I enjoy writing book reviews in this column from time to time, particularly if the book is by a Kentucky author, focused on eastern Kentucky and so interesting that I found myself propped up in bed, still reading, three hours after I should have gone to sleep.
The Strange Case of Jonathan Swift and the Real Long John Silver by Robert A. Prather met all those requirements and then some!
Robert Prather and his wife, Karen, have run his own commercial business in the Meade County community of Garrett for more 40 years. He is also a historian active in numerous historical and archaeology societies and a field editor for Acclaim Press.
My attention to the book was first drawn when I heard that Robert was from Garrett. I wrongly assumed that he was from Floyd County. Turns out there are two Garrett, Kentuckys, which, I suppose, is another good reason for ZIP Codes. Prather’s Garrett is located just a few miles from Fort Knox, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know his eastern Kentucky history.
The book is focused on the lost treasure of Jonathan Swift and his silver mine, legends of which have run rampant in eastern Kentucky for well over 200 years. In fact, Wolfe County has a historical marker regarding Swift’s Silver Camp that used to sit in front of the old courthouse in Campton. I assume it’s still there. Wolfe County even has a Swift’s Silver Mine Festival over Labor Day weekend every year. I’m sure it’ll be happening this year, too.
Prather’s book tries to separate fact from fiction and I promise you faithfully that you will not find a more thoroughly documented accumulation of information about the life and times of Jonathan Swift and his supposed treasure than what is contained in this book. Nor will you find a more intriguing set of questions as to where the mine and/or treasure is actually located.
I am not a treasure hunter and I have always been skeptical that the legend was anything more than old wives’ tales. As Prather points out, there are no fewer than 40 documents hanging around that are purportedly the original or hand copies of the original journals on which the legend are based.
Prather suggests that the treasure mine or mines did exist, but not necessarily in eastern Kentucky.
He documents, beyond doubt, several large land holdings owned by Swift in both eastern and northcentral Kentucky as well as northeastern Virginia. He makes a most convincing case that the same Jonathan Swift mined for silver in at least four different locations including eastern Kentucky, and that he was, indeed, a frequent visitor to the state during the 1790s.
The final section of the book devotes 75 pages to a strong case that Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel, Treasure Island, was based the same Jonathan Swift’s lost treasure and that the book’s main character, Long John Silver, is actually modeled from our main man, Jonathan Swift. But I was gut hooked by the book because it contains several hundred excerpts from historically accurate documents including newspaper articles, letters, deeds, indentures, and references from many other books and published articles on the subject. Treasure seeking, notwithstanding, If you are remotely interested in Kentucky history, this book is a must read because you will discover many facts you’ve never read before.
The Strange Case of Jonathan Swift and the Real Long John Silver is hard bound with a beautiful, awardwinning, dust jacket, 376 pages including 58 pages of appendices and other documentation.
It can be found at Barnes and Noble, The Kentucky Artisans Center in Berea and directly from the publisher, Acclaim Press, and at other booksellers, but I don’t have a complete list.
I like to take my business to the best little book store in Kentucky even though it’s located in Pound, Va. Heritage Nook Books, owned by my friend Brenda Salyers, has the best catalogue of central Appalachian writers.
You can access it on the web at www.heritagenook.com. Or simply mail a check for $30 (includes price and shipping costs) to: Heritage Nook Books, P.O. Box 373, Pound, Va. 24279-0373. Brenda’s store is located at 8009 Main Street, in Pound and she loves to have walkin shoppers. And I desperately want to make sure she stays in business.