Popular Theories

Some would suggest it would be easier to ask, "what hasn't been suggested", regarding what lies buried on Oak Island! Many of the theories put forward have a direct connection to some form of treasure and others suggest artefacts of a historical nature. Some people believe there are simple or natural explanations and other people’s ideas could be considered, well, a bit of a reach.

To each their own, but as "believers" of the Oak Island Mystery we humbly suggest that "great purpose, begets great effort". Meaning that any theory of what might be (or had been) sequestered away on Oak island had to be worthy and important enough to justify all the work which had been undertaken.

Part of the challenge in considering whether a theory might “fit” the circumstances it to see whether the timeline works. That in itself is a difficult task because no one has yet been able to successfully fix a date as to when the work on Oak Island took place. It is reasonable to say that even a well-trained crew would have required several months to complete the Money Pit, the flood tunnels, and to install whatever was to be hidden away below the surface. Also, one might be safe to conclude that they wanted to do their work without the benefit of prying eyes and nosey neighbours.

It would be misleading to think that all was quiet in the area of the Money Pit until Halifax was founded in 1749. Even an incomplete, early Nova Scotia timeline, shows that the area was known and being frequented by various parties:

1398 A compelling case for Prince Henry Sinclair to be in the area after sailing from the Orkneys with a dozen ships and 300 men. (Also, a possible Templar connection and rumour that he was the man who inspired the Glooscap legend)
1490 Bristol fishermen claimed to be fishing the Grand Banks
1497 John Cabot makes his discoveries
1521 Portuguese explorer Joao Alvares Fagudes was said to have visited Nova Scotia around the year 1521 and erected a cross near Advocate.  He may have also established a colony in the Cape Breton area.
1534 Jacques Cartier crosses but didn't sail Nova Scotia's coast
1604 The first settlement at Port Royal by DeMonts and Champlain (they also named LaHave on their crossing).
1632 Isaac de Razilly settles LaHave and builds Fort Sainte Marie de Grace. Many settlers moved to Port Royal following Razilly's death in 1636 but the fort was still a trading post when LaHave was attacked in 1652.
1690 LaHave was reported to be a haven for pirates for approximately 20 years.
1717 The great fortress of Louisbourg began construction which lasted for 20 years, becoming one of the largest ports on the Atlantic coast.
1749 Halifax is founded
1753 Lunenburg is settled
1754 Mahone Bay is settled
1759 Chester is settled
1795 The Oak Island Money Pit is discovered

While populations were sparse, and there were long windows of time punctuated by bursts of activity, it is fair to say that there was seafaring traffic passing by or using Nova Scotia’s shores for at least 300 years before the Oak Island Money Pit was discovered.

Let's consider a few of the possibilities (below). They are in no particular order and present the briefest of introductions. These theories should not be considered as fully substantiated facts. There have been many cases, when presenting a theory about Oak Island, where the theory’s author has taken liberties to coerce a possibility into a fact. Readers are encouraged to do their due diligence in further researching these ideas.


oak island popular theories piratesPirates were certainly familiar with Nova Scotia from the early 17th century onward. Peter Easton, a lesser known, but perhaps the most powerful and wealthiest pirate of all operated from his base in Newfoundland beginning in 1612. Easton sailed throughout the Atlantic and to the West Indies to ply his trade.

However, the candidate of choice by many pirate theorists is the famous Captain William Kidd. Before Kidd's arrest in Boston in 1699, he spent several years pirating the East Indies, and the Indian and China seas. Heading back to the West Indies laden with treasure, he supposedly steered his ship north before returning to port in Boston, which would ultimately lead to his conviction and death in 1701. Kidd's time spent in the north prior to his arrest in Boston left him ample time to conceal his treasure in the Money pit.

There is also the idea that more than one group of pirates used Oak Island as a communal pirate bank. Beginning in about 1625, and spanning into the 1700s, many buccaneers who were headquartered in Port Royal, Jamaica, including Sir Henry Morgan, Jean Levasseur, Bartholomew Sharp and others may have used the sheltered Oak Island as a collective treasure stash.

