My love of metal detectors began at an early age, when my father obtained one at a store in Lexington and we set about searching the countryside for hidden treasure. Since those days, the pickings have become increasingly slim for treasure-seekers, especially those specifically hunting for Civil War artifacts. But the soil hasn’t given up all its secrets just yet.
Robert Prather, in his book The Strange Case of Jonathan Swift and the real Long John Silver, makes the case for the semi-mythical pirate Jonathan Swift and the semi-mythical pirate Long John Silver being one and the same man, and suggests that Swift may have buried his fabled treasure (and also, rather implausibly, concealed a gold/silver mine) somewhere on his thousands of acres of property he owned in Kentucky.
Some historians believe the real Jonathan Swift used a cover story of being a trader for his real career as a pirate who preyed on Spanish merchants. Supposedly, then, he would make expeditions to Kentucky to hide his stolen booty, and remelt it into coins to conceal its origin.
There’s a story – possibly apocryphal, possibly not – from a resident of Laurel County named William Reams, who held that Swift, overcome with paranoia and/or greed, killed all the other members of his crew who also knew of the treasure’s secret location. Subsequently, as this story goes, Swift lost his eyesight and was unable to retrieve his own treasure, or even adequately describe to anyone else how to find it.
Theories about the location of the alleged stash are numerous, but Prather suggests it lies near the Hardin Breckinridge county line, somewhere in the vicinity of the middle of an “X” formed by the small towns of Eastview, Westview, Centerview and Grandview.
Legends abound of Kentucky criminals and secret caches of stolen money. In Nicholasville, there’s a tale that’s been circulating for a long while about the spoils of a bank robbery ending up tossed into Kings Mill Pond over a hundred years ago. Supposedly some of these coins washed ashore and were found by a fisherman in 1910. And stories are also rampant about the possibility of robbed loot from rogues like Sue Mundy, Jesse James and the Newport gangster Frank “Screw” Andrews still waiting to be discovered beneath the surface of Kentucky.
Richmond, always a hot-spot for treasure-seekers because of once-commonly-unearthed Civil War bullets, buttons and buckles, may also hold some Native American buried treasure. A commenter on an internet message board suggests:
“The Indians who lived in the area around Richmond burned and looted from the pioneers who were homesteading the area for years before the army finally drove them out. They accumulated much gold, silver, and relics, which they buried near their settlement. They never had an opportunity to retrieve them before leaving the area.”
While it’s entirely possible this story is true, it’s also possible that these items were buried with their dead in or near sacred burial mounds, which places them completely off-limits to fortune hunters.
And Lexington’s William Pettit, who built Alleghan Hall on Nicholasville Road (just north of Stone Road), is said to have concealed a sizable stash of solid gold coins on the property’s grounds before his death in 1868. Fearing the impending Civil War would jeopardize the value of currency, he converted his vast wealth into gold and buried it, but the secret of the fortune’s whereabouts died with him.
Such stories are common in the Commonwealth and this is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg – what are some local treasure legends that you know of?
(And please – don’t go mucking around with shovels on someone’s else’s property without permission just because you read this article. If you do, I know ye not.)
Jeffrey Scott Holland is a native Kentuckian, painter, writer, actor, musician, paralegal – and interested in all things. He joins a growing stable of talented, interesting regular columnists for KyForward.com, bringing his gift of a well-turned phrase, quirkiness and humor to entertain and enlighten — and sometimes provoke — our readers. He can always be reached at any time, by anyone on the planet, at email@example.com