HomeNova ScotiaThe Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 10: The Signs of a Cross

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 10: The Signs of a Cross

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 10: The Signs of a Cross

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 5, Episode 10 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

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[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

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Plot Summary

At the Money Pit area, Rick and Marty Lagina and Charles Barkhouse stand by as Irving Equipment Ltd. slowly sinks the H8 shaft. Rick is unsurprised when the hammergrab repeatedly emerges from the caisson bearing load upon load of old timbers, saying, “it’s almost certainly the Chappell Shaft.” The narrator follows up on that statement by reminding us of Doug Crowell’s discovery, presented in Season 5, Episode 5, that the Chappell Shaft was not constructed in perfect vertical alignment, its bottom lying 10-12 feet north of its top. Perhaps, the narrator suggest, H8 will intersect the elusive Chappell Vault, which the Chappell Shaft apparently bypassed.

Later, the Oak Island team meets in the War Room with Doug Crowell. Crowell informs the team that he has discovered eight pages constituting what appears to be a ship’s log in the Nova Scotia Archives in Halifax. “What’s really interesting,” says Crowell, “is it appears to be a ship’s log that indicates that [the ship’s crew was] here in advance of the French fleet that was coming over in 1746 to take back Acadia.” The narrator then gives us a history lesson on the failed Duc d’Anville Expedition of 1746, during which “the French launched an armada of 97 ships and 13,000 men… in an attempt to seize Nova Scotia and parts of the northern American colonies from the British,” only to be thwarted by typhus, scurvy, and violent Atlantic storms. Crowell then discloses that leader of this expedition, the Duc d’Anville, was named Jean-Baptiste Louis Frederic de La Rochefoucauld, and was a member of the La Rochefoucauld family introduced in Season 5, Episode 8.

Crowell then reads the following passage in the log:

“September 6

“Enter a deep bay. Southwesterly of Chebucto Bay [the original French name for Halifax Harbour, located 59 km (37 miles) northeast of Oak Island, as the crow flies]. Still no word of D’Anville, and the weather being clear, we set sail, turning southwesterly along the coast, passing many rocky islands. At midday, we reached a deep bay with several hundred small islands, wooded to the shore. The wind dying down, we anchored for the night. The great quantity of treasure on this vessel makes it unwise to jeopardize it in any engagement with the enemy.

“September 8

“It has been agreed that a deep pit be dug and treasure securely buried. The pit do have a secret entrance by a tunnel from the shore.

“September 13

“Down 67 feet. Pit seems damp from seepage of seawater. Have decided to go deeper to dry soil.”

“In my mind,” concludes Crowell, after he has finished reading, “there’s no doubt that they’re pointing right to Oak Island.” Marty Lagina, however, expresses his concern that the narrative’s obvious parallel with the Oak Island mystery is almost too perfect. Heedless of Marty’s concern, Crowell further suggests that perhaps Zena Halpern’s map, addressed to “Francois de La Rochefoucauld,” was drawn up by a member of the the Duc d’Anville Expedition who learned of the events described in the ship’s log and decided to send word to a member of the Duc’s family; Jean-Baptiste de La Rochefoucauld, Duc d’Anville, died of typhus on George’s Island in Chebucto Bay on September 16, 1746, along with many of his men.

The Duc d’Anville

Later, at the Money Pit area, Vanessa Lucido of ROC equipment informs Rick Lagina that the H8 shaft has been cased to a depth of 155 feet and excavated to a depth of 150 feet. Rick reminds Lucido that the anomaly they hope to investigate, first discovered in Season 5, Episode 6, is located at a depth of around 160 feet. He cautions her that the next 10 feet ought to be excavated with extreme care.

