OAK ISLAND: Clues and suspects


The game of Clue is a board game developed in 1949, currently distributed by the American game and toy company, Hasbro. The object of the game is to determine who murdered the game’s victim, where the crime took place, and which weapon was used. Then each player deduces the answer by strategically moving around a game board representing the rooms of a mansion, collecting clues and finally solving the mystery of who the murderer was and where they did the crime and with what weapon. Its an amazing game and I still enjoy playing it today.

This is not far off off how we should be looking at the various clues left behind in Canada, and elsewhere, as to who was visiting these shores in the Great Gap. The Great Gap would be between the years 1000 and 1497, when it is said the Norse came here and then 500 years later, John Cabot.. Who would be capable of making a trans-oceanic journey during that time? Why would they come, what is their motivation? Are there clues left behind that can help us determine the answer to these questions?

So, using a detective game as our inspiration, let’s examine the Who, What, When, and Where of this very vague historical gap.


In between 1000 and 1497 you would need to get to Canada via a boat of some sort. So who had boats that could successfully cross the Atlantic during that time?



Being hardy seafarers for centuries, and with their success at crossing the Atlantic being already proven with their ruins and objects left behind at L’Anse Aux Meadows, we can consider the Norse as a suspect on Oak Island. Their recorded sagas of the journey tell us that they left Canada to return home again due to strife within their group and with the indigenous population. The hardships of settlement in what was likely the Miramichi area just wasn’t worth their time here. That’s not to say other Norse settlers came over, it’s just that those trips were not recorded, and I believe there is proof of that in the Arctic regions where they found European objects which have been carbon dated to around the 1300s.

figure 1300

A white pine figure carved of cloaked person with a cross on the chest, dated to 1250-1300. (Image:Museum Of History)

Those objects, some of which are on display at the Museum Of Canadian History, include chain mail armour, sword blades, oak wood barrels, a carved figure in a tunic with a cross (that story previously told here) and woven cloth. Was it the Norse? Could it have been someone else from Europe? Perhaps Northern Irish or Scottish adventurers made their way over to Canada, venturing into Nova Scotia, Mahone Bay and Oak Island.



Statue of Corte-Real in St. John’s, NFLD (image: Wikipedia)

The Portugese only became leaders of exploration during their intensive maritime exploits of the 15th and 16th centuries, focusing mostly on Africa and the southern Atlantic. There is speculation that a Portuguese sailor by the name of João Vaz Corte-Real visited Canada in 1473, which is based on a recording of his adventures from Gaspar Frutuoso’s book “Saudades de terra” from around 1570-80. In it there is a description of a claim Corte-Real discovered a place called Terra Nova do Bacalhau ( New Land of the Codfish), which is considered to be modern day Newfoundland. A statue of him is in St. John’s, NFLD.

Evidence of their travels to Atlantic Canada can be seen in various place names, such as Labrador, which is thought to be named after João Fernandes, a “lavrador,” (a farmer).

It is said that Alvares Fagundes in 1520 tried to set up a colony in Canada, yet its location  has never been found, possibly it is in Cape Breton. There are no permanent Portuguese settlements currently known to have lasted, with many of these 15th-16th century Portuguese fisherman staying in their boats up near Newfoundland, a presence that is still seen today while they fish for cod on the Grand Banks. It seems unlikely these boat based fishermen would have come south to Oak Island, but they are a suspect nonetheless.



Nicolo Zeno (Wikipedia)

During the 14th century, two brothers from Venice, Italy by the names of Nicolò and Antonio Zeno became famous during the Renaissance for an alleged adventure exploring the waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic regions. They had another brother, a Venetian naval hero named Carlo Zeno. This whole Zeno family was part of the Venice aristocracy and held the franchise for transport between Venice and the Holy Land during the Crusades. The Zenos built up a sizable amount of wealth and were well established in Venice.

Now it should be mentioned before we dig deeper into the Zenos and their important part in this mystery that the academic community considers their stories a fraud. For reasons about to be mentioned, the Zenos have never really been considered a plausible source of historic fact, but you, as the reader, can decide if what we are about to hear is real or a fabrication.

In the year 1558, 150 years after the deaths Nicolo and Antonio Zeno, a family descendant discovered a series of letters, maps and correspondence between the two brothers written around 1400. In these old letters it is recorded that the Zeno members embarked on a fantastic voyage of exploration throughout the North Atlantic to distant lands under the command of a prince named Zichmni. (More on Zichmni later)

ZenoMap 1561

The Zeno map of their adventures showing the places they explored, including “Estotiland” shown on the far left, possibly Nova Scotia.


