Since it has come up in some of the comments, and because there is a real interest in the Oak Island treasure hunt, I thought it might be time to revisit all of this. I first became interested in Oak Island in the mid-1960s (which I hesitate to mention since that dates me) when I bought John Godwin’s This Baffling World. It was a compilation of stories of the strange and the weird including the Bermuda Triangle and UFOs but also a section on Oak Island. Later I bought D’Arcy O’Connor’s The Big Dig. And, back in the days before the Internet, I would look up magazine articles using the old method of searching those big index books and then wandering the library stacks looking for the magazines. Today the Internet makes all that easier.
When I wrote Lost Gold and Buried Treasure, I used the material that I had accumulated to that point which was the early 1990s. Because it was a story of a buried treasure, and because there was a great deal of information available, Oak Island became one of the features of the book. That section of the book was published on this blog a little while back with no real updates, though I had been aware of Joe Nickell’s article on “The Secrets of Oak Island,”
But now, with The Curse of Oak Island having run through several seasons on History, I find more people interested in what happened there, or is happening there. Those who read this blog know that I have been less than thrilled with what the Lagina Brothers and their pals have discovered, which, when boiled down to its essence is virtually nothing. They managed to get to the bottom of Bore Hole 10X and found that it was not manmade but a natural formation. Hopes had been pinned on it containing all sorts of things for decades. These included the possibility of a body, a chest, and some sort of support beam all seen through the murky water using a vintage video camera.
Many of these new accounts start the same way as the old. Nickell, in his March/April 2000 article in the Skeptical Inquirer, told us, again, that the story began in 1795 when Daniel McInnis (or McGinnis) claimed he had found some sort of an old tackle block in a tree overlooking a shallow depression in the ground. The next day, McInnis and two friends, Anthony Vaughan and Jack (John) Smith, returned to the island. Believing for some reason that pirate treasure was buried there (and given the account that these were teenagers, I guess you can believe their imaginations ran amok) they began to dig. Some two feet down the found a layer of flagstones and ten feet deeper, a layer of logs.
Richard Joltes, in August 2006, published on the Internet, his findings about this early part of the story which can be seen at:
He suggested that there is no historical evidence to back up this tale. He said that a search of the local newspapers of the time produced no stories about any of this and that McInnis, in 1795, wasn’t boy in his late teens but a man in his late thirties. He wasn’t a local originally, but had been born in South Carolina and apparently fled to Canada after the Revolutionary War because he had been on the wrong side.
Eventually McInnis and his pals dug down deep enough, finding the wooden logs or planks every ten feet or so, but were eventually forced to give up. It does seem odd that they would have kept at it long enough to dig down thirty feet but according to the tale the earth was soft having been excavated at some earlier time (apparently when the pirates buried their treasure). Nothing else happened for eight or nine years, when they interested, or maybe a group of investors called the Onslow Company got interested, and began an effort to get the treasure believed to be in the pit. At the 95-foot level, they found a stone inscribed with odd symbols which they recovered.
Their attempt to dig deeper was foiled at the that point. They had completed work for the day and when they returned in the morning there was sixty feet of water in the pit. They were unable to reduce the water level and abandoned their effort at that time.
All this is interesting, but, according to Joltes, probably untrue. He wrote that he could find evidence of the three men in the history of the area at the turn of the nineteenth century, but that he found no documentation about Oak Island’s money pit until 1857. A traveler’s diary mentioned that he had visited the site and mentioned some debris. This would suggest some discussion about the money pit prior to that and in 1849, there was note signed giving permission to dig on Oak Island. Not exactly rock solid evidence of the 1795 story, or the Onslow Company’s attempt to get the treasure but certainly a hint of the legend.
I find all that more than a little troubling. While I fell into the category of those other writers Joltes had warned about, that is, using the available sources which all claimed this saga began in 1795, I simply did not have access to the wealth of information available today. While I was forced to go to the library and the one at the University of Iowa is huge with magazines and newspaper files that go back to the eighteenth century, I couldn’t get into other archives around the country where some of this information was hidden. Joltes was able to do that and provided a fresh perspective on Oak Island.