As the excavation proceeds, the narrator informs us that the subsequent spoils brought up from H8 will be scanned with a metal detector before being carefully sifted through by hand at a wash table. In the first batch of spoils, Gary Drayton discovers a small metal spike. Shortly thereafter, he recovers a much larger wrought-iron spike coated with what Marty Lagina suggests might be concrete, evoking the description of the core sample retrieved from the Chappell Vault. When these same spoils are later sifted through at a wash table, Jack Begley discovers a fragment of what is almost certainly bone, evocative the human bone shards brought up from H8’s 160-165-foot depths in Season 5, Episode 5.

Suddenly, Vanessa Lucido informs the crew that the caisson has encountered a hard object at the 170-foot depth, and is almost certainly “sitting on something” of significance. “It don’t feel like metal,” says oscillator operator Danny Smith. “It feels like I’m on a whole bunch of wood at once now.” The narrator suggests that this potential mass of wood beneath the caisson might be the fabled Chappell Vault.

Rick and Marty discuss how best to proceed, both of them desirous of maintaining the integrity of whatever lies beneath the caisson. Unfortunately, there is very little caisson left to grind into the earth, as Oak Island Tours Inc. had ordered their custom caisson with the intention of sinking a 170-foot shaft.  To make matters worse, a thoroughly begrimed Jack Begley informs the crew that he used up all of the water reserved for washing the H8 spoils. With that, the crew decides to call it a day and meet in the War Room. There, later that night, the crew decides to install a permanent inner casing inside the H8 shaft and continue digging with a smaller hammergrab.

The following day, while a permanent inner casing is being installed inside the H8 shaft, Rick Lagina and Gary Drayton go metal detecting on a particular stretch of Smith’s Cove. After finding a bottle cap, the treasure hunters unearth a small lead cross with a large chain hole on the top, which a very excited Drayton suspects was crafted anywhere from 1200-1600 A.D. Rick suggests that the cross, with its large chain hole, closely resembles the shape of one of the crucifixes carved into the walls of Domme prison by members of the Knights Templar, which he and his nephews Alex Lagina and Peter Fornetti visited the previous episode. Gary encourages Rick to have the artifact examined by an expert as the latter phones up Marty Lagina and Craig Tester to inform them of the find.

 

Analysis

The Ship’s Log

In this episode, Oak Island researcher Doug Crowell presents an eight-page document he unearthed in the Nova Scotia Archives in Halifax. This document is supposed to be the log of an 18th Century French treasure ship which constituted the vanguard of the Duc d’Anville Expedition, a 1746 French assault on British holdings in Acadia and New England which never came to fruition. The author of the log describes sailing southwest down the Acadian coast from Chebucto Bay (a.k.a. Halifax Harbour) to what was either Mahone Bay or St. Margarets Bay (St. Margarets Bay lies immediately northeast of Mahone Bay on the other side of the Aspotogan Peninsula) when the Duc d’Anville’s fleet failed to arrive on schedule. On one of the islands in this bay, the ship’s crew purportedly dug a deep pit in which it hoped to bury the treasure with which it was entrusted, as well as a “secret entrance” to the pit “by a tunnel from the shore”- structures strongly evocative of Oak Island’s Money Pit and the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, respectively. The log’s last entry, dated September 13 [1746], indicates that the crew members dug their pit to a depth of 67 feet that day, whereupon they encountered seawater. Although the author states the crew’s bizarre intention to continue digging in an effort to reach “dry soil” further below, there are no further entries in the log. We are left to speculate as to the cause for this abrupt ending.

If these eight pages truly constitute the log of an 18th century French ship, and if the events recorded in the log truly took place, it is likely that Doug Crowell has solved much of the Oak Island mystery; the chance that there is more than one island in or very near to Mahone Bay on which a deep treasure pit and an adjoining hidden seaward tunnel was secretly constructed seems slim. However, there is at least one detail which casts some doubt on the authenticity of the document in question. In the show, while Crowell reads from a transcript of the ship’s log, we are shown images of handwriting which correspond with Crowell’s narration, ostensibly taken from a photocopy of the original manuscript. This handwriting, like Crowell’s narration, is in English. If Crowell’s document truly constitutes the log of an 18th century French ship as purported, however, it would almost certainly have been written in French. Fortunately, Crowell addresses this potential problem on social media in spite of his non-disclosure agreement with the producers of The Curse of Oak Island, which precludes him from prematurely revealing some of his research discoveries with the general public. In a Facebook post, Crowell indicated that the eight pages he presented in this episode constitute a handwritten English translation of the original French log, which a certain Oak Island researcher donated to the Nova Scotia archives in 1968. In accordance with his NDA agreement, Crowell refrained from commenting on the original French log and the identity of the researcher who supposedly discovered it.

