HomeNova ScotiaThe Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 6: Circles in Wood

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 6: Circles in Wood

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 6: Circles in Wood


Merry Christmas ladies and gentlemen, Canucks and Yankees, and MysteriesOfCanada readers of all ages! May your holidays be filled with love, family, good food, and ferocious street hockey games.

Last Tuesday in America, the History Channel released the latest episode in its TV series The Curse of Oak Island (in Canada, the same episode premieres on Christmas Day). Read on for a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 4, Episode 6: Circles in Wood.




Plot Summary


The men of Oak Island Tours Inc. meet in the War Room with Vanessa Lucido and Kent Peterson of ROC Equipment; Louis Fritz, an engineer of Berminghammer (the engineering branch of Bermingham Foundation Solutions Ltd. of Hamilton, Ontario); and Andrew Folkins of Irving Equipment Ltd. There, they inform the contractors of their fear that the hammergrab currently being used to excavate the Money Pit area might damage the contents of the Chappell Vault (discovered by Oak Island treasure hunters William Chappell and Frederick Blair of the Oak Island Treasure Company in 1897), which they suspect they are right over top of- a sentiment voiced perhaps most strongly by Rick Lagina at the end of Season 4, Episode 5. The contractors suggest that they try to wash whatever is in the hypothetical Chappell Vault to the surface through the use of water and air pressure- a suggestion which the Oak Island team adopts.

An interpretation of the Valley 3 core sample and the Chappell Vault, respectively.

The following day, the crew meets with the contractors at the Money Pit area. There, it is revealed that the shaft dug the previous episode has been flooded with seawater, reminiscent of the Onslow Company’s (the first Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate) experience in 1804 upon reaching the 90-foot level. In an effort to measure the flow rate of the incoming water, Marty has the contractors push the water in the caisson-lined borehole down into the earth- and perhaps into the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel beyond-  through the use of air pressure. Upon observing the water’s resurgence, Marty remarks, “the amount of water coming in as we tried to pump it out was enormous- thousands of gallons a minute, I would say.” He determines that this significant flow rate is an indication that items inside the Chappell Vault will almost certainly not be able to be brought to the surface through the use of an air lift system.

Following the flow rate test, Rick Lagina agrees to allow the contractors to continue to pick at the ‘Chappell Vault’ with the hammergrab on the condition that they progress downwards in minute increments. Unfortunately, the device penetrates deeper into the earth than Rick had stipulated, bringing up the very oak beam Oak Island Tours Inc. had drilled through in Season 2, Episode 4.

Fragments of timber previous Oak Island treasure hunters have unearthed on the island on display at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax. Image courtesy of Ryan Phillips.

Now that the ‘Chappell Vault’ (if it is indeed a vault) has been breached, the crew decides to throw caution to the wind and excavate the shaft even deeper with the hammergrab. The device disappears into the shaft and emerges with two sizeable square wooden beams. Upon close inspection, it appears that the sides of the beams are coated with clay. The presence of the clay and the dimensions of the beams are consistent with the results of William Chappell and Frederick Blair’s drilling operations in 1897, indicating that these boards comprise a portion of the lid of the Chappell Vault.

Unfortunately, a close examination of the beams reveals surficial scratches akin to those made by a circular saw, which Marty Lagina laments is “a relatively new invention”. Specifically, the circular saw was invented in the late 18th Century, and was not commonly used in North America until the early 19th Century. Therefore, the wooden planks unearthed from the shaft are almost certainly not relics of the original pre-1795 Money Pit. With that unfortunate development, the crew decides to temporarily postpone operations in the Money Pit area.

While work is deferred at the Money Pit area, Marty Lagina’s son Alex and Craig Tester’s step son Jack Begley travel to Oak Island’s Lot 6, accompanied by metal detecting expert Gary Drayton. As the three men approach the spot, the narrator explains that Lot 6 was one of the Oak Island lots once owned by Samuel Ball, a former American plantation slave who earned his freedom by enlisting in the Loyalist Militia during the Revolutionary War. Alex and Jack stand by with shovels as Drayton begins to scan the ground of Lot 6 with a Minelab CTX 3030 metal detector.

Meanwhile, Rick Lagina and Oak Island historian Charles Barkhouse travel to the home of veteran treasure hunter Dan Blankenship. There, they show the elderly Oak Island resident the two beams they pulled up from the Money Pit, both of which bear the marks of a circular saw. Blankenship examines the beams, independently observes that their sides bear circular saw marks, and suggests they are likely remnants of the Chappell Shaft- a shaft dug in 1931 in the general vicinity of the Money Pit by Chappells Limited, a treasure hunting syndicate comprised of William Chappell, his son Mel, his brother Renwick, his nephew Claude, and Oak Island landowner Frederick Blair. Rick and Charles thank Blankenship for his wisdom and conclude their visit.

