The road stretches on from one small town to another along Nova Scotia’s southern coast. Finally a sign indicates Oak Island, not a town, but a tiny island just over 100 acres in a bay that holds three hundred islands. The turn-off from Route 3 leads past a few houses and finally to a causeway with a sign announcing it is private property. There is little to indicate that this remote place, often shrouded in fog, is home to one of the world’s greatest and longest treasure hunts. It began in 1795 and this year, new treasure hunters are ready to start again.
Two hundred and four years ago, three young men paddled out to tiny Oak Island. Pirates had been known to prey on traders in these waters and believed to bury their treasure. Everyone’s favorite was Captain Kidd who actually had buried a bit of treasure before being put under arrest. When the boys saw a block and tackle hanging from a tree branch over a slight depression in the ground, visions of pirate treasure came to mind. They started digging.
At two feet they discovered flagstones, not indigenous to the island. They removed them and dug further. At ten feet an oaken platform blocked their way. They removed it only to find another at twenty feet and a third one at the thirty-foot level. Surely someone had gone out of their way to conceal something. While they were convinced they sat on a treasure, they could go no further.
Nine years later, one of the three, John Smith, was married and living on the island. The family doctor came to visit and was so intrigued by the story, he organized a company, called the Onslow Syndicate, to dig further. At forty feet, a new oaken platform appeared and then again at ten-foot intervals all the way to ninety feet. A coded inscribed stone described a treasure hidden forty feet further, but just after the ninety-foot mark, the shaft was flooded. It would stop progress for years. The hole in the ground would soon become nicknamed the Money Pit as it would defy all attempts to uncover its secret, accruing a great cost in terms of dollars and lives.
As one crosses the causeway that didn’t exist until 1967, the first thing one might notice is a memorial to six men that gave up their lives as part of the search. The first was in 1861. At this time, the treasure hunters knew that the shaft was being flooded by a booby trap. It was made up of water tunnels from both sides of the island. They attempted to stop the flow by building a coffer dam, by digging additional shafts, and by using pumps to prevent the seawater from stopping their efforts. A boiler explosion was the cause of the first casualty.
Since then work would stop and start, again and again. The list of investors would grow to include Franklin D. Roosevelt, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, and Admiral Byrd. When the work stopped, the attention would turn to research to narrow down the list of suspects. Evidently someone with a great treasure and a great amount of expertise went through quite a bit of trouble to create such a complex that is the Money Pit.
Suggestions that Micmac peoples, Huguenots and Acadians, even Vikings might have hidden some treasure underground are quickly shut down as they most likely did not have such a treasure in the first place. Pirates were more likely candidates, as they were known to have buried treasure in vaults underground and a similar construction was uncovered on St. Mary’s Island in Madagascar. British and French military payships might have had a large enough treasure and possibly the ability, but they more likely would have used forts constructed on the island.
David Tobias served in the RAF during the Second World War. He was stationed on Nova Scotia, heard of the dig, and later came back to buy most of the island. He controlled the dig until a couple of years ago and believed only Sir Francis Drake, the privateer who circumnavigated the world and preyed on Spanish shipping would have had a treasure great enough to warrant construction that might have taken more than a year. But Drake was Queen Elizabeth’s favorite. His proceeds funded the birth of English seapower while his personal fortune was immense. He had no motive to hide the treasure.
There was another organization that did have a motive, as well as a means, and most importantly, something of the greatest value—the Knights Templar.
By 1291 the Templars had retreated from the Holy Lands. The crusades were over and Europe had lost. The Templar organization had become the greatest multinational bank, the largest trading company, the most powerful navy and an immense property owner rivaled by nothing Europe had seen before. They had, however, lost their reason to be. They were haughty, obeyed no king; and even though they were supposed to answer to the Pope, they didn’t. King Phillip the Fair of France was living beyond his means, and even the means to tax his country. He expelled the Jews, confiscating their wealth but was still in need of funds.
Knowing the Paris Temple, the central Templar bank, held the greatest amount of wealth in Europe, the king decided it was time to take the Templars by force.
On trumped up charges of heresy, he had the Pope condemn the order. Then on Friday, October 13, 1307, he ordered an attack on the temple of Paris, the headquarters of the Templars. To his chagrin, the Templars also had the greatest intelligence force in the world and had been tipped off. Just days before, wagon trains were loaded with treasure and moved to the port of La Rochelle where the treasure was placed on the Templar fleet which then disappeared into history.
