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The Oak Island Treasure


The Oak Island Treasure
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Winter 2006 and Revised 9 Jan 2007

PREFACE:

While tracing the ancestry of a number of early New England Prentice families, I learned that a number of them had relocated to Nova Scotia in the middle 1700s. Roland Sabourin recently provided me with a book ("A Great and Noble Scheme" by John Mack Faragherm, 2005) discussing the history of Nova Scotia. While reading the book, I remembered the tales I had heard over the years about buried treasure on Oak Island which lies just off the eastern shore of Nova Scotia. As I progressed through the book, a number of things seemed to come together about events in Nova Scotia and the buried treasure. This article discusses some new thinking about the events on the island.

INTRODUCTION:

Oak Island is a small island lying just off the east cost of Nova Scotia. About 3/4 mile long and about 1/2 mile wide; it is almost entirely hidden from the view of passing ships by Big and Little Tancook Islands which lie to the east and southeast. Many people believe it to be the site of buried treasure, but despite 212 years of searching, it remains yet to be found.

The treasure story begins in 1795 when a 16-year-old Nova Scotia boy, Daniel McGinnis, rowed to the island to explore. He observed a large depression in the ground by an old oak tree. Later, he returned to the island with 2 friends, John Smith, age 19 and Anthony Vaughan, age 16, and some picks and shovels. They began digging, and four feet down they found a layer of flagstones not native to the island. Then ten feet down they found a platform of oak logs which were closely set together and embedded in the walls of the shaft. Below the oak platform they found more soil. At a depth of 20 feet they encountered another oak platform, and yet another at 30 feet. By this time the pit was so deep that the boys could not easily remove the logs. At that point they left the dig, but did not forget.

In 1803 the boys returned to the island with Simeon Lynds, a wealthy business man from the mainland who had secured sufficient funds from investors to undertake a full scale excavation of the pit. His group dug past 30 feet and found more oak platforms, one at every ten feet. Some of the platforms were sealed with putty and coconut fiber. Traces of charcoal were also present. At 90 feet they found a large flat stone with a message engraved upon it, apparently in a cipher. Years later it was "translated" to mean “Forty feet below two million pounds are buried.”

It is not the purpose of this article to detail the futile efforts of a number of people and companies to locate what they believed was a treasure lying at the bottom of the pit. Detailed descriptions of those efforts can be found in a number of websites by doing a Google search using the key words: "Oak Island Treasure Nova Scotia". Nor do we wish to debate whether or not there is a buried treasure.

Rather, for purposes of this article, and after some discussion to place the matter in perspective, we will set out our own theories about the "treasure."

OLDER THEORIES:

1. Captain William Kidd - the notorious privateer: . Legends abound about secret caches of treasure buried by Kidd and his crew. Periodically maps have popped up alleged to be Kidd's showing the location of his treasures. There are many tales of old men on their death beds claiming to have been part of Kidd's crews and having knowledge of hidden wealth. Some of these stories point toward Oak Island.

2. Francis Bacon: Since no original manuscripts of Shakespeare have ever been found, the theory goes that Francis Bacon was the author and has buried them somewhere to be found some time in the future, perhaps on Oak Island.

3. The Vikings: There is some record of Viking visitation to the Americas. They have been offered as possible builders.

4. Bands of Pirates: Some think Oak Island acted as a communal bank for pirates. Each group would dig tunnels off the Money Pit shaft and bury their treasure. To retrieve it they could dig down through untouched dirt to get their cache.

5. Stranded Spanish Galleon: Another theory is that some Spanish Galleon returning with gold and jewels from Central or South America was lost or damaged, stopped at Oak Island, hid the treasure while repairing the ship, and sailed home with plans to return later to retrieve what they had buried.

6. Inca or Maya treasure: During the conquest of the Americas by the Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries, much of the wealth of the Incas and Mayas disappeared. Some think that perhaps a group of Incas or Mayas buried their wealth on Oak Island.

THE ACADIANS:

Acadia was the name of the first permanent colony that France founded in North America, roughly comprising parts of what became the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Acadians are descended from French colonists who homesteaded first in 1604 on St. Croix Island and then in 1605 at Port Royal. Among the earliest families was that of Pierre Martin and his wife, Catherine Vigneau, ancestors to this author's wife, Paula (Perron) Dewald.

For most of the next 150 years, Acadia was a political ping-pong ball, batted back and forth between two warring enemies, England and France. Whenever under English control, the French families would offer to swear allegiance to England, reserving the right not to bear arms on England's behalf. This infuriated the English, but generally they did not take punitive action against the French inhabitants. Eventually, England gained control of Nova Scotia as the result of a Treaty with France

TWO NEW THEORIES ABOUT THE OAK ISLAND "TREASURE":

Theory 1: There is a treasure and it was placed there by the French Acadians:

The Acadians had a common practice of burying for safekeeping whatever the accumulated (see Fn. 1).

As early as the 1740s, the English in Nova Scotia has considered removing all of the French Acadians from Nova Scotia so that the land could then be occupied by English people from England and the American colonies (see Fn. 2). Such a plan was generally well known by the Acadians, and, in fact, they were again given a deadline of 25 Oct 1749 either to take an oath to support the King of England or vacate Nova Scotia (see Fn. 3). The had also been told that they would not be permitted to take most of their possessions with them. Many Acadians refused to take the oath and were expelled from Nova Scotia by English transport ship in the Fall of 1755 (see Fn. 4) with many hundreds dying on the ships in the process.

It is reasonable to think that many of the Acadians would take appropriate measures to bury their more valuable possessions with the hope of retrieving them later. Since most of the Acadians were members of large family groups, it is also reasonable to think that they would join together in that effort.

