Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jonathan Swift’s Treasure

“Swift's silver mine” is a mine fabled to have been discovered in 1760 by an Englishman named Jonathan Swift somewhere between Pennsylvania and North Carolina in America. It is generally rumored to be located in eastern Kentucky but if not there, some where in the US state of Tennessee or perhaps Virginia.

My self being an eastern Kentucky native, I can recall overhearing hushed discussions about Jonathan Swift during my teenage youth. But the stories being told then (the mid 1960’s), described a hidden treasure rather than a mine. Since there has only been tiny quantities of silver ore found in Kentucky, and  as I recall, that was in western Kentucky, I believe a hidden treasure is more apt to be the case.  After all, Swift was allegedly a rather successful pirate.

Based upon a journal that reportedly was penned by Swift himself, perhaps both stories are true.  The legend of the mine is based on accounts given in the journal of an Englishman named Jonathan Swift. In the journal he claimed to have preceded Daniel Boone into Kentucky. He claimed to arrive in the region in 1760 (Boone blazed his way through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky in 1775) on what he called a series of mining expeditions. The journal describes how a wounded bear led him (Swift) to a vein of silver ore in a cave, and how that for the next nine years, he made annual trips back to the mine, carrying out “silver bars and minted coins.”

This aspect of the story rings especially false to me because I seriously doubt the likelihood of Swift’s capability of making silver bars, much less, minted coins, in such a remote area.

Anyway, the story continues by describing many obstacles that he encountered including Indian attacks, as well as a mutiny by Swift’s ship crew. Due to these incidents he walled up the cave and quit his mining operation all together. Swift ultimately left his journal in the possession of widow Renfro, the former Mrs. Joseph Renfro of the small community of Bean's Station, Tennessee, with whom he was purported to have had a romantic interest. As fate would have it, before Swift could return to the mine, he was stricken blind and was thus unable to locate it again.
There were landmarks identified in the journal: “Buffalo Rock, the Natural (or Rock) Bridge, Half Moon Cliff, and the Lighthouse.” All four sites are mentioned in his journal as being sites where he buried, $32,000, $15,000, $6,000, and $3,000 respectively. The total value of all four caches equals $56,000; all of which are reported to be British silver crowns. I personally have visited, on several occasions, two natural rock bridges my-self (Sky Bridge and Natural Bridge) in Wolf County, which clearly supports the east Kentucky location theory.  
The plot thickened when an article dated in an 1886 edition of Harper's Magazine tells how Swift supposedly buried a considerable amount of the treasure at several different locations. The following is a quotation from the magazine article:

“John Swift said he made silver in large quantities, burying some thirty thousand dollars and crowns on a large creek; fifteen thousand dollars a little way off, near some trees, which were duly marked; a prize of six thousand dollars close by the fork of a white oak; and three thousand dollars in the rocks of a rock house: all which, in the light of these notes, it is allowed any one who will to hunt for”. Rather vague, I'd say.

There are other areas in Kentucky that make similar claims about the Swift mine location, including Bell County, which borders eastern Tennessee; Clay County which is in the south-eastern part of the state, and among other places, Pike County, the most eastern county within the state, is included… But, let’s not exclude the good folks of Wise County, Virginia (USA), who say that the Swift mine was located on or around Stone Mountain, which is further qualified by the argument that early local Indians even knew the location of the mine.
But, on the other hand, consider that in 1976 according to Mr. Joseph S. Haas, Jr., an amateur treasure hunter, of New Hampshire wrote in a letter to the staff of Lost Treasure magazine that all four “landmarks have been located” in the vicinity of Wolf County, Kentucky.  As far as I known, to date none of these four hidden treasures have been found.

If there really was a Jonathan Swift, there is some debate as to his true character. Legend holds that he was a well-liked Indian trader, but some historians (with whom I agree) believe he was a pirate who most likely preyed upon Spanish merchants and made all those trips into the wilderness not to recover or mine his treasure, but to hide it.

Every  “Labor Day” (the first week-end in September) week-end in Wolfe County, Kentucky there is a Swift Silver Mine Festival in the county seat of Campton, Kentucky where local folks will eagerly tell you that the Swift Mine is located somewhere near Swift Creek, just down the road a ways.

Sources …'s_silver_mine                                      

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