Oak Island made it to the headlines back in 1795. The reason? A possible site for a massive hidden treasure! Ever since then, a number of treasure hunts were conducted but in vein. The treasure hunt continued for over two centuries, making it the longest running treasure hunt ever in history of mankind. Unfortunately though, the legendary lost treasure still remains as mysterious and elusive as it was more two centuries back.
How did it all start? How many expeditions took place to find Oak Island treasure? What was the eventual outcome? These might be some of the questions that are crossing your mind right now and we are glad you asked! Let is find out in details of what happened how the first hints turned into a legendary saga.
A little about Oak Island
Along the Atlantic coast of Canada is Nova Scotia. Sitting off the shores of Nova Scotia is a group of 360 islands. Among these 360 is a small island called Oak Island. There is nothing too great about this island. A small island spanning over an area of 141 acres, dotted with rocks and skirted with sand along the perimeter, this island has a dense forest cover. It is serene, naturally beautiful and apparently looks like a perfect solace for people burned with the daily humdrum of the modern life.
Hiding behind its serene face is an intriguing mystery that has captured the imagination of many people of the likes of adventurers to academics. It supposedly holds a treasure that many men have tried to discover but only to fail. For some, the hunt ended in graves!
How did it all begin?
So there was this teenager named Daniel McGinnis who in 1795 noticed, from the house of his parents, some strange lights flashing on the offshore of an island. Intrigued by the mysterious lights, he set out for some investigation and came across a circular hole or depression which had a diameter of approximately 13 feet. He found the depression on the forest floor of the island.
Scanning through the surroundings, Daniel notices that several severed oak trees surrounding the depression. Of all that he saw, the most disturbing was the presence of a tackle and a block hanging directly above the depression from a severed tree branch.
With a curious mind he left and confided his findings to two of his friends named Anthony Vaughan and John Smith. After impatiently waiting through the seemingly endless night, the three teens rushed to the island as soon as the sunrays kissed earth and set on a mission of excavating the site.
What really drove these teenage boys to excavate the mysterious depression?
1690 through 1730 was period of immense sea pirates’ activities. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’. Nova Scotia was scarcely populated at that time and located at a distance of slightly over 200 nautical miles from the colonial Boston, these islands were a perfect hideout for the pirates. There were enough natural resources they could use for mending their vessels and the isolated location of the islands were perfect for hiding their loot. In 1699, Captain William Kidd – one of the most infamous and notorious pirates in known history was captured. It was then that he admitted of hiding a huge treasure in that isolated area. This is precisely what made the boys curious enough to dig.
Findings of Daniel and his friends
Because Daniel and his friends were aware of the Golden Age of Piracy, there was no doubt that their imaginations were captivated. During the digging process, when they had only managed to reach 2 feet below the top soil of the depression, they hit upon a flagstone layer. This was just the catalyst that was required to set ablaze their imagination. They removed the rock layer hoping to get the hidden treasure but they ended up finding more dirt to be dug. So, they just continued digging.
Further digging around the walls of the impression revealed that the pit gradually narrowed down in diameter. From 13 feet, the diameter had come down to 7 feet and the clay walls around had pickaxe impressions on the clay. By the time the teens had reached the depth of 10 feet, they found a layer of rotting timber structure, driven right into the wall on all sides. It looked like the timber floor was hiding something beneath it. Knocking on the timber floor created a hollow sound. This is where the teens thought they were very close to their bounty. Alas! Removing the timber floor only revealed a pocket of air after which there was nothing but another layer of soil.
Quite determined to find the hidden treasure, the boys continued digging and by the time they had reached the depth of nearly 20 feet, they encountered another timber floor. They carefully removed the floor and found yet another soil layer staring back at them. This was too much and all the enthusiasm these three teens had was brutally murdered. They suspended their work and left.
The boys returned with newfound enthusiasm after a few weeks and resumed their work. Another 10 feet and another layer of timber floor followed by another layer of soil. This time the three treasure hunters were working under the terrible heat of June sun. After digging another 5 feet, they lost their newfound hope and the abandoned their Oak Island treasure hunt forever.
Onslow Company comes forward:
When the boys failed, a company took over. A new undertaking named Onslow Company was formed with only one purpose – dig out the treasure in Oak Island’s pit. This newly formed company started digging in 1804 in summer months and expected that this will be the last attempt that will be made to grab the bounty. They were pretty sure that they will find the treasure.
