Open the Gates, 'tis Gloster that calls
One autumn day in 1795 the soul of some long dead spirit stirred, and perhaps laughed at the tricks that it,
and fate, were to play on three country boys from Nova Scotia. The three boys were the crew of a rowboat on
Mahone Bay, fifty miles south-west of Halifax. The restless spirit was, of course, guarding the treasure it had
buried on one of the islands in the Bay. There is an island for every day in the year in these waters, and pure
chance was steering the boat toward Oak Island. The spirit's task of guarding was an easy one, for it had
labored long and mightily in its lifetime to place its curse on these and other treasure hunters to fellow.
Fifteen or twenty years earlier, I. F. W. Des Barres had sailed through the Bay (then known as
Mecklenburgh) and had drawn the firs detailed chart of its coastline. Des Barres drew beautiful charts and
affixed ponderous names to the little rocky islands. Frog Island, as it is now known, was Adolphus Isle; Great
Tancook was Royal George Island; Round Island he called Augustus Isle. Oak Island is shown as Gloucester
Isle, though to the local inhabitants it has for many years been known only as Oak.
[Des Barres Chart, showing Oak Island (Gloucester Isle)]
We can assume the three boys sailed around Frog Island from Chester and approached Oak from the east.
The first natural landing place they struck was a sandy beach near the west end of the island, now known as
Smith's Cove. Jack Smith was one of the young sailors and his companions were Daniel McInnis (or McGinnis)
and Anthony Vaughan.
In 1795 the island was covered with a thick stand of trees, very similar to Red Oaks in bark and foliage. The
origin of the Oaks has been the subject of much conjecture; they tower to 80 or 90 feet and sometimes live
more than 250 years. The trunk flares out at the top into a swaying umbrella shape, unlike the other Oaks on
the mainland. A few stand today, like symbols of the mystery that shadows the ground on which they grew.
Well-recorded tradition has it that the three boys followed what seemed to be an ancient trail up a hill
southwest of the cove. Near the crest of the hill stood one of the Oaks. About 16 feet up from the bottom of its
trunk a heavy branch had been sawed off. This sign of human tampering interested Mclnnis and his two
friends boosted him up to where he could examine it more closely. The bark was scarred and cut on top of the
limb. Looking down, he saw a slight depression in the ground under the tree; it was circular and about 13 feet
in diameter. All signs seemed to indicate that someone had dug a pit beneath the tree and, using the branch as
a support, had lowered something into the ground.
Pirate treasure! In 1795 there were still live pirates and the tales of their buried loot were told in every
coastal town. Legend held Mahone Bay to be an old rendezvous for the buccaneers, and it was named for a
French word describing a swift, low-lying pirate craft. Queer stories were told in the villages along the shore
about Oak Island; one old woman, whose family were early settlers, told Mclnnis it was under an evil curse.
The more superstitious swore that Satan had chosen it for his local headquarters and held hellish orgies under
the tall Oaks.
The trio returned to the mainland and loaded their boat with picks and shovels. The earth flew thick next
day, and they found the dirt in the shallow depression much softer than the packed ground around it. They
saw what they believed to be old tool marks on the sides of the pit as the loose earth crumbled away from it.
At the ten foot level the shovels struck solid wood. After the dirt had been cleared away, they found
themselves standing on a platform of oak planks three inches thick. There was some difficulty in tearing up
these planks, for they were not simply laid into the soft dirt in the pit but solidly embedded in its sides.
Underneath was nothing but more clay. A block and tackle was rigged to the old scarred limb to hoist out the
soil and the digging went on to the twenty foot level. Here was another oak platform and more dirt under it.
At the thirty foot level, and a third oak platform, the boys reached the limit of their engineering ability and
could do nothing more without help. The long Nova Scotia winter began and deep snows covered the site.
Nothing could be done until the ground thawed in the spring and McInnis and his friends spent most of
their time trying to get assistance from the people living along the coast. But superstitious dread was too
much for them. Next summer the three built a cabin on Oak and did their best to attract to the island anyone
who might help with the work.
Seven years dragged by, and nothing more was done in what had become known as the "Money Pit". Smith
and McInnis married and built homes on the island, forever dreaming of the fortune that might be theirs.
When Smith's wife was to have her first baby she was taken to Truro, N. S., to the home of a young doctor,
John Lynds. Lynds learned the story of their vigil over the Money Pit and became greatly interested. He
persuaded a few of his friends to help him and organized the first Oak Island treasure company.
Meantime, Smith had made another find on the beach. A hand-forged iron ring-bolt, visible only at low tide,
was discovered embedded in a boulder at Smith's Cove. Apparently this natural harbor had been a mooring
place for ships.
Lynds company began in earnest and sank the shaft to ninety-five feet. Every ten feet was another layer of
oak planks supporting the earth above it At the eighty foot point they uncovered a deep layer of charcoal!
Beneath it was something stranger still--- a thick bed of vegetable fibre had been stuffed into the hole. This
fibre proved to be from the outer rind of the coconut, a material that will remain undecayed indefinitely when
covered from the air. At the ninety foot level was found a layer which was either ship's putty or a sticky,
Just below the "putty" the company unearthed a thin, flat stone, darkly green with a kind of oily
composition. It was three feet long, sixteen inches wide and covered with illegible carvings. The stone is now
lost but it was once built into the fireplace of Smith's house as an ornament. Many years later it was removed
and taken to Halifax where it was kept in Creighton's book store as a curiosity. It was last heard of in 1928
when it served as a doorstop on the premises of a construction company in Halifax.
The excitement of those working on the island can only be imagined. They were sure they were almost on
top of the treasure, buried at an unheard-of depth. On a Saturday night, with the pit excavated to ninety-five
feet, soundings were taken by driving an iron rod into the bottom of the hole. The rod struck more planks
below. The writing on the stone, though never deciphered, may well have been a warning of disaster; for on
Sunday, while the workmen were resting on the mainland, tons of water burst through the bottom of the pit.
By Monday morning when the party returned there was sixty feet of water in the hole.
Wherever the water came from, it flowed into the pit much faster than it could be bailed out. The group
decided to sink another shaft near the first and try to tunnel across under the bottom of the old shaft to where
they believed the treasure lay. This may have seemed like a good idea to the amateur engineers conducting
the work, but the result was inevitable. Barely had the new tunnel reached the bottom of the old shaft when
the water broke through and flooded it to the same level. The first Oak Island treasure company quit.