Back on Lot 6, Gary Drayton gets a number of hits on his metal detector. Alex Lagina and Jack Begley explore the site of one of these hits with shovels and quickly unearth the end of a thick, rusted iron chain. Upon observing that the chain appears to run in a relatively straight line, and is not coiled up as one might expect a derelict chain to be, Drayton remarks that certain pirates were known to lay chain on the ground leading towards their buried treasure. The three men, who have since been joined by Charles Barkhouse, work to dug up the remainder of the chain, which proves to be only several feet long (no treasure chest at the end!). Nevertheless, Drayton follows the imaginary line indicated by the chain with his metal detector and soon gets another hit. Jack Begley explores the area and uncovers a small copper ring.

Bolstered by the interesting finds, Drayton explores more of Lot 6 with his metal detector. After some time, he uncovers another artifact of interest- a coin which he speculates might be up to 200 years old. He and his crew present their findings to Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Dan Blankenship, when the three treasure hunters roll up in a truck.

The following morning, Rick Lagina and Craig Tester meet with Andrew Folkins of Irving Equipment Ltd. in the War Room. There, they discuss an upcoming excavation of Borehole C1, the drill hole punched in Season 3, Episode 12, at the bottom of which a camera revealed the presence of something shiny and gold. After watching footage taken from the interior of the drill hole, Folkins affirms his belief that his hammergrab is the optimal tool with which to retrieve the mysterious item at the bottom. With that, the meeting is concluded.

Later, Rick and Marty Lagina meet with Charles Barkhouse at the site of Borehole C1, where the men and women of ROC Equipment and Irving Equipment Ltd. are preparing to conduct another excavation similar to the one recently carried out at Valley 3. The two brothers congratulate Barkhouse on prescribing C1 (using his extensive knowledge of Oak Island history, Barkhouse suggested this particular area is the true location of the original Money Pit in Season 3, Episode 12 of The Curse of Oak Island), and watch in anticipation as a caisson is secured over top of the drill hole. The episode ends as an oscillator slowly grinds the toothed caisson into the earth.




Chappell Shaft

In this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, Oak Island Tours Inc. finished excavating a shaft over top of the Valley 3 borehole, first drilled in Season 2, Episode 4 at the behest of Craig Tester. One particular core sample taken during the first drilling operation led Oak Island Tours Inc. to believe that the drill hole had intersected the Chappell Vault, a hypothetical treasure chamber drilled through by Oak Island treasure hunters William Chappell and Frederick Blair in 1897. Unfortunately, when Rick and Mary Lagina and their crew dug a shaft to the bottom of the Valley 3 borehole, they unearthed milled wood bearing the markings of a circular saw. Although the circular saw was invented in the late 18th Century, it was not used in North America with any regularity until the early 19th Century. As the Money Pit was first discovered in 1795, the lumber uncovered from the bottom of the Valley 3 shaft was almost certainly not a part of the original Money Pit structure.

If the wood at the bottom of the Valley 3 shaft is not a relic of the original Money Pit, where did it come from? In this episode, veteran Oak Island treasure hunter Dan Blankenship proposes the wood is a piece of cribbing that once supported the Chappell Shaft.

The Chappell Shaft was a shaft dug in 1931 in the general vicinity of the original Money Pit by Chappells Limited, an Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate composed of William Chappell (the man who discovered the Chappell Vault along with Frederick Blair in 1795), his son Melbourne, his brother Renwick, his nephew Claude, and Oak Island landowner Frederick Blair. The men of Chappell Ltd. did not know the precise location of the Money Pit, but hoped to intersect it with their large 12′ x 14′ shaft, which they sank to a depth of 163.5 feet- deeper than any Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate had dug before. Today, it is believed that that Chappell Shaft was situated slightly southwest of the original Money Pit. Perhaps because of this, the Chappells found no evidence of timber, iron, cement, and soft metal discovered by Oak Island Treasure Company drillers in 1897 aside from some wood chips found under a granite boulder at the 119-foot level. They did, however, unearth what appeared to be an old anchor fluke solidly embedded in clay at a depth of 116 feet. The fluke showed no signs of rust, indicating that, until the point at which it was unearthed, it had been entombed in a compact, airtight cocoon of clay. This indication, coupled with his observation that the fluke was “of an ancient design,” led William Chappell (the head of the syndicate) to believe that the anchor fluke might be an artifact left behind by the original Money Pit builders. The Chappells also discovered what has been described as a rusted “Acadian axe” at 123 feet. At a depth of 127, they also found a pickaxe, along with the remains of a seal oil lamp once commonly used by miners.

