By John Wonnacott- Contributing Writer- for oakislandcompendium.ca
It's now generally known that the story of how the Money Pit was discovered on Oak Island by three boys who rowed out to an uninhabited island in Mahone Bay in 1795 is simply not true. Learning the real story has not been not easy, and although we know a few important facts now, many more remain to be pieced together by patient researchers.
So if the popular story is not true, how was the Money Pit actually discovered, and by whom? And when? It’s human nature for treasure seekers to want to keep their activities secret whenever public knowledge could compromise their work somehow. I think that's why the story of the three boys discovering the Money Pit was not explained to the public until more than 50 years later – the principals involved had something to hide. So we shouldn't expect to find an old diary with all of the facts dutifully recorded and we’ll have to build the real story ourselves, piece by piece. One way to get at the truth, is to study the people who had the means, motive and opportunity to find and explore the original Money Pit. So let’s look at the first lot owners, and follow one family in particular. You’ll be surprised and intrigued, I promise!
Among the very first Oak Island lot owners was Anthony Vaughan Sr. He acquired Lot Nos. 15 and 17 in 1765 and then Lot No. 14 in 1781 – the same year that Anthony’s brother Daniel bought Lot No. 13. The Vaughn (or Vaughan) family history  says that Anthony Sr. and Daniel moved from Duchess County NY to settle in the Chester area in the 1760’s. The two brothers had equal shares in a saw mill somewhere in the local area. Possibly, they bought the island lots to have access to the timber for their mill.
Daniel Vaughn had lived an interesting life before he settled in the Mahone Bay area. He had been a commissioned British naval officer, with the rank of Lieutenant (equivalent to the rank of Army Captain), serving as a privateer. At that rank, he would have been in command of vessels smaller than three-masted ships – the size of vessel frequently used as British privateers. I don’t know any details about Daniel’s military service, but it would be fascinating to learn more, because privateers figure prominently in local history – including the 1782 sack of Lunenburg by privateers during the American Revolution (OI Lot owner Jonathon Prescott, a local magistrate at the time, is recorded to have entertained one of the privateer captains the night before the raid). In 1791 Lt. Daniel Vaughn sold his mill shares to his brother, he sold his Oak Island lot to Nathanial Melvin and he moved to Newport, NS. Then in 1793 Daniel moved to St. Martins in the newly formed province of New Brunswick, where he received a large grant of land from the Crown . And then things got very interesting for the Vaughn family in St. Martins.
From these apparently prosaic beginnings, Daniel Vaughn and his family started a ship-building business in St. Martins. Daniel’s son David Vaughn launched their first ship in 1803, the "Rachel", and other ships quickly followed. The Vaughns built ships, and they sailed and traded very successfully. At the peak of their success, the Vaughn business had offices in seven ports around the world – including New York, Seattle and Liverpool. And the question that I can’t answer is: Where did the Vaughns get the money to start a ship-building industry?
One hint regarding the source of Vaughn’s wealth can be traced to the rumors of smuggling in and around St. Martins. There are many delicious stories of smugglers linked to the community and this could be the whole story.There is another clue in Stuart Trueman’s book, “Ghosts Pirates & Treasure Trove: The Phantoms that Haunt New Brunswick”, . Trueman reported that $8000 worth of gold coins were found along the bank of the West Quaco Creek in Southern New Brunswick. (That would be around $480,000 at today’s price of gold). The story says that a box of coins had been washed out of the bank beside the stream, where a passerby found it. The story was printed in the Saint John Telegraph newspaper on 26 Oct 1864. What I found fascinating is that West Quaco Creek runs through the land that Daniel Vaughn was granted in 1793!
