined by men in the area.

According to the Greenup Independent during this same year, one of the settlers of the county reported finding cinders on his property. After having them tested by an expert and the cinders were found to contain pure silver.

Several years before 1873, according to the Greenup Independent, a bar made of pure silver was found near a small mill in Carter County. This bar was thought to have a connection to Swift’s Silver.

Also in the Alburquerque Morning Journal, there was a suggestion that in 1871, the Cherokee nation had some members of their tribe come into Wolfe County, Kentucky with maps. They carried away two full sacks of some type of substance and left the area shortly afterward. No one followed nor questioned the men on what they had.

Skepticism

There have been several geological surveys of the mountains of eastern Kentucky and western Virginia. Because of the makeup of the area, there is no evidence of precious metals being located. There have been no discoveries of gold or silver in all of the coal mines that have been dug into the mountains.

Others think that it was a made-up story by John Filson and Jonathon Swift himself to gain money and notoriety. That the legend of the Swift’s Silver Mine is nothing more than a fantasy. That it is a tale to pass along to children for a bedtime story.

Conclusion

Was there a Swift’s Silver mine? We really cannot say for sure. Who knows, maybe one day we will read that it has been located and silver mining may be a new industry to come into the area. However, it is a wonderful legend that our Appalachian people hold dear, and who are we to say that they are wrong or right? We grew up learning about the mine’s existence and to us…it is our legend.

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Source Information

The List of Newspapers found at the Library of Congress

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.
Library of Congress.
https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov

The Big Stone Gap post. Wednesday, November 22, 1922, Page 4, Image 4

The Daily Independent. Thursday, October 2, 1890, Image 4

Dickenson County herald. August 03, 1950, Image 1

Albuquerque morning journal. [volume], May 31, 1922, CITY EDITION, Image 8

The New York herald. [volume], April 23, 1922, SECTION SEVEN, Page 9, Image 99

Daily public ledger. [volume], February 21, 1896, Image 1

Other Online Sources

Lincoln County man claims to have found Swift’s Mine
https://www.lex18.com/news/covering-kentucky/lincoln-county-man-claims-to-have-found-swifts-mine

Jonathon Swift Silver Mines
https://www.uky.edu/KGS//rocksmineral/legendJonathonSwift.php

Swift’s Silver Mine – lost or merely invented?
https://www.appalachianhistory.net/2018/08/swifts-silver-mine-lost-or-merely.html

TREASURE: Jonathan Swift Silver Mines
https://losttreasures.us/treasure-jonathan-swift-silver-mines/

Swift’s silver mine
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swift%27s_silver_mine

Jonathon Swift Silver Mines
https://www.uky.edu/KGS/rocksmineral/legendJonathonSwift.php

Swift’s Silver Mine
History of Jenkins, Kentucky
Compiled In Honor Of The Sixtieth Anniversary Homecoming Celebration
1912‑1973
Sponsored By The Jenkins Area Jaycees
Https://penelope.uchicago.edu

Copyright and Other Information

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