Theories, Guesses, and Nonsense

Over the years, many authors have offered ideas regarding the supposed contents of the “Money Pit” and about Oak Island in general. Since many of these musings (they’re not “theories” in a scientific sense) are scatted across a number of books, it seems advantageous to offer a synopsis of each so they can be more easily compared. Some will not be covered since information about several is sketchy at best. Neither will a great deal of background detail be presented since this material has been covered by other authors. The reader is referred to the bibliography for in-depth works discussing the various theories.

Captain Kidd’s Treasure

This is the mother of all Oak Island theories since, according to the earliest accounts this writer has yet discovered, the inhabitants of the Mahone Bay area believed it to be the most likely explanation for the supposed Pit. However, it can be dismissed in the light of modern knowledge of Kidd’s actual adventures and career. Kidd was never in the area of Oak Island and was never actually a traditional pirate; instead he was a privateer with a commission to seize “enemy” commerce. The small amount of treasure he amassed was buried in the present United States. Consequently there’s no reason to believe that he buried anything at Oak Island.

The Templars

Nearly everyone knows the story of the Templar Knights and their fabled mass of treasure; many authors have theorized that said treasure was not seized by the French government or Papacy after the Knights were outlawed, and that said treasure was spirited away to be hidden in some remote location. Having read a few of the books concerned with this particular topic, this writer finds the evidentiary chain to be at best tenuous and at worst imaginary.

However, for the sake of argument let’s accept the idea that the Templar treasure was spirited away and hidden somewhere in the world. By all accounts this was accomplished sometime between 1398 and 1450; certainly no later than 1500. As noted elsewhere, the Oak Island legend states that McInnis found “a small clearing that appeared to have been cleared of trees and other growth at some time in the past, and which new trees and other plants [italics mine] were beginning to fill in again.” If this is the case, then any digging on the island must have occurred much later than 1450. A gap of 300+ years between that date and 1795 means that the clearing would have been filled in and any surface evidence of the alleged excavation erased by time. In any case the “sawn-off branch with burn marks” and quite likely the tree to which it was attached would be dead and gone. No, the Templar theory simply doe not fit the parameters of the legend.

Also, another researcher made the following insightful comments:

“Two hundred men in twelve ships sail off with the True Grail one hundred years before Columbus. There are only two possibilities:

1. None came back, and so it is entirely unknown the fate of any of them or their possessions by historical record. But it can be safely be surmised that all are at the bottom of the ocean or remnants would have been found. (Or did they bury their ships and selves as well?) If 200 men and 12 ships had ever spent long enough ashore on O.I. to dig a hole deeper than what’s been dug since, there would be a ton of coins and boot buckles and pistol shot and broken discarded tools found all over that freckle of an island. And even more incredulously, it requires the very type of men who had risked their lives and fortunes protecting the grail and building temples for it, to decide the best course of action was to abandon it in a muddy hole, literally in the middle of nowhere. No wonder God didn’t let them make it home.

2. Some of the men and ships returned and all managed to keep to themselves not only the location of the grail, but the news that there was a whole freaking continent over there. Or maybe they missed it, being at least a couple hundred feet away and only being a couple of thousand miles wide. Probably was foggy the morning they dropped by, dug that hundred foot pit, chucked the Holy Grail into and refilled it, and then sailed away home. And of course they would see no reason to return, having their deforested little rocky outcropping of a homeland and the British constantly trying to drive them into the sea for entertainment, Who could ask for more? And since they told no one, their descendants didn’t know they should protest the Portuguese claiming to be the discoverers of the New World. Well, they probably told their sons, but we all know kids pay no attention to anything their parents tell them.”

(Thanks to Thomas McManus for this commentary.)

The Nuestra…de la Concepcion

This theory, involving the historically documented salvaging of Spanish treasure ships by Sir William Phips, is very rationally presented but, as with all Oak Island theories, suffers for a lack of hard evidence. While Harris & MacPhie present a sketch of a scenario that may have taken place, there is no documentary evidence to suggest that it actually did occur. All Oak Island theories–even mine–are currently little more than supposition, and only the discovery of evidence which is more than circumstantial will change this. The Nuestra/Phips theory also suffers from the same date-related problem as that of the Templars–Phips’ recovery of the treasure from the ship in around 1687 is too early to be correlated successfully to the Oak Island legend.

The Francis Bacon Manuscripts

One author (Penn Leary) has proposed that the treasure hidden within the Pit includes the lost manuscripts of Francis Bacon, who some theorize was the actual author of what we know as Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Again, this idea suffers from our classic date-related conundrum. If we’re to believe the evidence of the legend itself, then these very early theories can’t be trusted. However, if the legend is wrong and the trees growing in the “former clearing” were fully mature, then the date range could be thrown wide open. But if the trees were mature, then there would have been no clearing or depression for McInnis to discover in 1795. So what should we believe?

Fish Processing Station

Another author (Millie Evans) has proposed that the island was actually used by persons unknown as a large fishing station, and that the alleged “artificial beach” was actually an area onto which freshly-caught fish could be thrown to allow them to dry, drain, and so forth. There’s no reason to refute this theory on the basis of dates; however it would be simpler to support if other evidence of such an extensive construction project (i.e. remains of buildings, tools, fish, etc.) were to be uncovered. This may not be possible since the site has been so blatantly altered by treasure hunters over the past 200 years.

