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Forgotten Oak Island Theories

Forgotten Oak Island Theories

When I told him that I was working on a second edition of my 2016 book Oak Island, my friend and fellow researcher Gary Mangiacopra, who owns what I believe might be the largest personal Fortean archive in North America, sent me reams of old magazine and newspaper articles on the subject of Canada’s greatest treasure hunt. I’ve spent the past few months going through these articles and found that many of them contain unique theories regarding the contents of the Money Pit and the identities of those who buried them. I’ve decided to compile the more notable of these forgotten Oak Island theories and present them here for your consideration. Enjoy!


Treasure is Buried in a Cave on the Side of the Island

In an article published in the April 1951 issue of the magazine Fate, reader Lionel Goodwin of Laguna Beach, California, tells of a trip he made to Oak Island fifteen years prior (i.e. around 1936, at the start of Gilbert Hedden’s treasure hunt).

“A party of us sailed out to the island in a large sloop,” Goodwin wrote, “anchored off-shore, and rowed into land. It was summer, and just growing dusk. There was a moon to light up the surroundings.”

“We climbed the hill,” Goodwin continued, “and came to the side of the island where the digging was now going on. That part of the island was literally honeycombed with huge pits. We counted 15 in one locality.”

Oak Island, Nova Scotia, in 1931.

Goodwin described how workers used an elevator in one 101-foot-deep shaft to haul mud up in buckets, which they then wheeled along a wooden boardwalk to anther shaft, into which they dumped it. “The whole scene was one of romance and fascination,” he wrote. “The night had come and the moon was now bright. The men digging in the pit below kept clanging the elevator bell when they wanted the man at the winch to bring up the next load of mud.”

Goodwin concluded his story by claiming that the prevailing theory at the time was that pirate Captain William Kidd “had buried his treasure in a cave at the side of the island, now completely inaccessible because of tidal changes and shifting land structure.” The treasure hunters, he claimed, planned to descend on this trove from above.


The Little Island to the West

In his article “A Real Live Treasure Island: S&M offers it readers a previously unpublished and undiscovered clue to locating a long-lost buried treasure on a tiny island near Nova Scotia”, published in the November 1968 issue of the magazine Science and Mechanics, author Franklynn Peterson presents his personal theory regarding the location of Oak Island’s elusive treasure. This theory involves five flat stones located on the western end of the island and a tiny, circular spit of land in Mahone Bay just west of Oak Island.

Near the end of his long article, in which he outlined the history of the Oak Island treasure hunt, Peterson wrote:

“One clue has not appeared in the wealth of literature purporting to explain the history of Oak Island; a clue so easy to find, under proper conditions, that someone like Anthony Graves [a one-time resident of Oak Island] could have found it during his long stay on the puzzling knoll of clay and trees. At the western extreme of Oak Island there is a sandy point jutting out at low tide. Just off the sandy point is a tiny island, almost perfectly round and peaked. In line with this island’s peak and Oak Island’s western point, there are five huge, flat stones almost buried in the dirt. The stones are too large to have been casually dropped there, in all true alignment to have been shoved there by nature. Right alongside the five stones is the remains from one of the buildings used by Anthony Graves! Did Graves solve the enigma of Oak Island?

“The line drawn from the pointed island to the sandy point and through the stones would seem to be aimed directly at the Money Pit some three-quarters mile away. Or is it pointing somewhere else? To a new pit? Or maybe it points the opposite way, to the top of that tiny island overshadowed all these years by bigger Oak Island.

To our knowledge this clue has never before been published. It’s yours, courtesy of this poor writer who can ill afford another trip to Nova Scotia. Happy Hunting.”


Another Look at Fred Nolan’s Theory

Avid fans of The Curse of Oak Island may recall that the late Fred Nolan believed Oak Island’s treasure to be spoils from the 1762 Battle of Havana, seized by members of the British Royal Navy and buried in the swamp. An article in the March 1979 issue of the magazine Lost Treasure by Al Masters, entitled “Is There Another Oak Island Money Pit?”, may shed some light on the reason for Nolan’s theory.

According to the article, Fred Nolan stumbled upon an old carved stone surveyor’s monument in the Oak Island woods sometime in early 1977. The stone bore chisel scars and scorch marks and had a shape vaguely suggestive of a Spanish treasure galleon.

