Located on the south shore of Nova Scotia, Canada, there is a grouping of 360 small islands in an area known as Mahone bay. Amongst those islands is a 140 acre piece of land known as Oak Island. Sitting only 35 feet above sea level, the island’s history tells of an impenetrable cache of treasure located in a “vault known as the Money Pit. Since as early as the 1700’s, adventurers have tried to infiltrate the Money Pit and lay claim to the bounty. Many of died while trying and o date none have succeeded.
In 1795, Daniel McGinnis, who was 16 years old at the time, discovered a circular depression in the ground on the southeastern side of Oak Island. Hanging from a nearby tree was a ship tackle box and pulley system. Familiar with the local pirate and treasure lore, McGinnis quickly told his friends John Smith (some earlier accounts note his name as Samuel Ball) and Anthony Vaughan. Deciding the search for buried treasure themselves, together they began to dig deeper into the pit in an attempt to discover exactly what the mysterious pit contained and why it was built.
After digging only a few feet, they discovered an odd layer of flagstones. They continued to dig noting that there were pick marks on the walls of the pit where someone before them had dug out the pit. Curiously, every ten feet they found a layer of logs. After 30 feet of digging, the tenacious boys finally gave up their quest. Accounts of their quest spread to the neighboring islands and their search became the beginning of the Money Pit legend.
Local residents will attest that Oak Island had long been rumored to contain buried treasure somewhere on the island or on one of the nearby neighboring islands. When The Onslow Company heard the story of the boys’ discovery, they knew immediately that the pit was a “money pit” and sailed over 300 miles to pick up where the boys had left off. They began digging in 1803 and continued the excavation to 90 feet below the surface. They too noted that every 10 feet there were layers of “marks” – logs, charcoal, putty, and even coconut fiber (which was later carbon dated to 1200-1400 AD). At 80 or 90 feet they discovered a large stone bearing an unusual inscription – strange symbols similar to old Egyptian hieroglyphics. They knew a similar stone had been found in Smith’s Cove during the 1930’s. After many failed attempts, island researchers finally broke the code – “forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” Recordings of the mysterious symbols exist but the “cipher stone” stone itself has been lost (some claim it was last seen as a doorstep in a Halifax bookbinder’s shop). The enigmatic cipher stone was triangular in shape with each side measuring about 10 feet.
Immediately following the discovery of the “cipher stone”, the pit suddenly flooded with 60 feet of water (up to the 33 foot line). Attempts to remove the water failed – the pit simply continued filling with water. A parallel pit was dug the next year and a tunnel run over to the Money Pit – again it flooded with water. Treasurer hunters surmised it was a ‘booby trap” of sorts, a means to further protect the buried treasure, caused by a 500 waterway dug between the pit and Smith’s Cove that would automatically flood the pit chambers if the Money pit were penetrated at a certain depth.
In 1849, several investors pooled their resources and formed the Truro Company. They went to work and re-excavated the shaft back down to 90 feet but again, the pit flooded with water. Regardless, they were able to drill a bit deeper than anyone had dug before. Along the way they indicated that “the drill or “pod auger” passed through a spruce platform at 98 fee, a 12-inch head space, 22 inches of what was described as “metal in pieces”, 8 inches of oak, another 22 inches of metal, 4 inches of oak, another spruce layer, and finally into clay for 7 feet without striking anything else.” 10 years later the next group of adventurers began yet another attempt.
In 1861, the Oak Island Association group began digging in an effort that would last three years and result in one death. They dug to the bottom of the shaft and were astounded when the drill went straight through into a large empty space. Similar to previous problems diggers experienced, the group felt this was another booby trap and digging was halted.
In 1894, the Oak Island Treasure Company was incorporated and were successful in finding the “pirate tunnel’ that lead from Smith’s Cove to the Money Pit. They drilled and dynamited to close off the tunnel and stop flooding of the Money Pit. During their subsequent drillings, the Oak Island Treasure Company discovered a fragment of parchment (with the letters “ri” penned on it) and traces off chalk stone. During the dig, a worker that was being pulled up from the pit met his demise when the cabling slipped from the pulley and the man plunged hundreds of feet into the darkness.
During the 1900’s, various groups continued in their attempt to reach the treasurer. Approximately every 20 years or so, another group would give it a shot (including the 1909 Old Gold Salvage group of which Franklin D. Roosevelt was an investor). In the mid 1960’s, a causeway was built connecting the island to the mainland so a large crane could be brought in. The causeway still exists today but is closed off with a chain and signage reading “private/no hunting or trespassing – danger”. In 1971, the Triton Alliance was formed and in 1976 the group dug to a depth of 237 feet through a metal tube. Drilling 180 feet northeast of the Money Pit, the hold became knows an Borehole-X. During the drilling, several artificial cavities were found down to around 230 feet. Triton then lowered a camera into the pit. They recorded “the presence of some chests, human remains, wooden cribbing and tool.” The significant discoveries prompted Triton to attempt to send a team of divers into the pit but strong currents and poor visibility made it impossible. Soon after, Borehole-X collapsed.
Rumors and speculation as to what treasure lies under the pit and who could have put it there vary. Some believe that Captain Kidd or possibly Edward Teach (Blackbeard) kept their pirate hoard here (Blackbeard was noted as boasting that his treasurer was hidden “where none but Satan and myself can find it.”) Others agree it was dug to hold treasure, but believe this was done by someone other than pirates, possibly Spanish sailors from a wrecked galleon or British troops during the American revolution. John Godwin argued that, given the apparent size and complexity of the pit, it was likely dug by French army engineers hoping to hide the contents of the French treasury from the Fortress of Louisbourg after it fell to the British during the French and Indian War. It has even been asserted that the pit might have been dug by exiled Knights Templar, and that it is the final resting place of the Holy Grail. The island is now privately owned by a Triton team member and modern researchers and archaeologist continue to dig the island in an effort to solve the mystery of the Money Pit.