The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 17: A Family Album
The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 5, Episode 17 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.
After an introduction expounding the familial component of the Oak Island treasure hunt, Riley McGinnis and Kel Hancock- descendants of Money Pit co-discoverer “Daniel” McGinnis- recount the legend of the 1795 discovery of the Money Pit and the story of the Onslow Company.
Next, Diana Gregory- a descendant of co-discoverer Anthony Vaughan- with the help of author Randall Sullivan, relates an old family legend that Vaughan and his partners discovered a “decoy treasure” in the Money Pit, and that Vaughan’s father, Anthony Vaughan Sr., used his son’s share of this treasure to establish “a huge shipping empire in New Brunswick”. This tale was corroborated by “McGinnis Sisters” Jean, Joan, and Joyce McGinnis in Season 3, Episode 13.
After that, our attention is directed towards Samuel Ball, the black slaved-turned-Oak Island landowner who, according Nova Scotian historian Mather Myles DesBrisay’s 1870 book History of the County of Lunenburg, was one of the three co-discoverers of the Money Pit (instead of John Smith). Anthony and Ivan Boyd, Ball’s great great grandsons- along with Charles Barkhouse, Randall Sullivan, and Doug Crowell- describe how Samuel Ball escaped a life of slavery on a South Carolinian plantation by enlisting in the British militia during the American Revolutionary War. They recount how Ball came to Canada after the war, acquired land on Oak Island and, perhaps with treasure he unearthed while tilling his land, purchased more property on the island.
Next, Doug Crowell describes how a Halifax-based newspaper called The British Colonist published a three-part series on the Oak Island treasure hunt in January 1864. This series, according to Crowell, “gave a full history of the hunt up until that time on Oak Island. Up until that time, it was a very secretive operation.”
After that, Crowell, Sullivan, and Neena Chappell (the latter the granddaughter of Oak Island treasure hunter M.R. Chappell) describe the Chappell family’s involvement in the Oak Island treasure hunt, including William Chappell’s work as a drill operator under Oak Island landowner Frederick Blair, and his son Mel Chappell’s lifelong interest in the search.
Next, we are reminded of Captain Henry L. Bowdoin’s Oak Island treasure hunt in 1909. According to the narrator, Bowdoin believed that the Oak Island treasure consists of the ‘lost’ jewels of 18th Century French Queen Marie Antoinette– a belief shared by one of his investors, 27-year-old Franklin D. Roosevelt- future President of the United States. David Roosevelt, Franklin’s grandson, then explains how FDR likely acquired his interest in Oak Island from his own grandfather, Warren Delano, a wealthy businessman who invested in the Truro Company (an early Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate) in 1849.
After that, Rick Restall, and Lee Lamb -along with Randall Sullivan, Charles Barkhouse, Doug Crowell- describe the Restall family and their unique treasure hunt in the 1960’s. They remind us of their family’s discoveries, including the 1704 stone and the vertical shaft, and of the tragic disaster of August 17, 1965, which took the lives of their father, Robert Restall; their brother, Bobby Restall; Karl Graeser; and 16-year-old Cyril Hiltz.
Next, Sharon Olson- the daughter of Oak Island treasure hunter Robert Dunfield- describes her father’s oft-maligned heavy duty excavation in the Money Pit area in the mid-late 1960’s. “Dad was continually exploring,” she explains. “Dad would take Mom and I out on exploring excursions anywhere where Dad thought that there might be something that he could find.” Charles Barkhouse then describes how Dunfield’s massive excavation “obliterated a lot of the landmarks in the Money Pit area. Now, had he found the treasure, he’d have been a hero, but that’s not the case.”
After that, Dan Blankenship and the late Fred Nolan (evidently in interviews filmed years earlier) independently describe their respective treasure hunts on Oak Island, touching on the bitter feud that characterized their relationship with one another. We are reminded of Dan Blankenship’s discovery of Borehole 10-X and Fred Nolan’s discovery of Nolan’s Cross.
Finally, Rick and Marty Lagina describe their lifelong interest in Oak Island, which ultimately culminated in the formation of Oak Island Tours Inc. and its ongoing treasure hunt, around which this History Channel TV series revolves.
