What if I were to tell you that lost somewhere in the hills of central Appalachia is a forgotten silver mine that is waiting to be discovered?
This may sound like the opening to the latest “National Treasure” movie, but the story actually predates the nation itself by nearly two decades.
As legend tells, a settler named Hans G. Frenchman was captured by Native Americans and taken to a cave somewhere in the mountains of Southwest Virginia where he discovered a rich vein of silver ore.
Frenchman marked the cave’s location and later successfully escaped his captors and revealed the location of the mine to Englishman Jonathan Swift.
The two men traveled to the cave and according to legend, took only enough silver to buy two horses, but were unable to locate the mine on a return trip.
In the years ahead, the legend of “Swift’s Silver Mine” would take on a life of its own and soon tales of the mine were being recanted in Tennessee, Kentucky and elsewhere in Virginia.
Settlers in Wise County, Virginia, believed that the mine was located on or around Stone Mountain, and that local Indians knew the location of the mine but kept it secret from the white invaders. According to the pioneers, an Indian chief named Benge once said that “if the pale face knew what I knew they could shoe their horses cheaper with silver than with iron.”
Two generations later, a famed counterfeiter living in what is now known as Clintwood, Virginia, was rumored to have discovered Swift’s mines near Pine Mountain in Southwest Virginia. The counterfeiter was accused of unlawfully striking his own coins (made of pure silver).
According to local legend, the man’s “counterfeit” money used more silver, and was worth more, than the official currency at the time. Apparently, the individual mixed the pure silver with other lesser metals to make his money. He never disclosed where he obtained the pure silver, but many people speculated that he found the silver in one of the many caves on Pine Mountain close to his farm.
Other versions of the story place the silver mine farther west than Virginia: Each year in Wolfe County, Kentucky, there is a Swift Silver mine festival in the county seat of Campton, Kentucky where locals believe the mine may be located near Swift Creek.
The Appalachian Mountains have seen more than its fair share of treasure hunters seeking to find Swift’s secret stash.
John Filson is the first person known to have referenced the mine following Swift’s death. In 1788, Filson claimed a tract of land supposed to have included a silver mine worked by “a certain man named Swift.” Filson disappeared, taking with him any knowledge he may have had as to the mine’s location.
Kentucky pioneer James Harrod may also have believed in Swift’s silver mine. According to Harrod’s wife, a man named Bridges claimed to have found the mine, and asked Harrod for his help in developing it. Despite the fact that Harrod and Bridges had a dispute over land some years previous, these two and another man entered the wilderness of Kentucky in 1792, purportedly in search of the mine. Harrod did not return from the trip, and although his body was never found, his wife maintained that Bridges had used the story of the mine to lure him into the woods to murder him.
The Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia and Eastern Kentucky are vast and many areas of the region have not been thoroughly explored in centuries, so who knows, perhaps there is a silver mine hidden in some forgotten and overlooked cave.
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