The Mystery of the Oak Island Money Pit

image: How do gold chains, a copper coin—and coconut fibers—end up in a bottomless pit on a remote island in Canada? Some suspect Captain Kidd may be responsible.

There’s no shortage of stories when it comes to buried pirate treasure, and at least a few of those tales have turned out to be true. Pirates raided the seas for nearly two centuries, many with tremendous success. Victorious pirates collected a lot of loot and such thievery was how the crew got paid. The problem: Where to store all that treasure? It’s not like newly wealthy buccaneers could take their liberated gold and jewels down to the First Pirate Bank & Trust. Just the name Pirate Bank is kind of an oxymoron.  One possible solution may be what’s today known as the Oak Island Money Pit.

To hide their booty, which was sometimes sizable, victorious pirates would bury it in small caches in lonely spots in the world’s oceans. Really successful pirates had so much treasure buried that they needed to mark the locations on cryptic maps or leave signs in those remote places. It seems crazy now, but the world was a very different place in the 1700s. Of course, many times the owners would never return to claim their buried gold, silver and jewels. It’s a tough gig, piracy.

Yo-ho, Canada

One place that rarely figures in pirate tales is Canada. Let’s face it; the Great White North and swashbuckling adventure just don’t seem to go together. Yet there’s ample evidence the uninhabited islands and wilderness around Nova Scotia provided an excellent hiding place for pirates, with the added benefit of timber and resources for repairing their ships.

Many believe one of those islands holds a buried treasure that once might have belonged to Captain William Kidd. So begins the tale of the Oak Island Money Pit. While the story may sound fantastic, one should remember that Oak Island and its infamous pit are there to this day, you can even see it on aerial photographs.

The Discovery

The tale of the Oak Island Money Pit begins one night in 1795. A teenager saw strange lights on one of the nearby islands. Going to investigate the next day, the youngster finds a depression surrounded by an area where many of the oak trees had been removed and a block and tackle hung from a severed tree limb over the mysterious depression. Being a teenager, the lad gathered his buddies and started digging. A few feet below the surface the trio discovered a layer of flagstones. They eagerly pried up the stones expecting to find treasure but instead found—more dirt. So they kept digging.

The pit started to narrow and they found evidence of framing timbers and, eventually, a wooden excavation platform. Once again the kids were certain there was treasure under the platform and, once again, all they discovered was more dirt. Over time and repeated attempts the kids managed to dig down more than twenty feet, finding an excavation platform roughly every ten feet but ultimately no treasure.

The Second Phase

Eventually Oak Island was purchased by people with more money to excavate the site. After digging down ninety feet, a team found a square-cut stone tablet with a coded engraving. It took years before a university professor was able to decode the message, which he claimed read, “Forty feet below, two million pounds are buried.” With such encouragement, ever more feverish attempts were made to plumb that next forty feet, but water quickly flooded the hole, and no amount of pumping could clear it.

Over the years others have tried to get to the 140 foot depth; a few have even died in the attempt. Using augers, crews were able to bring up a few links of gold chain, but they could never find a way to stop the incoming flood, which turned out to be sea water channeled in from a variety of man-made channels.

Finally the provincial government put an end to the Oak Island Money Pit treasure quests. The only, albeit intriguing, objects brought up from the pit have been the gold links, a copper coin, coconut fibers and a few scraps of parchment. There’s unquestionably something down there, but who constructed the ingenious dams and channels that have protected the tunnel for more than two centuries? Did a plan for recovering the long-lost loot die with them? That’s a mystery that still waits for another day.