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Folklore of Nova Scotia
Chapter X. Buried Treasure


In many parts of Nova Scotia it is believed that treasure lies buried. When pirates robbed ships of their gold in our waters, they landed on the coast to hide their ill-gotten spoil. Under cover of night, they would gather in a secret place, dig a hole, and deposit therein the chest or pot which held their treasure. They then drew lots among themselves to determine which should be killed and buried near the gold. The spirit of this unfortunate man was to guard the treasure. Woe betide the intruder who should rashly tread that soil, or try to dig for the wealth. Hence it became necessary for treasure-seekers to take every precaution in prosecuting their search. For the locating of the treasure they used a curiously constructed rod. A small sealed bottle containing a liquid of which mercury was one of the ingredients, was flanked on either side by long strips of whale-bone attached to it by leather thongs. The free ends of the whalebone were curved outwards so as to fit on the thumbs of the person who carried the rod. Only a man whose thumbprints were perfectly circular could use it effectively. The rod was carried in absolute silence, with the bottle upwards. The bearer knew he was near the treasure when the bottle, of its own accord, swung down to the earth. There is no tradition of treasure having actually been discovered in this way; but there is one well-authenticated instance where a very valuable watch that was lost in a field was located by means of the rod. The ceremonial followed by the Acadians was very elaborate.

First, they discovered the presence of gold by means of the rod. Then they drew a large circle around the spot and sprinkled it liberally with holy water to drive away the evil guarding spirit, for to the minds of the honest Acadians, the soul of a pirate could be nothing else but damned. During the sprinkling they had to be careful to keep their heads respectfully bowed and their arms outstretched in the form of a cross. Then they struck the chest with a long iron rod bearing at its top a cross blessed by a priest. This rod was to remain fixed in the ground until the chest was unearthed. If this ceremonial was not strictly observed, the coveted wealth slipped away to another spot, and all their work was useless.

After this they began to dig in perfect silence. Every particle of earth that was dug up had to find place within the circle; even a twig or a bit of root could not be thrown outside it. (Information given by Mr. Henri Le Blanc, a native-born Acadian, and supported by Acadian tradition).

Among the Scotch and Irish settlers, there is no tradition of such a ceremonial, although they agreed with the Acadians in the necessity of silence, and the conducting the search after night. But they have left us some very definite stories of these nocturnal expeditions.

Mr. K , with two other men, went to dig for gold in a little stream near Mabou, Inverness Co. After they had worked for some time they noticed a flock of birds fly over their heads. As the night was clear and moonlit they perceived, a few moments later, a group of three men up stream a short distance away. They continued for yet a little while, when the number of onlookers suddenly seemed to grow to a hundred. Terror-stricken, they took to their heels and ran across the fields to the home of Mr. Ks aunt, closely followed by the phantom host. The old aunt, in her eagerness to serve them, went out to the dairy to get them some milk; but, to her horror, she saw the phantoms now grown to a thousand.

They explained, it thus: The spirit of the man who was left to guard the treasure summoned other spirits to his aid. These at first appeared in the form of birds, and later they transformed themselves into men. (Story told by Mr. K s son).

It was generally believed that treasure was buried on the shore opposite Margaree Island, Inverness Co. Many people used to go digging there in the hope of unearthing the long-buried gold. One night their efforts seemed to be on the point of being rewarded, for they struck what seemed to be an iron chest. Suddenly a ship appeared near at hand, out of which came men attired as pirates, who made straight for the diggers. These took flight, and reached a place of safety before their pursuers could catch up with them. The ghostly pirates surrounded the house, even pressing their ghostlike faces up against the window panes, terrifying the refugees, until the stroke of midnight made them betake themselves once more to the spirit land. (Story told by a man who heard it from the old people who lived in the district where it happened).

An old sailor who spent his life as a deep-sea fisherman around the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland told of a great iron chest that was buried just beneath the water, so that its outline could be seen very distinctly. Every time the crew tried to work around it and^.raise it up, thousands of crows, one of which was headless, would swarm around them, so that it was impossible for them to get at it. These crows they believed to be helpers of the decapitated guarding spirit.

In some sections of the country treasure seekers were not only expected to keep silence, but they were also not to have anything blessed on their persons during the digging. Otherwise they were losing their time,

for nothing would come of it. A doctor who used to go on long trips through North Cape Breton picked up the story that follows while making his rounds. At Ingonish a digger for treasure, after a long period of hard digging in the rocky soil there, struck an iron chest, and felt that his hard work was about to be rewarded. As he paused for a moment in his work he happened to look up, and to his horror, he saw suspended by a thread, directly over his head in mid-air., a millstone revolving at the rate of a thousand turns a minute. Worse than that, the devil appeared on horseback in the air with a sword ready to cut the thread. God save me! he called out, and at once the whole thing disappeared, the earth filled in above the chest, so that it was impossible to locate the place the following day.

Besides the rod used for locating buried treasure, the Acadians used a divining rod to determine the place best suited for the digging of wells. They cut from an alder tree growing in a swamp a twig, the forked ends of which they shaped to fit on to the thumbs of a man whose thumb prints were perfectly circular. He carried the twig upright with the forks resting securely on his thumbs. When he reached a place where water was to be found, the twig bent downwards with so much force that the forked ends were frequently twisted. Water was often discovered in this way.


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