Of course, the problem with pirates is that they weren't known as the saving type... more so as spenders. Oak Island has always had a hint of military precision to it or at the very least, presents as a highly organized and disciplined undertaking. Pirates... you can't rule them out, but one might say it doesn't quite fit their profile.

The Looting of Panama

oak island popular theories sacking of panamaThe capture, looting, and burning of Panama City in 1671 by Captain Henry Morgan was purely an act of piracy. Spending three years successfully capturing neighbouring villages, Morgan and his men were still outnumbered heading into the January attack on Panama. The pirates managed to win the battle, and Morgan's men spent weeks terrorizing the city, taking money and treasure back to their captured village of Chagre.

When Chagre would not pay the ransom demanded, he ordered it to be demolished, and while his men were engaged in that work, Morgan headed out of port with most of the ill-gotten gains – leaving his former men behind. It is said that Morgan then took his treasures north, safely away from the southern pirates, before returning to Jamaica where he became Governor.

Morgan had the leadership, skills and following to construct such a complex burial for his treasures. But if such were the case he seemingly never returned, preferring to remain in Jamaica as a wealthy man.

Manuscripts of Francis Bacon

oak island popular theories francis bacon bushnellSir Francis Bacon (c. 1561 – 1626) is an enigmatic character which seems perfectly suited to his fascination with ciphers and codes. Baconians, as his devotees are known, also contend that he was the author of Shakespeare's works (as well as other contemporary writers). Original manuscripts have never been found and are thought to be hidden in a chamber beneath Oak Island. Bacon, it is said, stated that he would be "known for who he really is long after his death".

Add to that Bacon's experiments with preserving documents in mercury which dovetails nicely with the cache of empty flasks with traces of mercury discovered during early searches on Oak Island. He was also an initiate of the Order of the Knights Templar.

Finally, there is Bacon's servant/understudy, Mr. Thomas Bushell (c. 1593 – 1674) who successfully recovered a number of flooded mines with the able assistance of his Cornish miners. Bushell established and managed a Royal mint in Wales and defended the island of Lundy (the largest island in the Bristol Channel) for the Royalists. The island was surrendered on 24 February 1647 and Bushell went into "hiding", resurfacing in about 1652.

There are many interesting connections or coincidences presented by this theory.

The Knights Templar

oak island popular theories knights templarA discussion of Francis Bacon is a worthy segue into a theory related to the illustrious Knights Templar.

The Templars (1129 – 1312) were one of the wealthiest and most powerful organizations in Europe. Members of the Order were revered as skilled fighters during the Crusades and other members for their economic prowess, and the innovative financial techniques they introduced.

Templar power was ultimately their undoing when King Philip IV of France, who was deeply indebted to the Order, ordered the arrest of key Templar leaders on Friday, 13 October 1307. The Pope followed suit on November 22nd issuing a decree that all Templars be arrested, and their assets seized.

Legend has it that many templars fled to Scotland to take refuge there. Taking with them priceless religious treasures including the Holy Grail from their sanctuary at the fortress of MontsAgur. A book by Michael Bradley entitled "Holy Grail Across the Atlantic" presents enticing evidence that such an event occurred. This in turn leading to a possible role played by the ruins found in nearby New Ross and of course to the mysterious Oak Island Money Pit.

It is also worthwhile to note that the Templar order continued in Portugal as the Ordem Militar de Cristo (Military Order of Christ). The Portuguese King, Denis I, refused to follow the orders of the Catholic Church and instead merely changed the Order's name. The Portuguese explorer Joao Alvares Fagudes was said to have visited Nova Scotia around the year 1521. In 1607 Samuel de Champlain found an old, moss covered cross near what is now Advocate Nova Scotia which some believe was erected by Fagundes 80 years earlier. Another connection showing that the Templars would be aware of these lands.

Zena Halpern, a Knights Templar researcher from New York, and previously mentioned in regard to the Inscribed Stone also introduced a map with strong evidence of a link to Oak Island. Is there a connection between the Knights Templar and Oak Island? Was the fleet of a dozen ships that sailed with Prince Henry Sinclair in 1398 part of the Templar fleet? A fleet containing the treasures and wealth that escaping members of the Order had been able to flee with? Only time will tell.

