Is There a Lost Silver Mine Hidden in an Appalachian Cave?

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PHOTO: Mountain Cave, Courtesy - Szenti Tamás
PHOTO: Mountain Cave, Courtesy – Szenti Tamás

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.

According to this version of the story, Swift and Frenchman took only enough silver to buy two horses, and on a return trip, were unable to locate the mine.

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. 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. Solomon was accused of unlawfully striking his own (made of pure silver).

According to local legend, Solomon’s “counterfeit” money used more silver, and was worth more, than the official currency at the time. Apparently, Sol mixed the pure silver with other lesser metals to make his money. Solomon 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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9 COMMENTS

  1. I believe you have the wrong counterfeiter in this story. It was not Solomon Mullins. It was Andrew Jackson “Brandy Jack” Mullins who put too much silver in his coins. Brandy Jack was my great-great grandfather.

    • I’m from is line too. Nebraska Mullins his daughter was my gr grandmother. She married John Patrick Stephenson. They were my grandpas parents. My dad told me about a silver vein in West Virginia

  2. Solomon Mullins, my ancestor, was reputed to have used the silver from “Swift’s Mine” He, two of his brothers, with the aide of Native American women, made many types of money including Spanish, English, French and others in a cave outside of Clintwood, VA. They escaped from the ‘revenuers’ to Tennesee. Later they settled in WV. Sol’s grave is located at Trace Fork in Boone County. He married Sarah Greenfield Cathey, an ancestor of the Chick fil’A restaurant owner, Truett Cathey.

    • Solomon Mullins is my ancestor. James Madison Mullins is my great great grandfather.

    • Solomon is my ancestor also; his brother, William is my GGG grandfather. He was called “money making Sol”.

  3. I am from Summers County, WV and have heard a story from my dad that yearly an American Indian would arrive on #3 train. Later the fellow would depart with a large pack on his back. People would try to follow where he went in the area without success. The story was told to my dad by an older family friend.

  4. The story of Swifts silver came out in 1982 in the Bristol Herald Courier.
    I always heard that John Swift was a cabin boy on a ship who tended an Indian who was educated and on his way to England with a trunk of silver, Indian gave John a map and the trunk before he died aboard the ship. It was enough for John to hire a crew to go mining, they would mine from October to May and upon return to the North Carolina Coast, what hadn’t killed each other John killed off himself, same thing each year he mined. John killed a man in England and stole the plates and made 1754 silver money. They put John in prison for several years and when he got out he was blind. Was said by the older people in the area of the Tumbling Creek that John come back to the area to hunt his last mine and that was far richer and never mined. He died over in North Carolina at the home of his brother.
    In the 1940s a man from over in Tazewell county was taken up for counterfeiting, his lawyer had a shabby little office and wasn’t well established in the community, he took the case to court and beat it because the silver was a purer grade than the Government silver..
    The lawyer become well set after the case was won.

    • Maybe the Bristol Herald Courier would run that again.
      Benge was the notorious half breed that when the settlers saw him coming they would often kill their own children to keep him from torturing them. Have heard that he was killed by Crabtree who killed Indians for the sport. He killed Billy Bow at a horserace in the valley near Saltville.

      When they moved the Indians out of the area on the trail of tears an Indian sat on his horse and told the settlers if they knew what he knew they could shoe their horses with silver and gold…

      Think every little county and town had it’s Swift Silver legend… In 1749 the Borden’s Land Grant hit the area that was largely settled by Indians and in that time people who settled here left after the massacar of 1754 , along the river and in the area was the Rasnack settlement. The first bicentennial book of Washington County 1776-1976 gives a look into the life in the area. The settlers from New River Valley along with the Cherokee nation went to the Ohio Valley to fight the tribe up there.
      In the Over the Mountain Men there’s a history of Southwest Via. and East Tennessee.
      Records of The Old Pine Church in Richmond had records of the settlers in the different settlements.

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