“The discovery of it was purely accidental,” Nolan said of the find. “We were following a survey line from one of our other reference points which led us right through the woods. I was crawling along on my hands and knees and came across this stone sticking out of the ground directly along the survey line. We felt the monument was placed in its position for a purpose…”

After placing the stone marker on a survey map of the island containing other objects of interest, Fred Nolan became convinced of two things: that whoever buried the Oak Island treasure had training as a surveyor, and were therefore almost certainly former army or navy personnel; and that the bulk of the treasure was actually buried in the swamp.

“There is so much loot still in the swamp,” Nolan claimed, “that it would take you a long time to count it… The swamp is man-made and at one time was completely dry. Chests of gold and jewels of unimaginable wealth were buried when it was dry, then flooded with sea water for concealment. Who would have thought to look in an old, inconspicuous swamp that’s full of mud and flies and bugs? That’s why they buried it there.”

Nolan went on to explain that he was unable to drain the swamp in order to test his theory on account of a disagreement with Dan Blankenship. Said the latter regarding Nolan’s discovery of the stone survey marker when pressed by author Al Masters: “Of course, we have taken it into due consideration, but we have our own ideas, so the discovery will not change our present plans.”


Blackbeard’s Hoard

Blackbeard the Pirate

In his article “Oak Island”, published in the January 1990 issue of the magazine Treasure Search/Found, theorist Jesse E. Boyd puts forth the hypothesis that the notorious English pirate Edward Teach, better known by his nickname “Blackbeard”, and his one-time partner in crime Stede Bonnet, are the men behind the Oak Island mystery.

Blackbeard is perhaps the most famous pirate to sail the Atlantic in the wake of the War of Spanish Succession- the final wave of the so-called ‘Golden Age of Piracy’. From 1716 until his death in battle in battle two years later, he and his crew plied their nefarious trade in the Caribbean and along the eastern coast of North America, attacking and ransacking more than thirty English, French, and Spanish merchant ships. A firm believer in the power of appearances, Edward Teach wore a long black beard which he tied into pigtails, and is said to have tied lit slow matches (slow-burning wicks used in old matchlock firearms) under his hat during battle for dramatic effect.

Jesse Boyd suggested that Blackbeard used Oak Island as a haven at which he could careen his ships and clean their barnacle-encrusted hulls with little fear of being harassed. After recovering a portion of the treasure of a Spanish treasure fleet which was dashed to matchwood off the coast of Florida during a hurricane in the summer of 1715, he and his crew, unable to immediately fence their tremendous treasure, buried much of it on Oak Island in the hope of retrieving it in the future. As fate would have it, each member of Blackbeard’s crew was killed in battle or hanged before any such retrieval operation could be made.

Blackbeard’s last battle.

Unfortunately, the six pieces of evidence which Boyd used to support his theory are extremely weak and circumstantial, the most compelling of them being the legend that two Nova Scotian fishermen disappeared while investigating mysterious lights on Oak Island sometime around 1720. If Blackbeard and his crew are indeed the men behind the Oak Island mystery, then they appear to have left behind very little implicative evidence.


The Lost Loot of La Buse

In the November/December 1989 issue of the magazine Treasure Search, an article entitled “New Oak Island Theory” details a hypothesis put forth by Dmitry Romanov, a resident of the city of Rostov-on-Don, in what was then the Soviet Union. Romanov believed that the Oak Island treasure was the legendary lost horde of Olivier Levasseur, a ruthless French pirate and a contemporary of Blackbeard’s who is alleged to have hidden one of the largest treasures in pirate history.

The grave of Olivier Levasseur.

Levasseur began his career as a highwayman of the seas in the early 1700s. He had served as an officer aboard a French privateer during the War of Spanish Succession and decided to retain some semblance of his former occupation once the war was over, royal orders be damned. In 1716, he joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, an English pirate who had established a Republic of Pirates in the Bahamas ten years prior, and who would appoint Blackbeard his first mate in a years’ time.

After a year of pillaging and plundering in the Caribbean, Levasseur took his trade to the West Coast of Africa, and later to the Indian Ocean. With a patch covering one eye, which had been scarred by a Spanish sabre during his years as a privateer, Levasseur cut the figure of the quintessential pirate captain. His predations soon earned him formidable nickname: “la Buse”, or “the Buzzard”.