From where the boys left, the company picked up and completed digging of another 25 feet. The diggers noticed marks on the clay walls of the pit at a distance of every 10 feet from where the timber floors were removed. At the newly dug depth however, things looked slightly different and hence, the digging work continued with full enthusiasm. By the time the team had dug 30 feet, the workers had hit something solid. Careful digging revealed yet another timber floor with charcoal remnants.
The timber barrier was removed and further digging continued. Another 10 feet and there was one more timber layer with sap-like objects stuck between the logs! So… another 10 feet of digging and yet another timber floor with coconut fiber scattered on it. This was reassuring because coconut was not indigenous to Canada and it was a popular practice to use coconut fiber to safeguard valuables during long sea voyages. Thus, the Onslow Company thought that there was probably something deep down in the pit. By now, the pit was already 60 feet deep and nothing was found. Digging continued for another 30 feet with two more layers of timber floor being removed. Eventually at the depth of 90 feet, the diggers found something. It was not a treasure but a slab of rock with weird inscriptions. The slab was lifted up and sent for study. For decades people tried to decipher the weird inscription.
In 1860s the slab was finally deciphered (or at least it was so claimed). Supposedly, the inscription read: “Forty Feet Below, Two Million Pounds Are Buried.”
In the meantime, after the rock slab was removed, the digging team continued for another 10 feet only to find another timber floor. This time, instead of removing the floor, a metal road was used to pierce through the seams and probe for riches. When nothing was found, the team retired for the day.
Next day, when the team returned, they found the pit filled with water. About 63 feet was under water! They started using buckets to remove water but only to find that water was being refilled again and again. So, the operation stopped. The company again resumed operations in autumn same year and this time, they used a mechanical pump to drain the water. They were pretty much successful and when they were only 8 feet shy of where they previously left, the pump failed and the pit again turned into a watery grave for the illusive treasure.
By now, the company was almost drained out of funds and they stopped operations. They however returned in 1805 with a new idea of digging an auxiliary tunnel about 110 feet deep that will lead the men to the treasure beneath the watery grave. As they began digging a new pit at a distance of 14 feet towards the southeast of the original pit, they were taken by surprise when they had hit only 12 feet of depth. The water made its way there and now, the Onslow Company had no other option but to accept defeat and close operations forever.
Truro Company comes forward
After the Onslow Company came in the Truro Company (yet another newly formed company) to find the Oak Island treasure. One of the founding members of this company was Anthony Vaughan (one of the three teenagers who initially started the digging).This company started digging in 1849. Far better equipped than previous company, this company tried something new. They did manage to get rid of the water that was left behind more than 40 years ago by Onslow Company on their very first day.
The next day however, they found the pit filled with water. Surprised by this, the company introduced a hand-operated auger into the pit that managed to go through the water and reach the depths of 98 feet. It managed to go past the timber floor and then consistent with previous attempts, it went past an empty pocket followed by soil and then after another 9 feet of depth, yet another timber floor. When the auger was pulled up, it came back with links of gold chains. This led the people of this new company to believe they are very close to the trophy.
Next day, the probe was sent to the depths of 114 feet where another timber floor with coconut fiber was found. When the auger was pulled up, it brought back something. One of the team members – Pitblado took that, removed dirt from it and slid the object into pocket and then disappeared. Later, Pitblado tried to get a separate permit to purchase and dig the pit. His request was denied. Pitblado’s weird behavior gave Truro Company every reason to believe that there was a hidden treasure. The company, despite the promising discoveries of 1849, left for the season, only to return next year. This time, they too wanted to dig a parallel shaft and reach the treasure chamber from below. The same problem came in. The second pit was also flooded with water.
The crew however found that the water was saline and the water level changed with tides. This discovery led the team to search throughout the island, only to find an artificial dam and 5 vents. All vents were traced and found that they led to the shore. So, either the Atlantic Ocean had to be drained out or the vents were to be closed. The second thought was more logical and they used some wooden logs to prevent water entering the vents and make it all the way inland. Despite this, the water still existed in the pits and water level did not fall.
By now the Truro Company had run out of its funding and closed operations. In 1851, the company was shut down completely.
The Oak Island Association came forward:
This was yet another newly formed body with sole purpose of finding the treasure. They started in 1861 and managed to clear out the water from the main tunnel and even dug two more pits measuring 118 and 120 feet respectively in different directions that would eventually lead to the money pit. They were wrong. Both of the tunnels were eventually filled with water. After this, surveyors were sent down to find the cause of flooding. During the survey, something crashed somewhere down below. Luckily the surveyors made it our alive and then there was another startling crashing sound. What really happened was that the timber supports found in the pits crashed, filling up the pits with water and debris! The debris however contained curious items like a piece of Juniper, yellow dish, oak timber etc. These findings were really interesting.