Oak Island would have been a reasonable place to bury their valuable possessions; it was remote from the areas controlled by the English military (Halifax was not not founded until 1749 and was 45 miles to the north), but close to the eastern shore of Nova Scotia, and a location where they could dig an appropriate pit with minimum chance of discovery, dyking off the ocean waters while digging the necessary access tunnels. As mentioned earlier, it is almost entirely hidden from the view of passing ships by Big and Little Tancook Islands which lie to the east and southeast (see Fn. 5).

Some have speculated that there must be a nearby hidden entrance which would have allowed access to the treasure, bypassing the vertical shaft and flood tunnels. That brings us to the next theory.

Theory 2: There is no treasure:

The French Acadians were skilled at building dykes to reclaim marshland for agricultural uses, and, in fact, built an extensive system of dykes for that purpose in and around Port Royal which lies on the eastern shore of the Bay of Fundy. We know that at least one island near Port Royal, also named "Oak Island", was dyked for agricultural purposes:

    From "The History of Kings County, Nova Scotia, Heart of the Acadian Land," by Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton:

    "Minas, with its dykes, consisted of the village along the banks of the upland, with the Grand Pre [river] lying n front. . . As new lands for settlement were wanted, some of the inhabitants went up the Cornwallis river and found a place that seemed curiously familiar. There was a piece of marsh somewhat resembling the Grand Pre, with Oak Island lying ouside it. On the edge was a similar chance for settlement to that furnished by the upland which bordered the Grand Pre. They, therefore, put in place short dykes at each of Oak Island, reclaimed a considerable piece of marsh, built themselves some homes, and called their settlement 'New Minas'"

The Oak Island which lies on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia has marshy areas on the north and south shores of the eastern tip of the island (see Fn. 6).

There is evidence that at some early point in time, a dyke-type structure had been created, and, in fact, a coffer-dam was built in later years during efforts to uncover the "treasure" (see Fn. 7).

The central pit and horizontal tunnels described in "The Oak Island Mystery" (citation in Fn. 5, 6 and 7) are consistent with construction of a dry well to drain the area so that it could be used for agricultural purposes (see the discussion about dyking the Oak Island on the Bay of Fundy, above).

A dry well is an underground structure that disposes of unwanted water, most commonly storm water runoff, by dissipating it into the ground, where it merges with the local groundwater. The following excerpt is from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

    A dry well is a passive structure. Water flows through it under the influence of gravity. A dry well receives water from one or more entry pipes or channels at its top. A dry well discharges the same water through a number of small exit openings distributed over a larger surface area, the side(s) and bottom of the dry well. When a dry well is above the water table, most of its internal volume will contain air. Such a dry well can accept an initial inrush of water very quickly, until the air is displaced. After that, the dry well can only accept water as fast as it can dissipate water. Some dry wells deliberately incorporate a large storage capacity, so that they can accept a large amount of water very quickly and then dissipate it gradually over time, a method that is compatible with the intermittent nature of rainfall. A dry well maintains the connection between its inflow and outflow openings by resisting collapse and resisting clogging.

    Simple dry wells consist of a pit filled with gravel, rip rap, rubble, or other debris. Such pits resist collapse, but do not have much storage capacity because their interior volume is mostly filled by stone. A more advanced dry well defines a large interior storage volume by a reinforced concrete cylinder with perforated sides and bottom. These dry wells are usually buried completely, so that they do not take up any land area.

In the case of Oak Island, the horizontal tunnels are filled with large breach stones (see Fn. 8) and there is good reason to believe that beneath the vertical shaft lie limestone caverns into which water from the tunnels would drain. The soil and logs placed in the vertical shaft served as a "cork" to make the structure function. With the original dykes gone, and the "cork" removed by the treasure seeker's excavation, it was inevitable that the dry well shaft would flood to the level of the surrounding sea.

As for the theory mentioned above, that there must be a nearby hidden entrance which would have allowed access to the treasure, there is no need for a nearby hidden entrance to a dry well.

CONCLUSION:

As stated earlier in this article, it is not the purpose of this article to detail the futile efforts of a number of people and companies to locate what they believe was a treasure lying at the bottom of the pit. Detailed descriptions of those efforts can be found in a number of websites by going a Google search using the key words: "Oak Island Treasure Nova Scotia". Nor do we wish to debate whether there is a treasure. Rather, we have set out two new alternate theories:

  1. One is based on the hypothesis that there is a treasure, and that it consists of possessions placed there by French Acadians in anticipation of their expulsion from Nova Scotia.

  2. The other is based on the hypothesis that there is no treasure, and that the works in question were constructed by French Acadians for land reclamation purposes.

Your comments and information about the Oak Island Treasure would be welcome. Please send them to Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor, Prentice Newsletter, at the Prentice Newsletter. Be sure to give the full title and date of this article in the Subject line of the email.

Caution: If you don't use the above email link, your email to us may be deleted as spam by our email filter.

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Footnote References:

Fn. 1 per "A Great and Noble Scheme", pp.88-89.
Fn. 2 per "A Great and Noble Scheme", pp.245 et seq., 343
Fn. 3 per "A Great and Noble Scheme", pp.253-4.
Fn. 4 per "A Great and Noble Scheme", pp.253-4, 343
Fn. 5 per "The Oak Island Mystery: by R. V. Harris, McGraw-Hill_Ryerson Limited, 1958, pg. 3.
Fn. 6 per "The Oak Island Mystery: by R. V. Harris, McGraw-Hill_Ryerson Limited, 1958, pg. 4.
Fn. 7 per "The Oak Island Mystery: by R. V. Harris, McGraw-Hill_Ryerson Limited, 1958, pg. 28.
Fn. 8 per "The Oak Island Mystery: by R. V. Harris, McGraw-Hill_Ryerson Limited, 1958, pp. 45-6, 53 (diagram).


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