Louisbourg Pay-Ship

oak island popular theories louisbourg pay shipIt took a lot of money and time (1720 – 1740) to build the massive Fortress of Louisbourg on the east coast of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton. A fort designed to retain control of French Canada to the north. Boat loads of money, and the Royal Treasury of France regularly sent pay-ships to Louisbourg to pay the army of workmen and contractors.

If a storm, as are not uncommon in the great Atlantic, were to force a ship off course it could become grounded or wrecked. In such a case a crew might be convinced, willingly or otherwise, to help conceal the great treasure on a nearby Island. Or such a ship could succumb to pirates who likewise would have need to conceal their great fortune.

The same fate could have also befallen other pay-ships such as the one sent in 1746 by the Duc d'Anville to recapture Louisbourg. The great treasure and the goods from the ship were never recovered.

The timeline would be reasonable for a Louisbourg pay-ship but it seems a bit tight for a later ship based on what is known about the Money Pit.

William Phips and the Concepción

oak island popular theories spanish galleon phipsWhen one thinks of treasure during the golden age of piracy (circa 1650 – 1730) it is hard not to imagine a heavily laden Spanish Galleon leaving the New World on its slow journey back to enrich Spanish Royals.

The Spanish were expert, often ruthless, in the manner by which they extracted gold and riches from the Americas. Beginning in the Caribbean islands and then moving to the mainland to relieve the Aztecs and Incas of their gold.

Many ships from the treasure fleets never made their destination, being sunk upon reefs or during ferocious storms. Such was the case on October 31, 1641 when the Spanish galleon Concepción struck a reef off the Bahamas and deposited a huge treasure in relatively shallow water.

In 1685 William Phips was granted rights by the King of England to seek the Concepción and recover its treasure or that of any other treasure found in the area. Returning to England in 1687 with over 68,000 lbs. of silver. He was Knighted for his efforts and returned to the wreck with additional ships although little additional treasure was reported found.

Those who have plotted Phip's activities during, and subsequent to this period, suggest that he had the time and resources to construct the Money Pit on oak Island in order to hide the additional treasure which had actually been recovered from the Concepción. In 1690 we find him attacking Port Royal and Quebec, so he was well acquainted with these waters as were many mariners of the day.

A great horde of Spanish Treasure recovered by the English and resting at the bottom of the Money Pit? As plausible a theory as any other it would seem.

The Crown Jewels of France

oak island popular theories french crown jewelsFranklin D. Roosevelt, later the 32nd President of the United States, believed that the treasure comprised the missing Crown Jewels of France. This theory is formed around the notion of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette fleeing Paris with the missing jewels, as well as with their own private and personal gems in June of 1791.

However, because Louis and Marie were captured at Varennes without the treasures and jewels, the story is that a lady-in-waiting made her escape with them. Making her way across the Atlantic to the Fortress of Louisbourg. From there the idea is that the jewels were stashed away somewhere secure – namely the Oak Island Money Pit.

The problem, as many Oak Island theorists have suggested, is the timeline. The jewels would have had to have been hidden between the Paris flee in 1791 and the Money Pit's discovery in 1795. With Halifax expanding and the southern shore of Nova Scotia seeing population growth and sea traffic, it seems unlikely for this theory to be a viable contender.

Inca, Maya, or Aztec Treasure

oak island popular theories inca mayan aztek treasureIt has been well established by history that the peoples of the America's possessed vast amount of gold and silver and used it for all manner of purposes. It would seem however that their fascination with these precious metals, in terms of monetary value, did not compare by any measure with that of the Spanish who sought to relieve them of it.

Another theory is that Oak Island became a depository for the Spanish Conquerors of the New World, and the treasure buried belonged to the Incans, the Mayans or the Aztecs. If the treasure did arrive to the Island from a Southern American location, it would help to explain the vast amount of coconut fibres present in the money pit, as well as on the beaches.

It would not be the first time that a treasure galleon was blown far off course and needed to find shelter. Nor would it be difficult to imagine a corrupt system wherein a group of Spaniards were siphoning off some of the treasures from the New World and needed a safe repository.

There is also a similar theory but instead of the Spanish being the depositors, it was the Inca Empire itself who created the Money Pit and made the deposit.