I've tried to find a copy of that newspaper article, with no luck. The current Editor of the Telegraph told me that the paper was not in print in 1864, and he thought the date might have been transposed incorrectly – maybe it was 1894? The late Oak Island researcher Paul Wroclawski told me he had always wanted to follow up on this buried gold coin report, and he gave me a microfiche reference number that he thought would lead to the missing newspaper article. But when I looked for the microfiche it turned out that that the critical page of records has gone missing! Not giving up, I located two researchers in New Brunswick who would help me, and I started looking for newspaper stories of gold having been found in the St. Martins area. And lo and behold, I actually found three articles. Here is the first one:
This is a remarkable story. At $5 per gold coin, the find would have amounted to 60,130 coins and the value of the gold would be over $36 million today! The article does not say exactly where the gold was found – only that it washed out of a bank. If we estimate that each coin weighed half an ounce, the physical weight of the hoard would have been over 1800 pounds! Is this the same basic story that Trueman reported on, with one story or the other exaggerated? Or were there two separate finds of gold coins in St Martins?
Now I know we can’t believe everything that is printed in a newspaper. People lied, exaggerated and just got their facts wrong 150 years ago, just as we do today. But I checked up on Mr. W.H. Rourke, who gave the interview for the amazing story. He was a well-known and well respected magistrate in St. Martins and he was a Justice of the Peace. He was also quite wealthy. That doesn’t automatically make him an honest person, but it does make one wonder why he would make that newspaper report, if it was fictional or exaggerated.
The next article that I found was recorded as being published in the same newspaper on the same day. I don’t know if the Saint John Daily Sun had two editions per day, or whether the recorded date for one of these articles is wrong, but whatever the case, the following article was printed:
This article looks to me like someone did not want the first newspaper article printed and had this one printed in an effort to discredit the story. Which one of the articles is true, if either one is? Before I discuss the implications of finding a huge hoard of gold coins on the property of a former old Oak Island land-owner, I’d like to share the third and last newspaper clipping that I found:
This story may be unconnected to the preceding discovery of gold coins at St Martins – after all Mispec is a few miles south of St. Martins, down the Bay of Fundy coast. The helmet and sword have nothing to do with gold coins, and there could be a dozen explanations for their discovery. But the reference to a “pot of old gold coins” found on the same property four years ago (ie.1879) certainly caught my eye. Finding old gold coins is rare, and two or three finds in the same small geographical area goes beyond pure co-incidence, I believe.
My working hypothesis is that Lt. Daniel Vaughn and his brother Anthony, and possibly some other OI lot owners discovered the Money Pit sometime after 1766. I think they could have dug down, found and recovered a decoy treasure that some people believe was buried at a depth around 100 feet. When they attempted to dig further, a flood tunnel was encountered and the hole filled with water to sea level. Those first searchers kept the whole story a secret, known only to close family members. Daniel Vaughn took his share of the recovered treasure and moved away, setting up himself and his family in the shipbuilding business in St. Martins, New Brunswick. Anthony Vaughn Jr. stayed in the Mahone Bay area and in 1795 he started exploring the Money Pit, trying to find more of the treasure that his uncle had found. When Anthony Jr. finally told the story to the public 50 years later, he used his uncle’s description of the log platforms etc, and somewhere between then and now, someone embellished the story with an account of an old oak tree and a ships pulley hanging over a depression in the soil.
Ok, I admit this is a fantastic theory, based on a few thin facts – and in this blog we want to stick to facts and serious investigations. So I want to challenge other readers to investigate other parts of this story. Let’s investigate the details of the lives of the early Oak Island Lot owners. How many of them came into unexplained wealth around the same time as Daniel Vaughn left the area? Can we generally agree to use this as a working theory that further research will help us prove or disprove?
Somewhere in the world, I hope there are old documents sitting in the bottom of a forgotten box, that shed some more light on the Vaughn family and the possibility that Lt. Daniel Vaughn found treasure on Oak Island. Somewhere there may be a few family heirlooms that originate from Oak Island – possibly some gold coins. It would be so gratifying, if this story helped find some of those documents and heirlooms. Studying them would be invaluable!
No matter what you think of all of this, I hope you’ll agree that it is interesting and intriguing. It’s part of our Nova Scotia heritage.
From The Blockhouse
is published by Blockhouse Investigations and oakislandcompendium.ca
in Nova Scotia, Canada
Editors and Chief Correspondents
Kelly W. Hancock, CD
John Wonnacott, P. Eng.
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