Gary Drayton

An image of treasure hunter Gary Drayton, courtesy of the man himself, whom you can check out at www.GaryDrayton.com

Gary T. Drayton, a metal detecting expert who features in this week’s episode of The Curse of Oak Island, is a world-renowned treasure hunter who hails from south Florida, U.S.A. Originally from Grimsby, Lincolnshire, U.K., Drayton has been treasure hunting for more than 25 years. He has compiled his considerable knowledge of metal detecting and treasure hunting into several books (which he sells on his websites GaryDrayton.com and GaryDraytonMetalDetecting.com), including:

  • Metal Detecting for Spanish Treasure: The Beach Treasure Hunter’s Guide
  • The Ultimate Sovereign Beach Hunter’s Guide
  • Hardcore Beach Hunting
  • The CTX 3030 Beach and Water Hunter’s Guide
  • Minelab Excalibur: Pro User Guide
  • The Shallow Water Hunter’s Guide to South Florida
  • Advanced CTX 3030 Beach and Water Hunting Techniques
  • Water Hunting
  • How to Find Old Coins and Artifacts at the Beach
  • Jewelry Hunting
  • How to Read the Beach

This week’s episode is not Drayton’s first Oak Island experience; the treasure hunter’s The Curse of Oak Island debut took place in Season 2, Episode 1, in which he and a number of other metal detection experts did a winter metal detection scan of Oak Island’s then-frozen swamp. He appeared again in Season 2, Episode 2, to assist treasure hunters Dan Henskee and Peter Fornetti in searching for metallic artifacts on Smith’s Cove, and in Season 2, Episode 3, in which he led Rick Lagina, Dan Henskee, and Peter Fornetti on a similar metal detecting excursion on the South Shore Cove.

Samuel Ball

Most hardcore Oak Island enthusiasts are aware of the legend of the the discovery of Oak Island’s Money Pit in 1795. According to this popular legend, the Money Pit was discovered a local setter named Daniel McGinnis, and first excavated to a depth of 30 feet by he and his friends John Smith and Anthony Vaughan shortly thereafter. However, the late Nova Scotian historian Mather Myles DesBrisay, in his 1870 book History of the County of Lunenburg, maintains that McGinnis, upon discovering the Money Pit, enlisted the support of Anthony Vaughan and Samuel Ball, a black landowner from South Carolina who escaped a life of slavery by enlisting in the Loyalist Militia during the American Revolution. DesBrisay makes no mention of John Smith being one of the co-discoverers of the Money Pit- a strange omission considering that DesBrisay likely used information provided to him by his close friend Mary Smith, John Smith’s daughter, as a main source. Curiously, DesBrisay also claims that the Money Pit discovery occurred in 1799, not in 1795.

Who is Samuel Ball and how is he connected to Oak Island? According to The Oak Island Tourism Society and African Canadian journalist F. Stanley Boyd, Samuel was born into a life of slavery in 1765 on a South Carolinian plantation. During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1784), he was given the opportunity to serve in the Loyalist Militia in exchange for freedom, an opportunity which he enthusiastically took advantage of. Taking the surname of his former master, teenaged Samuel Ball was ordered to New York to serve as an infantryman under General Henry Clinton. Upon joining Clinton’s army, he was put under the command of Major Artemas Ward. When the war ended in 1784, Ball served briefly under General Charles Cornwallis before being deported by the victorious Patriots to Port Roseway (Shelburne), Nova Scotia, in 1783 (similar to Daniel McGinnis). Ball lived in Port Roseway for two years before making his way to Chester, where he purchased some land on Oak Island. The house he built on his land would remain his home for 23 years.

In 1809, upon petitioning the local justice of peace to grant him the land promised to all blacks who joined Loyalist forces during the Revolutionary War, Ball secured 4 acres on Oak Island’s Lot 32. Ball, along with a servant named Isaac Butler, farmed his newly acquired land and made a steady profit. With this profit, Ball, over a number of years, purchased Oak Island’s Lots 6, 7, 8, 24, 25, 26, 30, 31, and 32. The former slave purchased additional land on the mainland and on nearby islands until, in time, he owned about 100 acres of Mahone Bay land.

In 1795, Ball married a Halifax woman named Mary. The couple would have three children: Andrew, Samuel, and Mary. Sometime in the 1800’s, Mary passed away. Ball eventually remarried, taking a woman named Catherine as his wife.

On December 14, 1846, Samuel Ball died at the age of 81. In his will, he left his land to his servant Isaac Butler, on the condition that Butler change his surname to Ball.

Many Oak Island researchers find it curious that Ball, who made his living selling his produce to  settlers on the mainland, became one of the wealthiest and most prolific landowners in the Mahone Bay region during his time. Some speculate that Ball’s considerable wealth might be attributable to a treasure he discovered on the island.

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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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