Egyptians (or Incas)

This writer knows of no author who has seriously supported either of these ideas, and of no reliable evidence to support the assertion that Egyptians or Incas ever made a journey to the North American coast. Such a proposal totally ignores the fact that the ancients did not possess the technology to conduct deep-pit mining of the type supposedly carried out on Oak Island. Specifically they did not have the technology to ventilate deep mines, and thus shaft excavations of deeper than roughly 30′ were impossible for them.

Apparently this idea was proposed by Lionel Fanthorpe, a former author of pulp science fiction novels now specializing in odd phenomena. He has published frequently unsupported ramblings on a number of subjects. Fanthorpe also wrote a book claiming that the Money Pit was somehow involved in the Templar legend, so it seems he is unable to make up his mind which of these ‘theories’ he favors.

Lizard Beings and a “Remolecularizer!”

One site on the Internet, which violated accepted copyright practice by cutting and pasting massive portions of the main Critical Analysis article without the authors’ permission, talks of “Lizard Beings” that buried an alien mind-control device at the site now known as the Money Pit. The article, apparently written by a woman who is said to have the ability to “channel” information from some other being, delves into classic paranoid conspiracy theory–most notably one in which world leaders are claimed to be “projections” created by lizard-like aliens who are manipulating humanity for their own purposes. There’s really nothing more to be said about it since the whole idea is obviously the product of someone who is either playing a huge joke or has become detached from reality.

The wonderful thing about this article is that it shows how purveyors of fringe pseudoscience tend to pick and choose ideas to incorporate into their fantasy worlds. Oak Island is an obvious candidate for this sort of activity since the pseudoscientist or conspiracist can manufacture any data they like with little fear of having it contradicted by inconvenient facts!

Siege of Havana (or Louisbourg)

In 1762/3 the British lay siege to and captured Havana, Cuba, from the Spanish. It is well documented in the historical record that they captured a large sum of money and probably large amounts of other booty at the same time. This event, as well as the capture of Louisbourg from the French (1756?) fall within the period during which we could reasonably expect activity on Oak Island. Thus, either of these events could represent the actual circumstance behind the legendary excavation/construction project on the island. Again, however, there is no direct evidence available at this time to support either theory. No documentary evidence has yet been discovered to suggest military or government-funded activity by the British or anyone else on Oak Island.

American Revolution/Halifax Unrest

The Revolutionary period (say, 1770-1783) falls easily within our range of proposed dates for activity on the island and seems a likely candidate for such works. The British used Halifax as a naval base (it was referred to as the “North American Station”) and it was critical for their North Atlantic activities. There was a revolution in progress in the American colonies and a great deal of civil unrest in the Halifax area at the same time. Martial law was declared in Halifax on at least one occasion during this period, so it seems reasonable to believe they would have desired a “contingency base” for use if Halifax, Boston, and/or New York were lost to rebels. A location such as Oak Island might have been ideal since it was isolated and lay between these three great ports, yet close enough to England to provide a reasonably short voyage.

Many people have claimed it is be impossible for the excavation to have occurred during the latter period (i.e. post 1700) because someone would have noticed, or legends about the activity would have persisted. This is simply wrong. Near Halifax, in fact, are huge concrete bunkers and artillery positions constructed by the Canadian military during World War II. A fellow researcher knew of these and asked local residents about these structures, which are clearly visible from the water. Most of the people he asked had no idea they existed and had never heard a single word about them. This is a common situation; such sites often are simply forgotten about in a very short timeframe. Think of the settlements and cities, such as Pompeii and even gold-rush towns in the American West, that have become “lost” in history.

In the Halifax case, the projects were public, highly visible, and in full view–yet they were forgotten within a generation. A project on Oak Island, even as late as 1780 or so, easily could have been missed or simply ignored by the locals as inconsequential to their lives. Thus, this is a likely timeframe to consider if we are to believe any activity involving the alleged “Pit” actually occurred on the island.

Natural Causes

As Joe Nickell has pointed out in his CSICOP article, it’s also quite possible that the Pit was simply a sinkhole that was misinterpreted by McInnis and his friends. Since at least one other sinkhole (which was, of course, immediately presumed to be part of the nefarious “box drains”) has been discovered on the island, this theory has a great deal of merit.

Abandoned Homestead

As noted on the main analysis page, Oak Island was not a virgin wilderness in 1795. The French, and later the English had settled the area around the island (i.e. the town of Chester and others) many years before, and the entire area had been mapped and divided into lots. The Pit portion of Oak Island had been designated at lot #18, and in at least one account of the legend it’s said that McInnis and friends bought the site from another owner after they discovered the Pit. Thus it’s entirely possible someone had previously begun construction of a home or other building on the site and had simply abandoned their work for some unknown reason. This gives us a simple explanation for the clearing and new plant growth, as well as the “depression” said to have been found. Said depression could simply have been the collapsed remains of an old well or perhaps an incomplete foundation for a home of some type. Remember also that the earliest account of the legend states the “circular depression” was only seven feet in diameter–large for a well, but significantly smaller than the twelve to fourteen feet we have been led to expect.


The point of this exercise is simply to point out that numerous scenarios, many of which involve no treasure or conspiracy theory, might explain the presence of the features supposedly found in 1795. Unfortunately many researchers simply pick a single “pet” explanation and then either selectively ignore evidence to the contrary or inflate questionable details to support their assertions. The simple fact is that we may never know what, if anything, actually existed at the Pit when it was discovered and the excavations began in the latter 18th century. Such is the danger of blindly following folklore without verifying the facts or researching alternative theories.

Note: All material on these pages is ©1995-2004 Richard E. Joltes. Short excerpts may be used in other publications where proper credit is given and advance permission is granted. All rights reserved.