Read The Oak Island Mystery Online
Authors: Lionel & Patricia Fanthorpe
One of our Nova Scotian friends, George Young, who was himself an expert on the Oak Island mystery, came up with the brilliantly innovative idea that the characters depicted in the Poussin paintings might actually be signalling letters in the old Ogham script. It was George who drew our attention to the fact that Ogham letters are capable of being denoted by the positions of the hands and fingers â as though Ogham were a very early progenitor of the sign language used to help those with a hearing challenge today.
What if whatever mysterious, wealth-generating secrets were (and perhaps still are) hidden at Rennes-le-ChÃ¢teau and/or Glozel, have some curious duplicate, counterpart, or accessory hidden on the other side of the Atlantic? And what if Guercino, Poussin and the other painters who knew at least part of that secret hid ancient Ogham letters in their compositions?
What if Verrazano's apparently failed attempt to establish a colony in Nova Scotia was no failure at all but a deliberate cover, or elaborate camouflage, to enable something of immense value and importance to be concealed in the Money Pit on Oak Island?
The mind of a brilliant Renaissance Italian would have been the ideal spawning ground for the plans of the Oak Island System. Compare it with the catacombs of ancient Rome. The skill of the craftsmen who built, furnished and decorated Renaissance Italy would have been more than adequate to design and build the Money Pit. The question remains: what could have been so vitally important that they went to such lengths to transport, conceal and protect it?
During most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, British and French forces fought long and hard for possession of Nova Scotia. One civil or military pay chest or another, legitimately or illegitimately, could have found its way to the base of a secret subterranean “safe deposit” on Oak Island â if that's what the Money Pit actually was!
The massive fortress of Louisbourg at the eastern end of Cape Breton cost the French millions to build. Were some of those funds misappropriated and secretly hidden on Oak Island?
The Oak Island story may go back much further into the mists of time than is generally realized: fearless Celts, Coptic Christian refugees, grimly determined Norsemen, the noble and heroic Sinclair branch of the Knights Templar after their betrayal and downfall in 1307, Drake's Devon lads, Kidd's bloodthirsty pirates, or a detachment of meticulously disciplined British army engineers â¦ who constructed the Money Pit and why?
The historical and geological background of Oak Island and its immediate surroundings abound with exciting and intriguing possibilities.
Smith, Vaughan, and McGinnis
understand Daniel McGinnis and his pioneering companions, it is first necessary to know something of the political and social background of Nova Scotia in the eighteenth century. The Chinese have a proverbial “curse” which runs: “May you live in interesting times.” The eighteenth century was â in that subtle Chinese sense â an interesting time to be in Nova Scotia, and particularly if you lived on, or near, its coast.
The French and English had long disputed the ownership of what was then termed “Acadie” (or, perhaps, more significantly “Acadia,” “Arcadie,” or “Arcadia”). Champlain had been there in 1603 and De Monts in 1604. The Treaty of Utrecht gave Acadia to the English in 1713, but in 1755 the danger of war with France led the English to deport the Acadians to New Orleans. This caused great hardship, and many personal tragedies of the kind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described so poignantly in “Evangeline.”
There is an evocative and mysterious tone to the opening lines of the poem:
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green indistinct in the twilight,
Stand Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep voiced neighbouring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
Longfellow was a genius with a great interest in history and romantic legends. There is a strong suspicion that â like the even more brilliant J.R.R. Tolkien of later days â Longfellow knew rather more about the undiscovered byways of ancient history than he was prepared to say explicitly.
Another fascinating parallel can be found in the works of Victor Hugo, and in particular his “La Legende des SiÃ¨cles.” In one of these epic poems, which Hugo claims are based on historical fact, he appears to be referring to the mysterious lost treasure of Rennes-le-ChÃ¢teau, which is, in turn, connected with Oak Island. Longfellow wrote not only of the Acadians, but of Viking legends. His “Skeleton in Armour” suggests that the ancient remains found in Fall River were those of a Norseman who had built the archaeologically controversial Newport Tower on Rhode Island.
Halfway through the eighteenth century, the indigenous Mi'kmaq population of Nova Scotia was struggling against the new arrivals, and against tuberculosis. The neighbouring Americans were divided between those who wanted nationhood and independence and those who wanted to remain under the protection of the British Crown.
