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Rebellion or treasure? Windsor Oak Island historian says legend could be cover for colonial uprising

Pictured with other artifacts in the Oak Island Interpretive Centre is a lead cross discovered by metal detection expert Gary Drayton at Smith’s Cove during the 2017 search season. It could date from as far back as the 1100s.
Pictured with other artifacts in the Oak Island Interpretive Centre is a lead cross discovered by metal detection expert Gary Drayton at Smith’s Cove during the 2017 search season. It could date from as far back as the 1100s. - Kirk Starratt

OAK ISLAND, NS - There are many popular theories when it comes to who may have been responsible for hiding a treasure on Nova Scotia’s Oak Island, but a Hants County historian has developed his own theory.

Although he doesn’t subscribe to any of the popular theories about who may have dug the Money Pit or deposited treasure there in the past, Oak Island historian Kel Hancock has dug deep into several theories about colonial activity being at the root of the mystery. Hancock said he would consider any theory that approaches the legend from a purely historical point of view. Some theories - which include the Knights Templar, pirates, Freemasons and the lost jewels of Marie Antoinette - are more probable than others.

“Inevitably, I think, any time that you look really hard, there’s always that one missing link that would be the answer, and nobody has found it yet,” Hancock said.

READ PART ONE:

Oak Island life-long passion for Windsor historian

• ‘There’s something strange happening there’: Kentville diver involved in Oak Island treasure hunt

Yankee sympathizers?

Based on historical research concerning the level of American sympathy in Nova Scotia just prior to and during the American Revolution, Hancock has developed his own Oak Island theory. As stated by historian Thomas Raddall, during the American Revolution, two-thirds of Nova Scotians self-identified as “Yankees.” Hancock said this makes perfect sense as most of the townships were settled by New England Planters who had moved to Nova Scotia within a decade or so of the beginning of the revolution.

One of the benefits of establishing townships in Nova Scotia was producing goods for trade with the New England market. This was the primary trading market aside from the West Indies. It was expensive and risky to ship goods to England. When the Crown took actions such as placing sanctions against Boston, Nova Scotia was cut off from one of its main markets and smuggling became more lucrative.

When the war broke out, those caught smuggling would be charged with treason, so such operations had to become more stealth and secretive. It’s Hancock’s belief that when a rebellion and attack against Fort Cumberland was hatched, it was “supposed to be the fuse that set off Nova Scotia’s rising up.”

Oak Island historian Kel Hancock of Windsor is pictured by the Oak Island Interpretive Centre prior to co-hosting a tour for Freemasons on Aug. 4.
Oak Island historian Kel Hancock of Windsor is pictured by the Oak Island Interpretive Centre prior to co-hosting a tour for Freemasons on Aug. 4.
Oak Island historian Kel Hancock of Windsor is pictured by the Oak Island Interpretive Centre prior to co-hosting a tour for Freemasons on Aug. 4.

Nova Scotia rebellion?

Raddall’s research showed that George Washington was not willing to invade Nova Scotia, but if Nova Scotians were to rise up, the Continental Congress may support them.

Hancock believes that every township had its own handful of rebels, including the Chester and Mahone Bay area that includes Oak Island.

Planters owned all the lots on Oak Island starting in the 1760s. Hancock started looking into each individual as closely as he could and says there were more than a handful who could be linked as sympathizers for the American cause or outright sedition.

It occurred to Hancock that Oak Island easily could have been used as a meeting place for those in support of sedition. He now believes they were stockpiling supplies for a rebellion there and thinks a pit was dug on the island with a layer of oak logs to keep it dry, although it was probably only about 10 feet deep, not at least 90 as legend indicates.

There is no physical evidence today that anything ever existed below that, Hancock said, only the accounts of treasure hunters. However, inexplicable things keep turning up from great depths, so Hancock is keeping his mind open to all possibilities. But, he acknowledges, he has to fight the romance constantly when doing historical research.

Hancock’s belief is that when the attack on Fort Cumberland failed, Nova Scotia’s chance at a rebellion fizzled out. Any arms and ammunition not seized by the British belonged to the Continental Congress had to be returned for use in the American cause and was smuggled back to what is now the United States.

Pictured with other artifacts in the Oak Island Interpretive Centre is a piece of jewelry with a large, red stone discovered by metal detection expert Gary Drayton during the 2017 search season. It is believed to be at least 500 years old.
Pictured with other artifacts in the Oak Island Interpretive Centre is a piece of jewelry with a large, red stone discovered by metal detection expert Gary Drayton during the 2017 search season. It is believed to be at least 500 years old.
Pictured with other artifacts in the Oak Island Interpretive Centre is a piece of jewelry with a large, red stone discovered by metal detection expert Gary Drayton during the 2017 search season. It is believed to be at least 500 years old.

Traitorous neighbours?

Hancock said a legend that two men had rowed over to Oak Island to investigate strange lights and sounds, only to disappear and never to be seen or heard from again, may actually be true. He suggests they may have stumbled across their traitorous neighbours and were done away with before they could betray someone.

At the time, he adds, there was an intense dislike and distrust between the Planters and Loyalists. As more Loyalists moved in, Planters who owned lots on Oak Island began selling them to the Loyalists and Hancock said this is how his ancestor, Donald MacInnes (a.k.a. Money Pit discoverer Daniel McInnis), came to own land there.

Hancock said that Planters who planned to rebel could have still been held accountable for their actions into the 1780s and 1790s. He believes that, in an effort to cover up their clandestine activities on Oak Island, the Planters began telling the new Loyalist landowners that if they happen to find any evidence of digging, it was probably because pirates had buried treasure there. Hancock believes that the Oak Island legend snowballed from there.

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