After we are treated to footage from Season 3, Episode 7- in which the team buries a time capsule on the island to mark the 50th anniversary of writer David MacDonald’s influential 1965 Reader’s Digest article (Oak Island’s Mysterious Money Pit)- the various Oak Island “family members” of whose interviews this episode is comprised share their final statements on the effect that the island has had on them and their families, and on their relationships with fellow treasure hunters. Marty Lagina explains that Oak Island treasure hunters “start to feel like [they] are part of this series of families. An individual first becomes quite enamored with the island, and then, because they’re part of families, the family gets drawn in.” Anthony Boyd, in a separate interview, follows up on that idea, saying, “It’s just not the treasure, but it’s the families’ lives that have been evolved in this hunt.” Diana Gregory adds to that statement, saying, “Oak Island becomes an obsession for families who are part of the island history.” Lee Lamb- who, in fact, wrote the book Oak Island Obsession on the Restall family’s Oak Island treasure hunt- adds that the island, in spite of the terrible toll it took on her family, managed to weasel “its way into [her] heart. Oak Island has a very strong pull.” Shanon Olson follows up on that statement, saying, “It’s almost like the island calls to you, and even after you leave it, you have this longing desire to go back.” Finally, the episode concludes with Rick Lagina’s statement that the common goal shared by all Oak Island treasure hunters “makes it easy to feel like they’re a part of us, and we’re a part of them.”
Anthony Vaughan Jr. was the youngest of the three men said to have discovered the Money Pit in 1795. According to Oak Island historian D’Arcy O’Connor, Vaughan’s father, Anthony Vaughan Sr., arrived in the Chester area from Massachusetts in 1772 and began to farm a 200-acre piece of land on the mainland directly across from Oak Island, on what is now the town of Western Shore, Nova Scotia. A number of researchers, citing archival material, maintain that Anthony Vaughan Jr. was born in 1782, making him 13 years old at the time of the Money Pit’s discovery.
It should be noted that a handful of Oak Island researchers (including the late Paul Wroclawski, a retired engineer and Oak Island historian who, prior to his death on June 15, 2014, presented his spectacularly well-researched Oak Island theories on his website www.OakIslandTheories.com), claim that Vaughan was only 6 or 7 years old at the time of the discovery, which they maintain was actually in 1788 or 1789. If true, this piece of information calls the traditional Oak Island discovery legend into question, as it is doubtful that the elder McGinnis would have called upon a 6-7 year-old boy to assist with the physically demanding task of hand-digging a 30-foot-deep pit.
Whatever the case, Anthony Vaughan Jr. lived in Chester, Nova Scotia, until his death in 1860. In his later years, his account of the 1795 discovery of the Money Pit served as a primary source for the articles which gave rise to the famous discovery legend which has been perpetuated by various writers from the mid-19th Century until the present day.
The McGinnis Sisters
In the Season 3 finale of the History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island (Season 3, Episode 13: Secrets and Revelations), the Oak Island crew was visited by the three sisters- Joan, Jean, and Joyce McGinnis- who claimed to be direct descendants of Money Pit co-discoverer Daniel McGinnis. The three sisters presented Oak Island Tours Inc. with a small, hand-hammered gold cross- a McGinnis family heirloom- and regaled them with an old McGinnis family legend.
According to this McGinnis family legend, Daniel McGinnis, John Smith, and Anthony Vaughan unearthed three treasure chests in the Money Pit in 1795. Each of these three Money Pit co-discoverers, upon swearing each other to secrecy, kept a chest for himself and his family. One particular item from the chest Daniel McGinnis claimed- the small gold cross- was handed down from father to son throughout the generations. Joan, Jean, and Joyce’s late brother Jim was the last male of the McGinnis line to inherit it. Jim McGinnis wore the cross about his neck for most of his life, even taking it with him on his tour of duty during the Vietnam War, as well as on a series of mysterious New York City business trips. During his service overseas, Jim was exposed to Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide employed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, which resulted in his developing a terminal illness decades later on American soil. On January 30, 2006, the night before his death, Jim entrusted his sister and caretaker Joan with the artifact, saying, “… don’t ever lose sight of the cross. It is the key .” The McGinnis sisters presented this cross- which, according to Oak Island historian Danny Hennigar in a 2007 article, was estimated by appraisers to be over 600 years old- to the Oak Island crew during their recitation of their family’s discovery story.
The McGinnis family version of the story of the discovery of the Money Pit- which is elaborated upon in the 2016 book Oak Island Connection: Go Back Over 200 Years to the Mysterious Beginning – is slightly different than the popular version in which McGinnis, Smith, and Vaughan are three young adventurous farm boys exploring Oak Island on a whim. Like the version of the discovery story put forth by Blockhouse Investigations (www.OakIslandCompendium.com), which is corroborated by Nova Scotia archival records, the Daniel McGinnis of the McGinnis family legend was a 37-year-old Scottish immigrant and veteran of the American Revolutionary War at the time of the discovery of the Money Pit. According to the McGinnis family legend, the first person to notice the depression in the soil on Oak Island’s Lot 18 was not Daniel McGinnis, nor John Smith, nor Anthony Vaughan, but rather Daniel’s newlywed wife (or perhaps fiancé) Maria. Maria and Daniel were lying together in a clearing in the woods on Lot 13 looking up at “the sunlight sparkling through the leaves” when Maria noticed the shape of an arrow carved into the bark of a nearby oak tree. The carving was so faded that it could only be perceived from that position. After investigating the surrounding area more thoroughly, Maria observed that the ground in the clearing was slightly concave, whereupon Daniel began to speculate that the clearing might be the site of a buried treasure. With the help of his friend John Smith and the young island resident Anthony Vaughan, McGinnis excavated the depression to a depth of 30 feet, finding a layer of flagstones just below the surface and platforms of oak logs at regular 10-foot intervals. Sometime before reaching the 30-foot level, the three men unearthed three small treasure chests, which they divided amongst themselves. Convinced that these chests comprised a decoy treasure, and that the true treasure lay far below, the three men remained more or less involved with the Oak Island treasure hunt until their deaths.