The legend is that the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro was promised a room filled with gold for sparing the life of the Inca King Atahualpa but decided instead to have the King garroted on July 26, 1533.

The King's general Rumiñahui was on his way to deliver gold for the ransom when he learned of the King's murder. The general then dispatched porters East to areas that uninhabited and later returned for more treasures to secret away. Many legends suggest that the treasure had been hidden in a cave, or dumped into a lake but others suggest that it came north... far north, to a small island off the coast of Nova Scotia.

It would seem to be an unusual amount of distance to travel unless of course they took to the sea and a storm transported them to unfamiliar lands.

Missing Treasure of St. Andrew's Cathedral

oak island popular theories st andrews cathedralSome people believe that the Money Pit holds treasure from the ancient Cathedral of St. Andrew's, in Scotland.

The wealthy during the time of Cromwell were suppressed and items such as ecclesiastical plates, gold, silver, gems and goods stole from the English had found their way to the Cathedral. In 1560, the vast amount of reserves purported to be held there were not to be found and were never recovered. After mysteriously disappearing from the church it is claimed that this treasure found its way to Oak Island.

Although the reasoning behind crossing the Atlantic and burying them on a deserted island off Nova Scotia is unclear, it isn't impossible.

An Old Pyrite Mine

oak island popular theories pyrite mineThis theory draws its basis from fact but then requires a leap...

English explorer Martin Frobisher (circa 1535 or 1539 – 1594) is well known for his efforts to find the fabled Northwest Passage. In the process, he was also instructed by the Queen to find gold, largely to cover the costs of his voyages. On his second voyage to Frobisher Bay in 1577 he carried 200 tons of ore home on three ships. Encouraged, he returned with an even larger fleet and dug several mines around Frobisher Bay. On this voyage he returned with 1,350 tons of ore.

Unfortunately, during the smelting of the ore, it was realized that the ore was iron pyrite. Therefore, almost worthless.

Frobisher did also take on the role of an English privateer/pirate. In so doing he plundered riches from French ships and was later knighted for his service in helping to repel the Spanish Armada.

The connection of these Pyrite mining expeditions in a different part of Canada to Oak Island seems tenuous at best.

Other Theories...

Tar Kiln
Certainly given Oak Island's long history it is not impossible that a tar kiln was established by the British for the production of this substance. However, the size and nature of a tar kiln is far and removed from the scope and scale of the Oak Island workings.


Dry Dock
This theory concludes that the Money Pit was not a location of buried treasure, but instead a pumping station for a pirate drydock, making Oak Island one of the first shipyards in North America.

The works discovered on Oak Island, from the tunnels to the shafts, resemble known dry-docks found in the West Indies. Although there is no proof of a windmill structure or remnants on the island, the theory was well considered and drawn by its proponent.

As pirates were headquartered in the nearby mouth of the LaHave river during the 1690s and beyond, Oak Island made for a sheltered and feasible option for a shipyard. The supposed windmill would work to pump the lower chamber dry, the vessel would then enter the dry dock and the seaward locks are closed. A tunnel is then opened for water to leave the dry dock area and fill the lower chamber, as the windmill continues to pump that water into the upper chamber, where it is tunneled back to the sea by gravity.

As others have suggested, while this theory is possible, it seems to represent an enormous undertaking when considering the far simpler practice of careening a vessel for maintenance and repairs.


Natural Formation
Nova Scotia's geology certainly allows for sinkholes and examples have been documented in the general area of Oak Island. They can vary in size from a few feet to hundreds of feet deep.

Some suggest that if there are natural caverns in the islands' bedrock, it can account for the deep shafts, flood tunnels, and even the "tiers of oak logs" could simply occur from the forest caving into the holes.

One Oak Island candidate would be the "Cave-In Pit", referring to the spot where Mrs. Sophia Seller's oxen had fallen into a well-like hole in 1878. Later investigations of this pit presented convincing evidence that its original role was as an air-shaft for the construction of the flood tunnel from Smith's Cove, directly below.

If the Money Pit is indeed a natural phenomenon, let us simply say that "nature works in very mysterious ways".

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