The Mystery of Oak Island

For more than 200 years there have been tales about Oak Island, the patch of land that is located off of Nova Scotia, Canada. According to the legend, it is home to a money pit of buried treasure, supposedly left behind by a pirate, Captain William Kidd who lived between the years of 1645-1701.

Since that time, there have been a number of expeditions, costing explorers millions of dollars to travel the island in search of the lost treasure to no avail.

Despite the centuries of searching and no treasure being found on Oak Island, people are still trying to find it. There is currently a show on the History Channel called “Curse of Oak Island” that follows a modern-day expedition. The show has recently been renewed for a fourth season this year, which means they haven’t solved the mystery yet.

About Oak Island

Oak Island is a 140 acre privately owned island in Lunenburg County on the southern shore of Nova Scotia, Canada. The island is covered in forestry and is one of about 360 small islands in Mahone Bay.

The nearest large community is the village of Chester. The earliest European residents of the area were French fishermen who, by the 1750s, had built a few houses on the future site of Chester. During the French and Indian War, the British government of Nova Scotia enacted a series of measures to encourage other settlers to comet o the area. Land was made available to settlers in 1759 through the Shorham grant. Chester was officially founded that same year.

A large part of Oak Island was granted to the Monro, Lynch, Seacombe and Young families around the same time as the establishment of Chester. The first major group of settlers arrived in the Chester area from Massachusetts in 1761. The following year, Oak Island was officially surveyed and divided into 32 four-acre lots. In the early days of British settlement, the Island was known locally as “Smith’s Island,” after an early settler of the area named Edward Smith. Cartographer J.F.K. DesBarres renamed the Island to “Gloucester Isle” in 1778.

Shortly thereafter, the locally used name “Oak Island” was officially adopted for the Island. Early residents included Edward Smith in the 1760s and Anthony Vaughn Sr. in the early 1770s. In 1784, the government made additional land grants, this time to former soldiers, which included parts of Oak Island.

Presently, Oak Island Tours owns 78% of the island. The remaining 22% of the island is owned by private parties. There are two permanent homes and two cottages occupied part-time on the island.

The Lay of the Land

For more than 200 years there have been investigations and excavations on Oak Island. There are a large number of legends and theories about what could be buried or concealed on the island. Areas of interest include a location known as the Money Pit, a formation of boulders called “Nolan’s Cross”, the beach at “Smith’s Cove” and a triangle-shaped “Swamp”. The Money Pit is the area that has been repeatedly excavated. And there are many critics who argue that there is no treasure on Oak Island and that the Money Pit is just a natural phenomenon.

The Early Accounts of the Money Pit

There are many 19th-Century accounts of Oak Island, but some are conflicting or biased. Further physical eveidence from the initial excavations is unavailable, but there is a basic summary of the history of the pit.

In 1857, there appeared newspaper accounts of a group digging for the treasure of the pirate Captain Kidd on Oak Island. In 1862, treasure hunter J.B. McCully of Truro, Nova Scotia wrote that the early settlers of the Oak Island area had brought with them a story of a dying sailor of Captain Kidd’s crew claiming that 2 million pounds value in treasure had been buried on an island. McCully further claimed that in the early days of settlement, a “Mr. McGinnis” while scouting a location for a farm had happened upon a depression in the earth which was consistent with the “Captain Kidd” story.

With the assistance of a “Smith” and “Vaughn”, McCully claimed that McGinnis excavated the depression and discovered a layer of flagstones two feet below. As they dug down they discovered layers of logs at about every 10 feet (3.0 m). They were said to have abandoned the excavation at 30 feet (9.1 m) due to the people of the area refusing to assist in the digging based on “superstitious dread”. In 1863, an investor in the Oak Island diggings named Paul Phy claimed that “McGinnis” was the first settler on Oak Island and had discovered the “depression” around 1799.

Investigator Joe Nickell reviewed the original accounts and interviews with McGinnis descendants and other descendants of the original Oak Island land owners. While later sources asserted that the treasure had been discovered by three young boys, he asserted that the story was of three adult lot owners who discovered the depression on the island and began digging.

There have been plenty of stories form among enthusiasts as to how the pit was formed and what it may contain. Everything from pirate treasure to Marie Antoinette’s jewels have been speculated, but to this today, nothing has been found yet.