So, what have we learned about the beginning of the legend? Well, the initial story might not be accurate. There are no records that exist prior to 1849, and it was later that newspaper accounts began to tell the story of the 1795 find. They mention some of the evidence, such as the log platforms and that during drilling at the site in the 1840s, a bit of gold chain of three links and a tiny bit of parchment with two letters on it had been recovered. Unfortunately, these discoveries were not documented at the time though Dan Blankenship is suggested as the owner of the parchment. The gold links seem to be gone.
That there is nothing about the money pit prior to that 1849 entry is worrisome. That this is no documentation to support the idea that there were log platforms in the pit is worrisome. That the layer of flag stones found a couple of feet below the surface of the ground is interesting until you learn that in 1975, working some 3000 feet north of the island there was a rock layer not unlike that allegedly found in 1795 (yes, I see that 1975 and 1795 are sort of the reverse of one another) covering a cavern below, suggesting the same kind of geological formation around the money pit rather than a layer of stone put there by the pirates.
Nickell, among others, suggest that natural phenomena might account for the suggestion of the log platforms. He thought that wave action along the island might have deposited logs, covered them, and then did the same thing again and again. I’m not happy with that explanation and think that if the original legend is nothing more than legend, then the most likely explanation is that there were no log platforms. Again, no documentation exists to prove that there were these log platforms.
As for that stone with a strange inscription, as I have said before, the stone disappeared before anyone managed to photograph it. We are left with the legend of the stone, but nothing to document it, and according to Joltes, that story might have been invented in the early twentieth century. He wrote, “In the earliest manuscripts (circa 1860) it is simply called a stone bearing ‘marks’ was found and that no one was able to decipher them or understand them. Somewhat later documents state that ‘one wise man’ or ‘a professor at Dalhousie (college) claimed a translation of either ‘ten feet down, two million pounds’ or ‘forty feet down, two million pounds are buried.’”
You have to wonder what sort of pirate, or anyone else for that matter, would carve a stone and bury it above a treasure telling you how much deeper you must dig. Once the stone was found, wouldn’t that just inspire the finder of digging deeper… or maybe cause investors to shell out more cash because there is evidence that something valuable is buried.
Joltes noted that there were “no sketches, descriptions, photograph, rubbings…” that are dated before the twentieth century. He noted that the 1893 prospectus contained nothing like that about the stone, but if it existed, it would be a wonderful tool to induce investors to provide financing. Joltes seems to suggest that the first time the symbols were published was in 1951. However you slice it, there is no good documentation for the symbols on the stone, and while many seem to have translated the inscription in the world today, there is no real evidence that the description of that inscription is accurate or that the symbols were actually on the stone.
You might say that for me the final straw was the diver who made it to the bottom of Bore Hole 10X. Since Dan Blankenship made that video in the 1970s, it has been played and replayed, suggesting that something truly manmade was at the bottom of the hole. I didn’t know that he had found the drill site by using divining rods. However he determined the site, it seemed to produce results until the diver reached the bottom. It was a natural formation and there was no body, no chest and nothing to suggest it was anything other than a natural formation.
Given all this, most of which is ignored by the treasure hunters on the History show, I would suggest the Lagina brothers scrap their plans for next summer. They’re wasting their money because if they are attempting to learn the true nature of the secret of Oak Island, I think we already have it. There is no treasure hidden there. It is a legend that seems to have been invented a couple of hundred years ago and kept alive by all those who have dug up the island. I understand the Lagina’s reluctance to give up on an adventure they have dreamed about for decades and there is History footing some of the bill, but they’re not going to find any treasure. Maybe just proving there is nothing at the bottom of the money pit except some broken dreams will, in the end, be enough for them but I wonder if it is worth the price.