At Templar trials in England, testimony was given by two knights that the secret destination of the Templar fleet, along with its vast treasure, was Scotland. The excommunicated outlaws that were the Templars headed to an excommunicated country run by an excommunicated King. This was Scotland. The king, Robert Bruce, earned his excommunication by stabbing his rival on the altar of Grey Friars Church and declaring himself king just the year before.
His family was intermarried with the Sinclair family since the 11th century when both were part of the Norman power structure. Both families were prominent in France and Scotland, and the Sinclair family was notably prominent within the Knights Templar.
From there the treasure was stored in caves in the Esk Valley near the ancestral center of Sinclair power at Roslin.
The Templars repaid the favor of being allowed refuge by aiding in the Scottish war for Independence. At Bannockburn, the Scottish army was nearly defeated. The English army stretched on for two miles, a giant force. The Scots were in retreat when a fresh force of cavalry thundered onto the field and routed the English. It was June 24, the feast of St. John the Baptist, sacred to the Knights Templar and to modern Freemasons.
Later, the treasure of the order would be moved again.
While doing the research for Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar, I spoke to David Tobias and he believed it was possible; his partner Dan Blankenship didn’t. This year, I visited the island twice to see the island as the next round of excavation begins. He hadn’t changed his mind and dismissed Drake, Capt. Kidd, pirates of any sort, as well as a Templar Treasure. Dan has four new partners from Traverse City, Michigan, who will continue the two-hundred-andfourteen-year attempt to get the island to give up its secrets.
So far the island had only tantalized the diggers with some gold chain, a parchment with a few letters, as well as medieval tools. What could the Money Pit conceal? The Templars held in their bank in Paris gold and silver as well as jewels that were pledged by royalty to fund Europe’s near-constant wars. They may also have held treasures taken from Solomon’s Temple in their earliest days of operation in Jerusalem. The Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail are among the greatest treasures, objects so great that a hundred-foot-pit with hundreds of feet of interconnecting water tunnels might be protecting them. Treasures so great that the years of construction were warranted.
In 1398 Henry Sinclair was the head of the family and the second most important man in Scotland. He was also earl of the Orkneys, an island chain to the north of Scotland. It was here that he would meet Nicolo Zeno, a Venetian adventurer, and brother to the Admiral of that great city-state. Nicolo was shipwrecked and in great danger. Henry took him on as captain of his fleet. After hearing the story of an Orkney fisherman who had been to the Americas, Henry enlisted Nicolo’s brother Antonio and led an expedition to this “new” world.
They landed on June 2, 1398, in Nova Scotia. Henry sent Antonio home and said he would explore this new territory in the hopes of establishing a colony. He left critical evidence in that future province, as well as in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. When he returned, Antonio sent letters and charts home that wouldn’t see the light of day for over a hundred years. The maps were later used by Mercator, Ortelius, and Martin Benhaim.
Sinclair’s own papers went to his daughter Elizabeth. Sinclair’s grandson William was the head of the family fifty years later when the English army threatened Scotland. The Sinclair castle at Roslin was destroyed, but if the English knew of the treasures the Sinclair’s guarded, it was too late. William had moved them to Oak Island.
As Templars evolved into Freemasons, the Sinclair family was charged with being the Hereditary Guardians of Freemasonry. They held the power, the responsibility, and kept what might be the secret of Oak Island.
But the secret of lands in the west might have been shared. Elizabeth Sinclair married John Drummond. They would go to Madeira where the Knights of Christ held sway. The Knights of Christ was one of the reconstituted Templar orders that survived. Elizabeth’s son, called John Escorcio, or John the Scot, married into the Perestrello family. The Perestrellos were from Genoa, sailing in the employ of the Knights of Christ with Templar crosses on their sails. They explored the Atlantic and discovered Madeira. As a reward, a Perestrello became the Capitano or Governor of Porto Santo on Madeira. As coincidence would have it, a young navigator met Felipa Perestrello at Sunday Mass in Lisbon.
They were soon to marry; and on the voyage to Madeira, Felipa’s mother gave the young man a wedding present. It was the records and maps of her husband who had explored the Atlantic. It could not have been a better present for the young navigator, whose extended family would now include the heirs of Henry Sinclair living on Madeira. The young man was Christopher Columbus.
This summer, a new thundering force will roll onto Oak Island. Not a cavalry, but a convoy of heavy construction trucks. Already trees are being felled, and the area around the original shaft is being cleared. As soon as the needed permit comes through (a change in government has stalled it), the attack will begin again. Will the vaults under tiny Oak Island be plundered, or will more millions be poured into the “Money Pit” to no avail?