The Duc d’Anville Expedition

The aforementioned ship’s log presented by Doug Crowell in this episode was allegedly written by a member of the 1746 Duc d’Anville Expedition, a French military operation conducted in King George’s War, the North American theatre of the War of Austrian Succession.

From a North American perspective, King George’s War was but one of six military conflicts fought between the British and French and their First Nation allies in their respective New World colonies, New England and New France. These wars, dubbed the “French and Indian Wars,” were all sub-conflicts of much larger pan-European wars fought on the European continent.

In order to understand King George’s War and the larger conflict of which it was a part, the War of Austrian Succession, we must know a little about the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire (800-1806) was an agglomeration of Germanic kingdoms revolving around what is now Germany, which also included present-day northern Italy, eastern France, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, western Poland, and sometimes parts of the Netherlands. Founded in the early 9th Century A.D. (according to some historians) by the Dark Age Frankish warlord Charlemagne, it purported to be the successor of the once-mighty (Western) Roman Empire. In truth, however, it was, as French Enlightenment writer Voltaire is said to have quipped, “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire,” as it’s relationship with the Vatican was often rocky, it was essentially German, and it was more of a loose confederation of kingdoms than a centrally-organized empire.

The Holy Roman Empire.

In 1438, a member of an Austrian family known as the House of Habsburg was elected Holy Roman Emperor. The Habsburgs would hold this position for the next three centuries, retaining and expanding their influence through strategic, often inter-familial marriages. Ironically, these inter-House marriages which initially brought the Habsburgs so much success would eventually prove to be their undoing.

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

In the late 1400’s, Philip the Fair of the House of Habsburg married Juana de Castille, heiress to the young and flourishing kingdom of Spain. In the late 1510’s, Philip and Juana’s son Charles succeeded his paternal grandfather as Holy Roman Emperor (becoming Charles V), and his maternal grandparents as King of Spain (becoming Carlos I). In this way, the House of Hapsburg gained control of both the Spanish and Holy Roman Empires. Although this mega-empire separated when Charles was succeeded in Spain by his son, Philip II, and in the Holy Roman Empire by his younger brother, Ferdinand I, Spain (under the rule of the Spanish branch of the Habsburg family) and the Holy Roman Empire (under the rule of the Viennese branch of the Habsburg family) remained close allies for the remainder of their existences.

As mentioned, the Habsburgs consistently intermarried with each other in order to keep power within the family. Over time, this remote inbreeding had an

King Charles II of Spain.

increasingly deleterious effect on the genetic health of the family, and within a few generations, the House of Habsburg was plagued by genetic disorders. By the late 1600’s, it became clear that the severely-inbred Charles II of Spain, known as “the Bewitched” for his physical and mental disabilities, was incapable of producing an heir, and would be the last of the Spanish Habsburgs to rule Spain.

Following the death of Charles II in 1700, various European powers fought to put their preferred candidates on the vacant Spanish throne. In this conflict, known as the War of Spanish Succession, France and its allies fought to crown Philip of the French House of Bourbon (the grandson of the French “Sun” King Louis XIV) King Philip V of Spain, while the Holy Roman Empire and its allies supported the claim of Charles, Archduke of Austria, a relative of the late King Charles II of Spain who would one day become Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor. France ultimately won this war, and Spain was ruled by French Bourbon monarchs for the next century and a half.

Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor.