So, the Oak Island Association decided to continue and installed a steam engine and a cast iron pump to get the water and debris out. Unfortunately, the boiler exploded, killing one and injuring others. This happened by end of 1861. This did not deter the newly formed body continued to hunt for treasure for another 4 years. Finally, without any results, the company stopped searching. The whole episode was very expensive with no results.
Oak Island Treasure Company takes over:
In 1893, the Oak Island Treasure Company, with a $30,000 lease agreement, earned exclusive rights to to-be-discovered treasure for a period of 3 years. Excavations started in 1895. The company came across enormous challenges right from the beginning. In fact, they started off with a wrong tunnel. In the second year (1897) of their desperate search, another accident claimed the life of one worker. After the event, the workers started believing that the treasure was cursed and that some malevolent spirit was actually protecting the trophy.
So, no worker would go down and hence, the company was forced to send auger. The drill is said to have met and impenetrable iron surface at the depth of 126 feet. After this happened, the auger’s position was shifted one foot and it managed to go deeper, hitting only loose metal pieces. The drill was sent down again and this time at a depth of nearly 153 feet, the auger faced yet another metal surface that it failed to penetrate. When the drill was pulled out, the debris was examined. Nothing significant was noticed initially but closer examination revealed a piece of parchment with letters ‘VI’ written on it. This was eventually confirmed by a specialist from Harvard University. Also, the operator of the drill, William Chappell found gold traces on the drill but this was revealed only in 1931.
In 1898, the Oak Island Treasure Company decided to pour colored dye into the pits to find out the vents that were flooding the pits and close them once and for all. The dye eventually appeared at different points along the shoreline but from the vents that were originally thought to be flooding the pits.
This company continued to hunt for the illusive treasure for decades to follow and in between, changed its name to Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company in year 1909.
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt joined in:
The Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company got a new member in 1909. He was none other than F.D. Roosevelt – the US President. He wasn’t really President at that time but was only 27 years old at that time. He held his passion about the Oak Island treasure hunt even when he became the President. After becoming the President of United States, we wanted to get back into the treasure hunt but the war in Europe prevented him from doing so.
Yet another effort
The efforts of Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company stopped by early 1900s but, William Chappell (the drill operator from the previous company) formed Chappells Limited and started excavations in 1931. The team made some serious discoveries like an anchor flute that resembled an Acadian axe of 250-years old, oil lamp remnants with seal oil, a miner’s pick etc. The company was forced to shut down in 1932 after losing its lease.
The excavations of 1935 and 1960
Yet another excavation was started in 1935 by a British businessman named Gilbert Hedden. By 1937 his team had made some interesting discoveries but by that time, the costs of the treasure hunt went up to $50,000. This was too much for Hedden and he stopped all operations by 1938 and returned his attention to his business.
In 1960 came the Restall family. During the 1930s Robert Restall and his wife Mildred were famed throughout Europe for performing the daredevil motorcycle stunts in the famed “Globe of Death” in which they whipped around a large steel sphere at a speed of 65 miles an hour. Robert Restall moved to Canada in 1955 along with his family. He had by now learned about the fabled treasure of Oak Island and wanted to find it. He struck a deal with the owner of the island Mel Chappell and agreed share the finds in 50% ratio. The Restall family started working by 1960. Unfortunately in 1965, while digging a new shaft, Restall decided to take a peek into the tunnel and leaned over the edge. Some noxious gas was coming out of the pit and Robert immediately succumbed to the gas, became unconscious and fell into the watery pit.
Robert’s son tried to help his father and he too became a victim of the gas and shared the same fate as his father. Two nearby workers rushed in to help and they too shared the very same fate. That afternoon of 17th August, 1965, the watery pit became the grave for 4 men.
The prophecy from the popular folklore
It is being said that the treasure will continue to be elusive and evade discovery until 7 lives are lost. Since it all began in 1795, a total of 6 men died out of which 7 died in a single afternoon. The prophecy was almost fulfilled. It at all it is true, one more life can reveal the fabled and elusive treasure of Oak Island. But the question is, who will make the sacrifice? Anyway, setting apart all enigmatic tales, the Oak Island treasure hunt is by far the longest known treasure hunt in human history. As of now, the hunt has taken a back seat for 50 years but who knows, someday some other treasure hunter may be wooed by this fabled Oak Island treasure and the hunt will being once again with renewed enthusiasm.