The author of this article must mention that, upon publishing an account of the the McGinnis Sisters’ visit to Oak Island in his 2016 book Oak Island, he was contacted by a well-respected Oak Island historian who presented him with evidence strongly indicating that the old family legend told by the McGinnis Sisters- specifically the part about the three decoy treasure chests- was more of a fictional tale than a historical account. In spite of this, Oak Island historian Doug Crowell, in a 2016 article, revealed several pieces of information which seem to lend credence to the claim. One such piece of information was given to them by Diana Young Gregory, a descendant of Anthony Vaughan who appears in this episode. While researching Oak Island, Gregory came across a newspaper article from September 9, 1991, written by a Nova Scotian journalist named Carl Mosher. The article states that a descendant of Anthony Vaughan was shown 25 canvas bags filled with gold by his grandmother Lucy in 1925. The man’s grandmother maintained that the treasure came from Oak Island. Unfortunately, the gold was later stolen by the man’s uncle, Edward Vaughan, who vanished shortly thereafter, leaving behind “his property, business, wife, and family.” Another piece of evidence the Blockhouse team brought to light was the fact that Oak Island treasure hunter Fred Nolan, in the early 1980’s, claimed to have discovered three ancient, empty oak chests buried in the Oak Island swamp. Three final pieces of evidence which seem to support the notion that decoy treasure chests were unearthed on Oak Island are the mysterious key introduced in Season 5, Episode 12, which Fred Nolan found on Oak Island; the keyhole covering discovered on Oak Island Lot 8 in Season 5, Episode 15; and the ruby brooch discovered the previous episode, also on Lot 8.
In Kerrin Margiano’s (Jean McGinnis’ daughter) 2016 book Oak Island Connection: Go Back Over 200 Years to the Mysterious Beginning, Joan, Jean, and Joyce McGinnis (it should be noted that Joyce McGinnis passed away on Valentine’s Day, 2016, just two and a half months before the book’s publication) elaborate on the McGinnis family stories regarding Oak Island. After reading reputable books on the history of the Oak Island treasure hunt, like D’Arcy O’Connor’s The Secret Treasure of Oak Island, or R.V. Harris’ The Oak Island Mystery, one gets the impression that the McGinnis, Smith, and Vaughan families’ interest in the Oak Island treasure hunt died with their Money Pit-discovering progenitors. On the contrary, the McGinnis sisters, in the book put together by Margiano, paint a fascinating picture of a family characterized by a two-century-long legacy of treasure hunting, suggesting that the McGinnis family never gave up on the Oak Island mystery. The McGinnis sisters recount how, in their childhood, their father and uncles would sometimes “sit around the kitchen table strategizing, drawing plans and studying maps” in an effort to solve the Oak Island riddle that had held their family in thrall for over two centuries. Joan, Jean, and Joyce recount some of the stories passed down to them by their grandfather George William “Bill” McGinnis, an Oak Island resident, and their uncles Wally, Roy, Albert, Roy, and George McGinnis. These stories include, among others:
- An alternative Money Pit discovery story, as described above.
- Daniel’s saving a badly-burned privateer who had been aboard the Young Teazer (a United States privateer schooner which, while being hounded in Mahone Bay by British Royal Navy warships during the War of 1812, was blown up by one of its crew members in the summer of 1813) a the time of its destruction.
- Daniel’s witnessing the first so-called “Teazer Light” (the ghost of the Young Teazer, manifest as a silent burning ghost ship, said to appear in Mahone Bay at the site of the explosion near the anniversary of the ship’s destruction) in the summer of 1814.
- The tale of the ghost of a red-coated British soldier said to haunt Oak Island.
- The story of a curse put on the men of the McGinnis family by a Mi’kmaq shaman.
- A secret underground hatch located a few inches below the surface in the vicinity of the ruins of the historic McGinnis family cabin.
The McGinnis sisters also tell of other family heirlooms and clues relevant to the Oak Island treasure hunt, including a gold nugget owned by their uncle Wally said to have come from Oak Island, and a copy of the mysterious document which has come to be known as La Formule.
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