JOHN SWIFT'S LOST SILVER MINES
Legends have always played a role in the history of both people and places. Some of the most intriguing tales are those that involve lost treasure. Wolfe County boasts a rich collection of lore, but the legend of John Swift and his silver mines prevail over all others. Nim Wills first settled the Campton area and discovered an old camp said to have been that used by John Swift's party. From that moment the county has been embellished in a luring tale of treasure. Numerous carvings, especially in the Devil's Creek area, have wetted the appetites of treasure seekers for generations.
The story begins in 1755 during the French and Indian War. John Swift had been captain of a ship and, for an unknown reason, left the sea for a life as a trader among the Cherokee Indians. At some point he joined the British army and fought under General Braddock. He was with Braddock when severely defeated by the French and Indian forces during what is known as Braddock's defeat. Though defeated, the British managed to take several prisoners during the battle. One prisoner was George Munday, a Frenchman fluent in several Indian languages. After Britain won the war, Munday was released from prison and met up with Swift in Virginia. Swift befriended Munday, thinking he could help him deal with the Indians in his rekindled trading ventures.
As their friendship grew, Munday began telling of his adventures in the Can-tuc-kee country. One adventure stood apart from the others. Munday told of discovering a rich vein of silver in the wilderness south of the Ohio River. While extracting the silver, a party of Shawnee attacked and killed his father and brothers. Munday's life was spared by the Indians, and he was taken prisoner. During his captivity, the Shawnee made a slave of him and forced him to labor at their silver mines in the Kentucky region.
Swift and Munday decided to locate the mines using Swift's capital and Munday's knowledge of the area. They recruited several men for the project and left Virginia for the Can-tuc-kee country in 1760. John Swift would religiously keep record of their adventures in his journal. The party crossed the headwaters of the Big Sandy River and soon discovered three silver mines. Here they built a furnace for future smelting of the silver. Traveling to the southwest, the men came to a large river and discovered silver on a tributary. Swift and the others promptly headed back to Virginia to prepare for a large-scale operation at the mines the next year.
The next year Swift and his newly formed group were ready to go back to the mines and remove the silver. Among the crew were several Indians for guides and a man by the name of Montgomery. Montgomery was an Englishman who had been employed by England to make dies for the coinage of silver. The party successfully ventured into the wilderness in present eastern Kentucky and located the mines. Operations began and the first silver was extracted, smelted and coined into English crowns.
For about ten years Swift led yearly mining trips back to the mines to coin the silver. His returns to the eastern settlements being primarily to restock the supplies for the group. During this time there was much hostile Indian activity, and various attacks prompted the burial of vast amounts of silver crowns. The story relates that Swift traveled to England to find parties to help work the mines. While there, the American Revolution began, and Swift publicly voiced his allegiance with the colonists. The British officials did not take kindly to his sentiments and tossed him in prison. Life in prison deteriorated Swift's health. At the close of the war, he was released, a blind and broken man. With the aid of his journal, Swift made several attempts to relocate the mines without success. After his death the journal was passed from person to person being copied and changed along the way. Today many versions of the story and journal exist, adding to the legend of the Swift Silver Mines.
Many famous Kentucky pioneers believed in the existence of Swift's silver and traveled into the forest in search of the prize. Among the ranks of these treasure seekers were Capt. Billy Bush, James Harrod, John Finley, Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner. James Harrod paid the ultimate price while searching for the treasure near the Three Forks of the Kentucky River.
This page is dedicated to the late Michael Paul Henson, a native of Breathitt County. Mr. Henson was a writer, historian and professional treasure hunter who did much to preserve the area's rich lore. His writings have sparked the imaginations of countless persons.