The History of Oak Island's Mysterious Treasure

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The Oak Island Treasure

Few mysteries concerning lost or buried treasure have captured the imagination of such a colorful cast of characters over such an extensive period of time as has the legendary Oak Island Treasure. Oak Island is a small 140 acre, privately-owned island which lies off the southern shore off the coast of Nova Scotia in Eastern Canada. While there are numerous tales about the origins of the Oak Island Treasure, most agree that it all began in the summer of 1795 when an inquisitive teenaged boy from Nova Scotia by the name of Daniel McGinnis stumbled across a peculiar depression or hollow in the soil while out exploring around Mahone Bay on Oak Island during a fishing expedition. Determined to discover what it was, McGinnis returned to the location the following day with some of his friends, carrying pickaxes for digging. The group of youngsters soon uncovered what is understood to have been the upper part of what was evidently a man-made shaft which had been covered by earthen layers around the hollow which had first piqued McGinnis’s curiosity. 

The 225 Year Search for Buried Pirate Treasure

Oak Island had long been believed to have been a haven for pirates who voyaged all along the East Coast of North America and south into the Caribbean during the golden age of piracy in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Had they discovered the site of a pirate captain’s buried treasure they wondered? Yet, as they did further excavation, owing to the peculiarity of the island lying on a glacial tumulus, the shaft flooded with water. No treasure was to be found, but the legend which sprung up around the supposed buried treasure was so intense that generations of individuals for 225 years have been travelling to Oak Island to uncover the treasure. Moreover, the quest widened in subsequent years, with individuals searching the island far and wide for valuable buried goods beyond the ‘Money Pit’, as McGinnis and his friends’ original shaft has become known. But what exactly is the treasure supposed to consist of?  

Theories about the Treasure

There is no shortage of theories as to what the Oak Island Treasure might actually consist of, and these range from the plausible to the fantastical. The most common and most credible suggest that it is the buried treasure of some famous pirate from the golden age of piracy, stretching roughly from 1660 to 1730. This was an age when famous pirates and buccaneers such as Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, plied the waters off the East Coast of North America from Canada all the way south to the Caribbean islands. Such was the level of pirate activity during this period that the governments of Spain, England, France and other powers with a vested interest in protecting their shipping in this area could do little to stop them preying on valuable colonial ships heading back to Europe. It was only when the major European powers included a provision to crack down on the pirates in the Treaty of Utrecht, which brought the War of the Spanish Succession to a conclusion in 1713, that concerted attacks on pirates in the Western Atlantic brought the golden age of piracy to an end.  

Captain Kidd and the Oak Island Treasure

The most common assumption concerning the Oak Island Treasure is that it may constitute the buried loot of Captain William Kidd, a Scottish pirate of the 1690s who is rumored to have buried a huge treasure on one of his voyages. Was a portion of Captain Kidd's treasure stashed on the island? Indeed Kidd is the only major pirate figure for whom there is actual evidence of him hiding his treasure, specifically a hoard which he buried on Gardiner’s Island off the eastern coast of Long Island.  Is the structure filled with booby traps or are they merely natural formations?

Oak Island and ‘The Money Pit’

Many wonder if the oak island money pit  was man made? Geology points to the fact that it is likely that the money pit was not a secret treasure vault created by man. Bedrock on the island is prone to dissolution by the sea and water table. Consequently, an underground network of faults and caves is created that can collapse and create natural sinkholes. Nevertheless the allure has lured treasure seekers to the small island. The stories have and perpetuated speculation over how the pit came to be. 

More Theories about the Oak Island Treasure 

Other theories about the Oak Island Treasure are more fanciful. One contends that ‘the Money Pit’ may contain the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant, biblical objects more typically associated with the legendary treasure of the Knights Templar. Another theory argues that the jewels of the infamous Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, are located there. The assumption about Marie Antoinette's jewels is based on the fact that the maid-servant whom the Queen gave her jewels to at the time o  f the French Revolution in 1789 subsequently fled to England and then moved to Nova Scotia. But surely the prize for the most outrageous theory concerning the Oak Island Treasure must be given to one which emerged in the 1950s. This claims that the ‘Money Pit’ contains documents which prove that the early seventeenth-century philosopher and politician, Francis Bacon, was actually the author of the works of William Shakespeare.  Thus, in the absence of being able to get into the ‘Money Pit’ or the discovery of treasure elsewhere on Oak Island a vast range of ideas about what it consists of have emerged.   

What was found in the Money Pit on Oak Island?

Despite the uncertainty about what the Oak Island Treasure might consist of or whether or not it even exists, there have been no shortage of treasure-hunters and explorers willing to look for it since McGinnis first discovered the ‘Money Pit’ back in the 1790s. By the early 1800s a number of companies such as the Onslow Company had been set up to dig around the ‘Money Pit’ and elsewhere on the island. However, as they dug down dozens of feet they were constantly thwarted by water rushing into the subterranean layers inside the ‘Money Pit’. Indeed, about sixty metres below the surface the ‘Money Pit’ becomes so elaborately booby-trapped with flood tunnels that to this very day no one has figured out how to stop the ‘Pit’ from flooding and no one has made it to the bottom. This impression of an elaborately protected burial chamber and the discovery over the years of random objects such as bits of old parchment, hunks of rusted iron and even a stone with elaborate carvings on it, have only added to the mystery and convinced many adventurers that there is something to be discovered on Oak Island. It has even attracted some famous personalities over the years.

Efforts to Find the Treasure

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, developed an interest in it as a young man when he heard details of the supposed treasure as a result of his father having business interests in Nova Scotia. He regularly sought out news about developments on Oak Island throughout his life thereafter and had even planned on visiting the site in 1939 before the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe scuppered his plans. Similarly, the famed mid-century actors, Errol Flynn and John Wayne, both invested in expeditions to find the Oak Island Treasure. These have been to little avail, but they continue to bring up evidence which intrigues and puzzles people in equal measure. For instance, in the early 1970s a camera was dropped into the ‘Money Pit’ and captured an image of what some people believe is a wooden chest and the skeletal remains of a human hand, all further incentives to believe that this really is the site of a lost pirate treasure. People are stilling hunting for the treasure today by participating in treasure hunts on the island. Several companies have established tourist sites here in the last twenty to thirty years and some of these have acquired licences to continue searching for the legendary treasure of Oak Island.  

Has the Oak Island treasure been found?

We may never know if there really is treasure buried on Oak Island, whether at the ‘Money Pit’ or somewhere else on this small region off Nova Scotia, but it remains one of the more intriguing stories of legendary treasure to have circulated in the modern-era. While we may dismiss as fantastical the idea of the site being a secret repository for the jewels of an infamous Queen of France or being the key to identifying Francis Bacon as the real author of Hamlet and Macbeth, it is not implausible to imagine that Oak Island was a pirate haven at some time in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries and that stolen loot was buried here. All of this is compounded by the curious nature of the site which McGinnis and his friends first started digging down into in 1795. Here we have a strange glacial formation which continuously floods with water, one which has been rendered even more intriguing by the discovery over time of strange artifacts including a stone with unusual symbols and video footage of what looks like a chest and a skeleton down in the depths of the ‘Money Pit’. Given all this it is hardly strange that Oak Island has attracted as much attention as it has over the years. Maybe someday actual treasure will be uncovered here!