In 1740, the losing candidate of the War of Spanish Succession and the last of the Viennese Habsburg line, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, died after eating poisonous mushrooms on a hunting trip. Like Charles II’s death in Spain, Charles VI’s death in the Holy Roman Empire spurred a war of succession. At the time of his death,

Maria Theresa

Charles VI was survived by several daughters who, according to Salic law (an ancient Frankish code to which many Germanic states adhered), were unable to inherit his throne. The remaining Habsburg family and their allies disregarded this ancient statute and supported the claim of Charles’ eldest daughter Maria Theresa (the future mother of Marie Antoinette). France, Bourbon Spain, and their allies, on the other hand, contested Maria Theresa’s claim.

It must be mentioned that, by this time, the Holy Roman Empire was a mere shell of its former self, having fractured into independent Catholic and Protestant kingdoms in the aftermath of the 30 Years’ War, a devastating religious-turned-political pan-European war fought between pro and anti Habsburg nations from 1618-1648. Although Charles VI, at the time of his death, was nominally the “Holy Roman Emperor,” he actually only controlled a handful of kingdoms referred to collectively as “Austria”. For this reason, the war that followed Charles VI’s death was called the War of Austrian Succession.

One of Maria Theresa’s supporters during this conflict was King George II of Great Britain, who is mentioned in connection with Oak Island in Season 4, Episode 8 and the Season 4 Finale of The Curse of Oak Island. George II’s father, George I, was the first “Hanoverian” king of Great Britain. For most of his life, he served as the leader of Hanover, a Protestant German state which was once a part of the Holy Roman Empire and a long-time ally of the Habsburg family. In 1714, however, following the death of the childless Queen Anne of Great Britain, British Parliament invited him to rule as king of Britain, as they were desperate to keep a Protestant on the throne (as opposed to a Catholic). George readily accepted the offer, and was crowned King George I of Great Britain. When the War of Austrian Succession erupted, his son and successor, King George II, decided to support the claim of Maria Theresa due to the long-time alliance between Hanover, his ancestral home, and the Habsburg family. In 1743, George led a joint British-Hanoverian army against French forces at the Battle of Dettingen, becoming the last British monarch to lead his troops in battle. The following year, France formally declared war on Great Britain.

Once war was officially declared, colonists in New France attempted to retake peninsular Nova Scotia, which France had lost to the British during Queen Anne’s War (the North American theatre of the War of Spanish Succession). First, French soldiers stationed at the formidable Fortress of Louisbourg (located on the eastern shore of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia), accompanied by their Wabanaki First Nations allies, attacked and utterly destroyed the British outpost of Fort William Augustus (located on the northeastern tip of mainland Nova Scotia), in doing so touching off what is known as King George’s War, the North American theatre of the War of Austrian Succession. Shortly thereafter, a militant French missionary named Jean-Louis Le Loutre led a force of Acadian colonists and a huge war party of Mi’kmaq warriors in a failed attack on Annapolis Royal, a French-turned-British settlement founded in the early 1600’s by Pierre Du Gua de Monts and Samuel de Champlain and taken by the British during Queen Anne’s War. Two months later, French forces besieged Annapolis Royal a second time, only to retreat with the arrival of a ruthless war party of Wampanoag and Nauset braves loyal to New England.

The French Fortress of Louisbourg

In 1745, the British retaliated by launching an assault on the Fortress of Louisbourg. After a grueling month-and-a-half-long siege during which 900 redcoats died of disease, the beleaguered French defenders surrendered the fortress to the British.

While their Wabanaki allies took their revenge on the British by raiding New English settlements along the coast of present-day Maine, the French planned a massive expedition to recapture Louisbourg and Annapolis Royal, ravage New England, and raze Boston to the ground. This enterprise, headed by Admiral Jean-Baptiste Louis Frederic de La Rochefoucauld, the Duc d’Anville, is known as the Duc D’Anville Expedition.