The Atlantic Ocean provided hazards ranging from floods and storms to pirates and privateers. Nova Scotian fishermen and farmers in those days had to be tough and resourceful in order to survive: they were â and they did.
By the second half of the century, about 6,000 of the original French settlers had been deported. They were replaced by settlers from New England, Yorkshire, Scotland, and Ireland. The American element in this migration was the United Empire Loyalists, and among them was Daniel McGinnis's family. They lived alongside other United Empire Loyalists on the comparatively sheltered shores of Mahone Bay. Although life there was undeniably hard in those days, it was not without its compensations: natural resources and worthwhile opportunities abounded for those who were prepared to work.
Soil, once cleared, became good, fertile farmland. Timber was abundant and could be felled and sold, or used for building houses and ships. The sea was unpolluted and teeming with fish. Despite its hardships and dangers, Mahone Bay was a place where people could live and prosper.
On that fateful summer's day in 1795, young Daniel McGinnis was taking a few hours off work to explore some of the hundreds of islands scattered across the bay like mushrooms in a meadow. He reached Oak Island, scarcely two hundred metres off shore, and began to wander through the huge old red oaks that gave the island its name. Reaching a clearing close to the eastern end of the island, he was intrigued by a circular depression, approximately thirteen feet across. The earth here had subsided as if a wide shaft had been excavated and refilled long ago, and the soil had subsequently settled.
Above this depression stood a great oak with one large branch lopped off short so that its end was now more or less over the centre of the depression. From that shortened branch hung a very old and fragile ship's block and tackle.
Knowing the history of the area, and especially the many rumours and legends of buccaneers burying their treasure off the coast of Nova Scotia, Daniel's first thought was that this must be the top of a pirate's cache.
He went to fetch two young friends to show them what he had discovered, and it is interesting to note here that the Puritan work ethic prevailing in Nova Scotia at the time was such that Daniel felt it very unlikely that adult members of his family would have offered much encouragement. He probably suspected that he would be reprimanded for “wasting his time on idle fancies” instead of getting on with some “important work” in connection with farming, fishing, or lumbering!
Daniel had judged his two young friends rightly: his contemporaries, John Smith and Anthony Vaughan, were as excited by the discovery as Daniel, and accompanied him eagerly back to Oak Island equipped with mattocks and spades. A few minutes' work at the site told them that Daniel's first suspicions about the circular depression had been right.
The loose earth came out with surprising ease. What they were removing now was soil which had clearly been taken out before. Around the edges of the broad shaft they were excavating, the boys saw the pick marks which had been left by whoever had dug there before them.
The lads noticed that the rotting block and tackle were fixed to the “Y” shape formed between the ends of the lopped branch by means of an old wooden peg of the type described by shipbuilders of the time as a “tree” or “tree-nail.” This peg had apparently once formed a secure triangle in conjunction with the ends of the lopped bough.
Dr. Ogilvie's prodigious eight-volume
, which was published early in the nineteenth century, refers to various types of such shipbuilders' wooden pegs as “chess-trees,” “trestle-trees,” “cross-trees,” and so on.
Had that lifting equipment been left by the original excavators of the Money Pit, or had some subsequent opportunist visitors to Oak Island â prior to Daniel and his friends in 1795 â seen the same circular depression and decided to excavate it with the aid of a block and tackle pegged to a convenient oak?
Two or three feet down the boys discovered a layer of flat stones, obviously placed there quite deliberately by someone who had been digging and refilling the pit before them. Their local knowledge told them that those stones could not have originated on Oak Island. The only similar ones, as far as they knew, were from the vicinity of Gold River, which lay roughly two miles north.
As Michael Bradley has pointed out in his painstakingly researched and superbly written
Holy Grail Across the Atlantic
(Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1988), there are two Oak Islands, one on each side of the peninsula. There are also two important rivers â each of which is adjacent to one of the Oak Islands. The southern Oak Island which contains the Money Pit is close to Gold River. The northern Oak Island (which ceased to be an island in the 1930s when dykes were built as part of a work program during the Great Depression) is close to the Gaspereau River.
The name Gold River as a possible clue to the Oak Island mystery is self-evident; but what of the name Gaspereau? Over the years a “g” and a “c” easily become interchangeable.
can mean a box or case, perhaps a treasure chest, or even a sarcophagus.
can mean a hut, a cabin, or even a square on a chessboard â and chessboards figure very prominently in both Templar and Masonic symbolism.
means with, or by, and
is water. The
could equally well have been
meaning breakage or damage, or even cassette, a casket or money box.
