How did Smith find his way to the island? Short answer is that he didn’t. He was led there by circumstance. Born in Boston Massachusetts on August 20th 1775 to parents Duncan Smith and Margaret Smith (nee MacLean), he was the second of two children -an older brother did not survive infancy. Duncan Smith was from Dumbarton, Scotland and moved to Boston as a young man, where he worked as a blacksmith. We know this because of copies of old letters that were written in Scotland to members of their family in North America. One letter, in particular, written by Margaret Smith's brother, Robert McLean, dated August 22 1775, was addressed to:
Duncan Smith - Hammerman
in Boston, New England
To the care Mr. Paddock
Couch maker there
We also know, from another letter written by Duncan’s brother William, that the Smith family had moved to Halifax Nova Scotia by August 8th 1777.
In the first letter, Duncan is referred to as a hammerman, and in the second letter, a blacksmith. They can both mean the same thing, but the term hammerman can include a wider scope of work. Similar letters written on May 6th 1780 and Sept 28th 1782 show us that Duncan was still working as a blacksmith in Halifax up until at least 1782.
So what took the Smith’s to Chester?
According to a statement made in 1888 by Susannah Laurilliard, the daughter of our John Smith, “Duncan Smith was a blacksmith and while in Halifax used to forge handcuffs for the British Government, and finally the soldiers threatened his life so he moved to Lunenburg County Nova Scotia.”
It appears that Duncan was granted land in Chester, a town lot and a lot on Oak Island. We know this because of Deeds of Sale for these land grants. Duncan sold town Lot No. 125 in Chester on September 3rd, 1784 to James Sharp for £6. Then he sold Lot No. 24 on Oak Island to Ambrose Allen on February 24th 1785 for £10. The work of a Smith family genealogist in 1955, surmised that Duncan Smith died around this time, when John would have been 9 years old. Blockhouse Investigations could find no evidence that Duncan Smith's family lived on their Oak Island lot and the Deed of Sale does not make specific mention of any structures on the lot.
How did John come to live on Oak Island?
Did he move there after buying Lot No. 18 (the Money-Pit lot) in June of 1795, the same summer the three men discovered the Money-Pit? No, John moved to Oak Island in 1788 at the age of 11 or 12, when his mother remarried to Neil McMullen. We're not sure which lot, or lots, Neil McMullen owned at the time he married Margaret Smith. But we know that in 1827 he sold lots 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 to John’s son Neal McMullen Smith. We've not been able to find records that he ever purchased a lot on Oak Island, so it appears as if they were part of a land grant. Our investigation continues into this.
We know that John Smith was aged 18 in 1795, when he bought Lot No. 18- certainly a man by the standards of that day and age. But perhaps writers of the Oak Island mystery can be forgiven for describing him as a teenager in some versions of the story told after 1900. Those that described him as a boy were simply wrong.
Other notable events in John’s life that we should acknowledge are:
By the time that the first account of the Money Pit discovery was being told, both John Smith and Daniel McGinnis (whose story you can read about here ) had passed on from worldly matters and could not tell a first-hand account of their story. This was, and remains, unfortunate.
Thanks for reading our research on John Smith. We hope it helps to connect the name to the actual life of this non-fictional character who holds a prominent role in the story of the Oak Island Mystery.
Stay tuned because we have further information to impart regarding the activities of the parties involved in discovering the Money-Pit, their families, and a more in-depth examination of the discovery story.
Good night from The Blockhouse!
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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