Mystery of the Money Pit

The Discovery

One spring day in 1795 Daniel McGinnis, then a teenager, was wandering around Oak Island, Nova Scotia when he came across a curious circular depression in the ground.

Standing over this depression was a tree whose branches had been cut in a way which looked like it had been used as a pulley. Having heard tales of pirates hiding their treasure in the area McGinnis hurried home to tell his friends. Over the next several days McGinnis and two other boys worked furiously on the hole. What they found astonished them.

diagram of the money pit
Click Image to Enlarge

Two feet below the surface they came across a layer of flagstones covering the pit. At ten feet they found a platform of oak logs wedged into the shaft’s walls. Ripping it out they excavated another ten feet. There they found another platform, then another one ten feet lower. Frustrated by the barriers, the boys eventually returned to their farm chores.

Eight years later, in 1803, the three boys returned to Oak Island to continue the hunt. They were adults now and had the financial backing of a syndicate of Nova Scotia businessmen who called themselves The Onslow Company.

The excavation picked up where it had left off eight years before and more oak platforms were discovered – every ten feet. Besides the boards, at 40 feet a layer of charcoal was found, at 50 feet a layer of putty, and at 60 feet a layer of coconut fiber.

At 90 feet one of the most puzzling clues was found – a stone tablet inscribed with mysterious writing:

inscription found in the money pit on Oak Island

It turned out to be a simple substitution cipher where each symbol inscribed on the stone corresponded to a letter in the alphabet. When decoded the cipher read:


As nightfall descended the digging had to be stopped due to poor visibility – the treasure would have to wait one more day.

The group returned to Oak Island the next day eager to recover treasure only to find the shaft completely flooded with seawater. No matter how hard they tried, all attempts to pump out the water failed.

Booby Trap!
Many believe that the flooding was part of an elaborate booby trap built to protect the Money Pit’s secret. Later excavations discovered an intricate rock-lined tunnel system that directed seawater from the ocean into the shaft. The water had been held back by a barrier that was tripped during the excavation.

Unwilling to give up on the treasure, the group dug a separate shaft next to the original in order to allow the flood water to drain out.

But the plan turned out to be a disaster – the walls of the new shaft collapsed leaving the original shaft flooded once again. The diggers were lucky to escape with their lives.

The pit was abandoned for 45 years.


Over the next 200 years the Money Pit’s secrets obsessed scores of people – an endless procession of individuals and corporations descended upon the island to take up the hunt.

The lure of the unknown attracted all types of adventurers – some of the more noteworthy were: soon to be US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, explorer Richard Byrd, and actor Errol Flynn who wanted to search Oak Island in 1940, but was discouraged when he found the search rights already belonged to a company owned by fellow actor John Wayne.

Above: President Franklin D. Roosevelt (aged 27) and friends on Oak Island searching for the treasure in 1910. Image courtesy of the  National Archives and Records AdministrationFranklin D. Roosevelt and friends
working the Money Pit in 1910.

Despite the millions of dollars invested, and the increasingly sophisticated tools at searchers disposal, the contents of the Oak Island Money Pit have remained out of reach.

One indian legend has it that the search will end only after all the island’s oaks are dead, and seven treasure hunters have lost their lives in the search. By 1990, six diggers had died and only three oaks remained on the island.

Recent Discoveries

Around 1967, Daniel C. Blankenship and David Tobias formed The Triton Alliance, Ltd. and purchased most of the island. In 1971, Triton workers excavated a 235-foot shaft supported by a steel caisson. According to Blankenship and Tobias, cameras lowered down the shaft into a cave below recorded the presence of some chests, human remains, wooden cribbing and tools; however, the images were unclear, and none of these claims have been officially confirmed. Work was eventually halted due to lack of funds and the collapse of the partnership.

Exploration was stalled in the 90s due to legal battles between the Triton partners, but recently Dan Blankenship and his new partners, the Michigan Group have worked things out and further exploration of the Money Pit will continue this year (2008).

What Treasure Lies at the Bottom of the Money Pit?

heart shaped stone found at oak island in the money pitThe pit has yielded few clues to what it may hold. Three links of chain, iron scissors of Spanish manufacture, a carved-bone boson’s whistle, and a scrap of parchment are among the few artifacts to be raised.

Coconut fiber has also been found, although the nearest coconut trees are 1,500 miles away – coconut fiber was used to pack cargo on seventeenth and eighteenth-century ships.

One of the most tantalizing discoveries was a heart-shaped stone similar to those found among pirate treasure-troves in Haiti.

There are many theories as to what the Money Pit may hold but my three favorites are:

portrait of three Knights templar

Theory #1 – The Treasure of the Knights Templar

The tale of the Knights Templar’s Lost Treasure is well known among treasure hunting buffs. In the early hours of October 13th, 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered all the Knights Templar arrested on trumped up charge of heresy – and their fabled treasure confiscated in the name of the crown. But when the King’s men arrived at the Templar’s Paris Headquarters the treasure had vanished as had almost the entire Templar naval fleet.

The Templars were now wanted men in most of Europe, so, the theory goes that desiring to establish a new Templar government outside the reach of French persecution, the Templars sailed westward towards Nova Scotia where they established a colony.

The presence of the Knights Templar in Novia Scotia a century before Columbus discovered America may sound far-fetched, but it is supported by a Zeno narrative and map that depicts the landmass of Nova Scotia (New Scotland) with the figure of a crowned knight drawn upon it (one of the Templar’s Symbols).

At some point, the theory goes, the Templars decided to abandon their colony and head back to Europe, but with the order weakened and fearing their treasure might fall into the wrong hands, they decided to hide it. They constructed the money pit to protect their treasure until such a time they could return for it.

Which they obviously never did.

To this day none of the Templar treasure has been found. Their treasure is rumored to contain artifacts of spiritual significance retrieved by the order during the Crusades, including the genealogies of David and Jesus and documents that trace these bloodlines into the royal bloodlines of Merovingian France.

captain William Kidd

Theory #2 – Captain Kidd’s Treasure

Legends abound about the numerous secret caches of treasure buried by Kidd throughout his illustrious career as a Pirate. One legend told of a dying sailor in the New England Colonies who confessed to being a part of Kidd’s notorious crew.

The old sailor stated that Captain Kidd had buried a hoard of treasure to be found on an island “east of Boston”, but he never named an exact location for the hidden booty. Could it have been Oak Island?

Skeptics claim that Kidd spent little time near Nova Scotia, suggesting that he could not have devoted enough time to constructing the money pit.

Theory #3 – Inca or Maya Treasure

Incan Treasure

During the conquest of the Americas by the Europeans in the mid 1500s much of the wealth of the Incas and Mayas disappeared. There are two persistent legends about where much of this treasure went – if you want to know more check out these two articles:

Montezuma’s Gold

Inca Gold: The Treasure of the Llanganatis

Some researchers believe it’s possible that a group of Incas or Mayas, possibly with the help of sympathetic Europeans, stole away with the wealth and buried it on Oak Island out of the reach of the conquerors.


For more information about the Money Pit visit – this is the most comprehensive site I’ve found on the subject and a great place to start your research.



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  2. Abner Donaldson
  3. Barry
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