Se Cathedral, the seat of the Patriarch of the East Indies, located in Old Goa, India.

In 1721, Levasseur and his crew captured a huge Portuguese galleon named Nossa Senhora Della Cabo. The pirates discovered, to their unspeakable delight, that Nossa Senhora was carrying both the Bishop of Goa, the head of the Catholic Church in India, and the Viceroy of Portugal, the governor of Portuguese India, along with the gold and jewels which necessarily accompanied officials of such high personage. Destined for Lisbon, the ship also contained religious treasures of staggering value, including an enormous jewel-encrusted cross made of solid gold.

Turning down an offer of clemency extended by King Louis XV, Olivier Levasseau was eventually captured by French authorities and hanged on an island off Madagascar on July 7, 1730. Legend has it that, as he stood on the scaffold on the day of his execution, Levasseau removed a locket from his neck which contained a cryptogram composed of seventeen lines. The condemned man tossed the necklace into the crowd which had come to watch him dangle, shouting, “Find my treasure, the one who may understand it!”

The Code of Olivier Levasseau

A code purporting to be Levasseau’s surfaced sometime in the 20th Century, and many have since attempted to decrypt it. Intriguingly, particularly in the context of Oak Island, one interpretation of the message instructs treasure hunters to approach the underground treasure chamber from the north so as to avoid flooding it. The message, according to this interpretation, declares that the treasure is protected by tides, which could only be held back by a dam in the event of a flooding.

Romanov spent ten years attempting to crack Levasseau’s code himself, consulting Persian, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Japanese manuscripts in his effort to solve the mystery- an effort which apparently proved successful. Although he did not reveal his hard-won secret to Daniel Finch, the author of the article in Treasure Search, Romanov did give him a tantalizing hint as to the contents of the message, saying: “They [Triton Alliance] are looking in the wrong place. They should look underwater- not underground.”


The Treasure of St. Andrew’s

An article in the April 1988 issue of Treasure Magazine, entitled “The 13 Million Dollar Mistake?” briefly outlines a theory that the Money Pit contains an old Scottish treasure said to have once been housed at the Abbey of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Scotland.

St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Scotland.

An illustration depicting the Battle of Bannockburn.

According to this theory, the Kingdom of Scotland acquired a vast treasure consisting of English gold, silver, priceless jewels, and statuary at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), a Scottish victory in the First War of Scottish Independence, which some Oak Island theorists have attributed to the interference of a supposed army of rogue Templar knights. Following the battle, the Scots allegedly stored the English treasure in the Abbey of the Cathedral of St. Andrew, the seat of the Catholic Church in Scotland.

“In 1560,” the article contends, “not long after the British Parliament ordered dissolution of the Abbey of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Scotland, the entire 1,000-year-old treasure that was stored in the Abbey mysteriously disappeared without a trace. How this treasure… found its way to Oak Island is not made clear by those who favor this theory.”

The Cathedral of St. Andrew, Scotland.

Ruins of St. Andrew’s Cathedral.

It must be noted that, if the Abbey indeed once contained a treasure which was indeed found missing in 1560, history indicates that its absence might not be so mysterious. In the spring of 1559, when the Protestant Reformation was swiftly sweeping Europe, a Protestant minister named John Knox, known today as the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, delivered a suggestive sermon in the Scottish city of Perth on the subject of Christ’s cleansing of the Temple. In response to the sermon, Knox’ congregation began looting local churches, friaries, and monasteries, stripping them of their religious artwork. Their actions prompted a wave of similar sackings throughout Scotland which eventually reached St. Andrew’s, the Catholic capital of Scotland. That June, a Protestant mob ransacked the cathedral and gutted its interior. St. Andrew’s never recovered from the riot and promptly fell into disuse. Today, the once-magnificent cathedral is nothing more than a roofless stone ruin.

It seems unlikely that the cathedral’s appendant Abbey was spared the ravages of the Protestant mob. Barring the possibility that the treasure was secretly removed sometime prior to the Protestant Reformation, it seems probable that the supposed treasure of the Abbey of St. Andrew’s Cathedral was stolen by zealous looters in the summer of 1559. Where it wound up next, however, is a matter of conjecture.


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I'm a Western Canadian writer, carver, and fiddler who has a special place in his heart for history and the unexplained.

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