For nearly 200 years, singly and in syndicates, men have been boring and tunneling on a small island off Nova Scotia in search of a fabulous treasure.
Vastly more treasure—has been poured into the search than has ever came out of it. Whoever dug the “Money Pit” on Oak Island was a brilliant engineer, who harnessed the sea to keep trespassers at bay and to keep something so valuable out of others hands.
The pit consists of a deep shaft, furnished with an ingenious arrangement of side tunnels that allow the sea to flood in whenever diggers plumb it’s depths. Many hopeful treasure hunters have retired soaked, penniless and baffled as to the secret of the legendary treasure’s final resting place.
The only finds so far have been: three links of a chain that may have been gold or copper (accounts vary); a tiny scrap of parchment reading the two letters, V and I, written with a quill pen: and a cipher stone with odd samples that was found at 90 feet down the shaft. But which has since mysteriously disappears. Having last been seen circa 1912.
The hunt began in 1795, when 16-year-old Daniel McGinnis paddled over from the little Nova Scotian town of Chester to hunt game on uninhabited Oak Island. In a clearing at one end of the island, an old ship’s block and tackle hung from a tree over the center of a 12 foot wide depression.
Undeterred by tales of hauntings and fired by legends of pirate treasure, he and two other boys started digging. They found a 13-foot-wide circular shaft dug through flinty clay, with thick oak platforms at 10, 20 and 30 feet. The work became harder for various reason—including a difficulty of getting help from superstitious townsfolk and was then abandoned in 1804.
In the same year, a wealthy Nova Scotian named Simeon Lynds formed the first treasure company—and found the first and greatest obstacle to all further “open” explorations of the pit: water.
The diggers had broken through eight oak platforms, three of which were sealed with ship’s putty and coconut fibers when the cipher stone was found at 90 feet, and when the hole had been dug 8 feet deeper, a crowbar hit something solid. Lynds was sure he had found the elusive treasure chest.
The next day he was mortified to discover that the pit had filled with 60 feet of water overnight. Weeks of bailing with buckets and the use of crude pumps failed to lower the water’s level inside the pit.
In 1805, Lynds’ miners sank a second shaft close and parallel to the original pit. At 100 feet they began burrowing toward the treasure. The miners had to scramble for their lives when water suddenly burst into their shaft—and filled it to the same level as the original shaft. The once wealthy Simeon Lynds was now practically destitute—having run through his fortune in search of the treasure.
The original discoverer of the Money Pit, Daniel McGinnis, died. But in 1849, the two boys who had helped him with the first dig in 1795, John Smith and Anthony Vaughn, now in their seventies, returned to Oak Island and tried again with the help of a syndicate from Truro, Nova Scotia.
Two more chests
The Truro shafts, drillings, and pumpings seemed to confirm the existence of two or more chests that might contain treasure in some form: but their work weakened and undermined the pit itself and caused the bottom to collapse into what was thought to be a vast cavern—carrying down the chests and possibly breaking apart and dispersing the contents. But the Truro syndicate did discover why the pits had flooded to a level that rose and fell with the tides.
A man-made tunnel, 111 feet down connected the sea to the cavern and pit. In 1893 the sea tunnel was dynamited and blocked—yet still the pit flooded uncontrollably. In 1942 a second man-made tunnel, 150 feet down was discovered and it was feared that there might be many more.
Further excavations were made in 1909, 1931, 1935, 1936, 1942, 1959, 1965, 1969, and 1971, none of which were successful. During the 1990s, further exploration was stalled because of legal battles over the land rights. As of 2005, a portion of the island was for sale. In April of 2006 a Michigan group, said it will resume operations on Oak Island in the hope of discovering buried treasure and the mystery of Oak Island.
There has been wide-ranging speculation amongst enthusiasts as to who originally dug the pit and what it might contain. A pirate treasure hoard buried by Captain Kidd or possibly Edward Teach (Blackbeard), who claimed he buried his treasure “where none but Satan and myself can find it.” Some also hold to the theory that Kidd conspired with Henry Every and Oak Island was used as a pseudo community bank between the two.
Others agree it was dug to hold treasure but believe this was done by someone other than pirates, such as Spanish sailors from a wrecked galleon or British troops during the American Revolution. John Godwin argued that, given the apparent size and complexity of the pit, it was likely dug by French army engineers hoping to hide the contents of the treasury of the Fortress of Louisbourg after it fell to the British during the Seven Years’ War
Marie Antoionette’s jewels
There is a story that, like most others regarding the island, lacks adequate archival sources, which places the priceless jewels of Marie Antoinette (which are historically missing) on Oak Island. During the French Revolution, when the Palace of Versailles was stormed by revolutionaries in 1789, Marie Antoinette instructed her maid or a lady-in-waiting to take her prized possessions and flee. Supposedly, this maid fled to London with such royal items as Antoinette’s jewels and perhaps other treasures, such as important artwork or documents, secreted away either on her person or as her luggage; it is even said she was perhaps assisted by the remaining officers of the French navy during the uprising at the queen’s behest.
The story then goes that this woman fled further afield from London to Nova Scotia; through her royal connections she would have had during her service to the queen at Versailles, she managed to contract the French navy to help construct the famed ‘pit’ on the island. This theory, as noted, lacks recognized documentation other than that which is folkloric in nature, involves the French navy, which, during the Revolution had an uncertain level of authority, and would place the construction of the Oak Island structure very close to its initial discovery by Daniel McGinnis in 1795. Whether such a complex engineering effort could have been completed in that small space of time is questionable, though no official date of its construction exists. However, other theories do suggest the structure is French and naval in style.
Still others have speculated that the Oak Island pit was dug to hold treasure much more exotic than gold or silver. In his 1953 book, The Oak Island Enigma: A History and Inquiry Into the Origin of the Money Pit, Penn Leary claimed that English philosopher Francis Bacon used the pit to hide documents proving him to be the author of William Shakespeare‘s plays, It has been asserted that the pit might have been dug by exiled Knights Templar and that it is the last resting place of the Holy Grail.
Critics argue that there is no treasure and that the apparent pit is a natural phenomenon, likely a sinkhole and natural caverns
Regardless of it’s hidden secrets or storied past and after over 200 years of drilling, digging and pumping the surrounding area of Oak Island has become so confused that the exact location of the original Money Pit is no longer known for certain.
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