Admiral Jean-Baptiste Louis Frederic de La Rochefoucauld, Duc d’Anville

On June 22, 1746, the Duc D’Anville set out from France with 73 ships, 800 cannons, and 13,000 soldiers- the largest military force ever to set sail for the New World. On its way across the Atlantic, the French fleet was beset by a series of terrible storms, during which several ships were struck by lightning. To make matters worse, epidemics of typhus and scurvy rippled through the troops. By the time the ragged remains of d’Anville’s once-formidable fleet limped into Chebucto Bay, Nova Scotia (present-day Halifax Harbour) on September 10, 1746, nearly 2,500 Frenchmen were dead. Only six days after his arrival, D’Anville himself died quite suddenly and mysteriously. Although D’Anville’s doctor believed the admiral died of a stroke, some historians believe that he succumbed to disease, while others suspect that he took his own life.

After recovering and taking on fresh supplies in the Bedford Basin, the survivors of the French fleet made a feeble attempt at attacking Annapolis Royal. Again, they were thwarted by violent Atlantic storms, and at last decided to return home to France, utterly defeated by the elements.

The Identity of the Ship

In light of the ship’s log presented in this episode, one of the most interesting elements of the Duc d’Anville expedition is the arrival of two French scouting ships in Chebucto Bay several months in advance of the main fleet. These vessels include l’Aurore, which left France on April 9, 1746, and le Castor, which departed several weeks after. Both ships had arrived in Chebucto Bay by June, whereupon they patrolled the coastline for sometime before heading back to France on August 12 (a full month before the final entry in the ship’s log presented in this episode), when the Duc D’Anville’s fleet failed to arrive on schedule. Both vessels arrived in France on September 22.

Behind schedule, the Duc d’Anville, upon approaching the Acadian coast, tasked the crew of one of his frigates, called Renommee, with sailing ahead of the main armada to intercept l’Aurore and le Castor ; the admiral correctly suspected that the two scouting ships would depart for France when he failed to arrive on time. En route to Chebucto Bay, the Renommee encountered and was subsequently hounded by an English vessel, and only managed to arrive at Chebucto after D’Anville’s fleet. This puts the Renommee in the waters off the Acadian coast in the time frame indicated by the aforementioned ship’s log. Is it possible that the eight pages presented by Doug Crowell in this episode come from the log of the Renommee?

One potential problem with this suggestion is the fact that there are no indications that the Renommee was carrying any sort of treasure during the Duc d’Anville Expedition, unlike the ship who’s log Crowell presented in this episode. There were, however, several other French vessels associated with the Expedition which were definitely laden with treasure. In the summer of 1746, in accordance with an earlier arrangement, an aristocratic French naval officer named Hubert de Brienne, Chevalier de Conflans, set out for Chebucto Bay from the Caribbean with four warships: le Terrible, le Neptune, Valcyon, and la Gloire. After exchanging cannon fire with a squadron of English men-of-war off the coast of Hispaniola and incurring significant damage to his ships, the Chevalier de Conflans dutifully made his way to the Acadian coast. Upon his arrival, however, he could find neither Chebucto Bay nor any trace of d’Anville’s fleet; unbeknownst to him, d’Anville’s fleet was still inbound, and had yet to arrive. Several days before d’Anville’s arrival on September 10, 1746, Conflans decided to return to France. The date of his departure is eerily similar to that of Crowell’s mystery ship, which left Chebucto Bay for what is presumably Oak Island on September 6, 1746.

On their way home, Conflans and his crew captured an English ship called the Convener, from which they appropriated an estimated 100, 000 livres-worth of treasure. In this way, at least one ship associated with the Duc d’Anville Expedition is known to have carried treasure in its hold. Where the Ronommee fails to accord with Crowell’s mystery ship due to its lack of treasure, however,  Conflans’ ships similarly fail to accord on account of the fact that they acquired their treasure after their departure from the Acadian coast. In spite of this, no ships of which this author is aware correspond more closely with Doug Crowell’s mystery ship than the Chevalier de Conflans’ men-of-war.

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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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