, meaning helmet, is another strong possibility. This all reinforces Michael Bradley's intriguing argument that crossing the Atlantic, locating an island covered with non-indigenous oaks, and sailing up the river beside it would lead to a certain building, to a helmet (or to some honoured military leader who wore a helmet), to the square of destiny on life's metaphorical chessboard which the travellers were trying to reach, or to a sanctuary where that which was damaged could be restored, i.e., a place where an early sailing ship battered by the ordeal of an Atlantic crossing could be repaired and refitted.
Between the source of the Gaspereau River (“the-treasure-box-reached-by-water”) and Gold River lie the mysterious and controversial ruins the McKays showed to Michael Bradley. Perhaps something like a pentagonal early medieval castle once stood there: there's enough left on the ground to be very interesting â but there's not quite enough to be absolutely certain about it.
Bradley's ingenious theories fit in well with the layer of Gold River stones which the young treasure hunters found near the top of the Money Pit.
There could be no surer indication that a connection had to be made between Gold River and Oak Island than to place a layer of Gold River stones over the highly significant pit. What could those stones have meant? Were they intended as a barrier, a “keep out” sign, to those who were initiated into some ancient mystery? Or were they intended to be something like a name plate on a door saying “Yes, you're right. This is the place. Dig here!” McGinnis, Vaughan, and Smith interpreted them as a sure indication that they were on to something very interesting indeed, and that pirates' gold, or some other great treasure, lay not far below.
When the human mind is set enthusiastically on one particular course, it gallops with the uncompromising directness of a blinkered horse: this is especially true when the chemistry of youth is effervescing vigorously and teenage adrenalin is coursing through the veins. Those three lads would have had nothing on their minds except pirate treasure, and wonderful dreams of escaping from the back-breaking toil of farming, fishing, and tree-felling. The last thing that would have occurred to them as they dug so eagerly was that they were up against one of the most cunningly constructed hiding places ever built, and that for the next two centuries the subtlety of the original designer would defeat the best efforts of modern engineering skill and technology.
Pirates deservedly acquired a reputation for ruthless greed and bloodthirsty viciousness, but not for industry. Pirates were traditionally careless, badly organized, lazy â and drunk most of the time. McGinnis and his friends did not expect the treasure they were looking for to be very deeply buried: six or seven feet down would be the most a pirate would dig. The layer of stones must have encouraged the lads to think that the chest of gold and jewels lay not much farther below. So they dug and they dug â¦ and they found nothing.
Then, at last, ten feet below the surface, they hit a layer of tough old oak logs. This, they thought, had to be it. The ends of the logs were wedged securely into the firm clay of the pit's sides, although â like the ancient block and tackle â the wood itself was showing signs of decay on the surface. They prised the logs with some difficulty, and saw that the soil below them had settled two or three feet â but there was still no sign of any chest or cask filled with pirates' gold and jewels. Tired and disappointed, the boys dug on â¦
They got over some of their disappointment and frustration by reasoning among themselves that whatever was buried at this kind of depth had to very valuable indeed. At the twenty-foot level they encountered another platform of oak logs, but still no gold.
At the thirty-foot level they found more oak logs â and very understandably decided that enough was enough. There was a limit to the amount of time which their families would allow them to spend away from the all important farming, fishing, and lumbering on which their economic survival depended. Reluctantly, and with their dreams of wealth undiminished by their hard work and disappointment, the three boys marked the area carefully with wooden stakes, covered over the top of the pit with brushwood and branches, and went back to their normal daily routines.
As time passed John built a house near the pit and managed to acquire plots fifteen to twenty, thus becoming the owner of the whole twenty-four acres at the eastern end of the island. The original little settlement town of Shoreham eventually grew into the modern fishing village of Chester. The Shoreham Grant contained approximately one hundred thousand acres (roughly forty-one thousand hectares) in all, and the 128 acres of Oak Island were a very small fraction of the total involved. Records show, however, that in 1759 Oak Island was owned by former New England families named Young, Lynch, Seacombe, and Monro. It is highly probable that our good friend and very knowledgeable Oak Island informant, George Young, a Nova Scotian surveyor, was related to that same Young family who were part owners of Oak Island under that original Shoreham Grant.