In the letters Nicolo wrote to his brother Antonio, Nicolo says he headed from Venice to England in 1380 and then returned to Venice five years later around 1385. In that time Nicolo says he was blown off course in his ship, running aground and stranded on an island. Here on this island Nicolo was rescued by someone called  “Zichmni”, who is described as a prince who owned some islands off the coast of another island called Frislanda. He ruled the area of Sorand, south-east of Frislanda.

Nicolo in the letters says he and his brother should go back to Frislanda, which they do and hang out with this said Prince Zichmni. While there, the Zeno brothers and Zichmni decide to embark on some adventures to Iceland and around the northern Scottish islands of the Shetlands and Faroe Islands. While on this adventure the gang meets a fisherman who was apparently blown off course and was stranded in a far off land for 25 years. Here the fisherman encountered strange animals, natives and a man with books who spoke Latin. The fisherman had eventually made it back to Frislanda and recounted the tale to his prince, Zichmni. Inspired by this fantastic voyage Zichmni decides he too wants to visit this land described by the fisherman and puts Antonio Zeno in charge of a fleet of ships to make the voyage to the distant land mentioned by the fisherman.

The year is now 1398 and Zichmni and Antonio Zeno sail west of Frislanda where they land in a place they call “Trin”, on the southern end of place they call “Engrouelanda”. Zichmni likes the climate and the soil, but his sailors find it inhospitable so they return home with Antonio while Zichmni remains behind with some of his men to explore the area and build a town. Maps were drawn of the exploration and were included with the letters that were written.


First of all, let’s see if any of this makes sense. Frislanda is thought to be the area of northern Scotland and the Faroe Islands. If we look at the names mentioned, the land ruled by Prince Zichmni is called Sorand, or “Sorant”, possibly a translation of “Scotland”. If we look at who was ruling northern Scotland and the Faroe Islands during the 1380-98 time period, we come across the name Johann Reinhold Forster. Forster was an 18th century naturalist, best known as the resident naturalist on James Cook’s second Pacific voyage in 1772. Forster proposed that Zichmni was in fact the Earl of Orkney, Henry Sinclair. Henry Sinclair was the son and heir of William Sinclair, Lord of Roslin, and his wife Isabella, daughter of Maol Ísa, Jarl of Orkney, or “Earl Of Orkney”.



map1 copy

Orkney is a set of islands north of Scotland, invaded and forcibly annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse. Henry Sinclair took over the lands from Norway in 1379 as the earldom passed to the Sinclair family, who were also barons of Roslin near Edinburgh in Scotland. Sinclair Of Orkney, which makes Orkney being the possible location of Frislanda. When we compare a map of the Zenos of Frislanda, and the Orkney islands, they are a match. The only confirmed map of Scotland is from 1560, the exact same time the Zeno map was found. The “confirmed” map of Scotland clearly shows Orkney as an island as does the Zeno map, which called is Frislanda.



A confirmed authentic map of Scotland showing Orkney from 1560. (image: BBC)

These elements lead Forster to claim that Sinclair and Zichmni were one and the same, as his timeline of rule, places of rule and his actions match the Zeno narrative. It must be noted that despite the fact that most historians call the Zeno maps and letters a hoax, there is a remarkable number of coincidences that so make it seem plausible.


Sinclair of Scotland or Zichmni of Sorand?

The Zeno story does seem fantastical, and it outlines details that seem hard to imagine and the reasoning for including them puzzling. For example Antonio Zeno describes a spring of pitch running down to the sea int the newly discovered land. Detractors of the Zeno stories say that if it was Henry Sinclair that was Zichmni, then why isn’t there a record of the trip in Sinclair’s official history? Perhaps history sometimes doesn’t need to be written down to be accepted, and in fact, maybe it was Zeno who was put in charge of recording the event for Sinclair/Zichmni?

These are the major suspects as to who could have been lurking in the Nova Scotia area in the distant past. More recent suspects that may have been at Oak Island also come into play…



Captain Kidd after his execution in 1701.

One of the earliest theories about Oak Island is that it held treasure buried there by Captain Kidd. Born in Scotland himself, Kidd was a known pirate on the New England coast, and before his execution in 1701, was known to have buried his treasures before his arrest while sailing an obscure sloop, so it is possible Kidd came to the island.

Perhaps Spanish sailors went to Oak Island to hold treasure from a wrecked ship. Another theory is that there were British troops stationed there during the American Revolution, or that they buried loot on the island from the British invasion of Cuba.

During the Seven Years War between 1756 and 1763, it could have also been French Army engineers hiding the treasures of the Fortress Of Louisburg after it fell to the British.

There are many clues on Oak Island that reveal who was most likely there, clues we will look at in a future post. These and more will become more clear in the following pages as we peel back the layers of a very complex puzzle on Oak Island.

TOMORROW: The Island.

Andrew King, May 26th, 2018


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