I’ve been watching the fascinating, albeit slow moving, The Curse of Oak Island on the History Channel. This reality television series chronicles a team of treasure hunters and their search for legendary treasure on Oak Island, on the coastal area of Nova Scotia, Canada.
In one of the episodes, a theory was presented that treasure was buried on Oak Island by Captain William Phips in the mid-1600s. As the Oak Island team was discussing this theory, the name Captain Andrew Belcher was mentioned as mariner connected with Phips.
I said to myself, “Wait a minute, that name Belcher is familiar!” The next day, I looked back at my family history records. I was right! I have a third great-uncle named Charles Belcher, Jr. (1836-1903). My third great-aunt Helen Spaulding (1838-1878) married Charles on Christmas Day in 1861. Helen was the daughter of my third-great grandparents Addison and Nancy Spaulding. More on this family connection in a bit – but first the treasure story.
The Concepción Treasure Story
On September 28, 1641, a Spanish treasure fleet set sail for Seville, Spain, from Havana, Cuba. The galleon ship Concepción, already damaged from a hurricane during their first attempt at the crossing, was loaded to the gunwales with New World silver and other treasures.
During this voyage, the fleet once again encountered a hurricane. The Concepción was severely damaged and drifted under make-shift sails for days. Then on October 31, 1641, the once-magnificent Concepción ran aground amidst the reefs north of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea. Today, the island of Hispaniola is divided into the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Rumors of a vast Spanish treasure lost at sea circulated throughout the Caribbean and made its way to the colonies in New England. In 1685, Captain William Phips was granted rights by the King of England to search for the Concepción and recover its treasure. In 1687, Captain Phips, who would later become the governor of Massachusetts, discovered and salvaged part of Concepción’s treasure. Another mariner named Captain Andrew Belcher assisted Captain Phips in this salvaging effort.
In 1686, the divers and ship’s crews worked to recover silver coins, silver bullion, doubloons, jewelry, and other artifacts. Local native free-divers who trained themselves to stay underwater for extended periods of time were used in the recovery efforts. Captain Phips returned to England in 1687 with over 68,000 pounds of silver. He was Knighted for his resolute efforts for England.
The Oak Island Mystery
The Oak Island Mystery refers to stories of buried treasure and unexplained objects found on Oak Island in the Canadian providence of Nova Scotia. Theories abound regarding the relics buried on the island to include: pirate treasure, Shakespearean manuscripts and ancient Israeli artifacts like the Ark of the Covenant buried by the Knights Templar. The Curse of Oak Island reality television series on the History Channel records the current day exploration of the island by brothers Rick and Marty Lagina.
An old map from 1701 was discovered that denoted a small island labeled “La Plata” (meaning The Silver) off the coast of Nova Scotia. La Plata was the same name given to the site where the treasure trove of silver from the Concepción was recovered by Captain Phips in 1686. In comparing the 1701 map to today, it appears that La Plata and Oak Island are one in the same.
In 1795, ninety-four years after the 1701 map was created, a local teenager named Daniel McGinnis was on a fishing trip with his friends. Daniel noted a depression in the ground on Oak Island. He began digging with his friends and discovered a manmade shaft with wooden planks every ten feet. This find was later referred to as the “Money Pit”.
Researchers who have plotted Captain Phip’s activities subsequent to his salvaging of the Concepción, suggest he had both the time and resources to construct the “Money Pit” on Oak Island. Why? It was likely in order to hide additional treasure he recovered from the Concepción.
The Captain Kidd Connection
Captain William Kidd was a notorious seventeenth century pirate. There are numerous stories of Captain Kidd’s treasure buried on small coastal islands off New York City, New England and Canada. Early settlers of Nova Scotia tell the story of a dying sailor from the crew of Captain Kidd stating that treasure worth millions had been buried on Oak Island.
Captain Andrew Belcher was one of five men entrusted with inventorying Captain William Kidd’s treasure discovered on Gardiner’s Island. Gardiner’s Island is a small island in the Town of East Hampton, New York. An inventory of Kidd’s Gardiner’s Island treasure conducted on July 25, 1699 included silver bars, diamonds, bags of gold bars and gold dust, jewelry and more. Captain Kidd was tried and executed in London in 1701 for murder and piracy.3
Captain Andrew Belcher was reimbursed for expenses incurred in preparation for the trials of pirates like Captain William Kidd. The following records were noted in The Book of Buried Treasure by Ralph D. Paine:
The Belcher–Spaulding Connection
The Belcher–Spaulding connection story begins with Gregory Belcher (1606-1674). Gregory was born in Aston, Warwickshire, England and was a carpenter. He and his wife Catherine Buckley (1610-1680) migrated to the colonies in Braintree, Massachusetts. It’s interesting to note that Edward Spaulding, the progenitor of the Massachusetts Branch of the family, also lived in Braintree during this period.
Gregory’s brother Andrew Belcher, Sr. (1614-1673) was born in Danbury, England. He married Elizabeth Danforth (1619-1680) and also migrated to American colonies. Andrew Belcher was a Tavernier and he owned the Blue Anchor Tavern located at Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Andrew, Sr. and Elizabeth’s son Andrew Belcher, Jr. (1646-1717) married Sarah Gilbert in 1670.
Sarah (Gilbert) Belcher was the daughter of Johnathan Gilbert, a merchant with a flourishing trade with Indians and Settlers along the Connecticut River. Jonathan had major influence on his son-in-law Andrew. By late 1670s, now “Captain” Andrew Belcher was one of Boston’s major suppliers and his trading network was growing rapidly.
Captain Andrew Belcher rose from humble beginnings to become one of the wealthiest men in New England. Captain Belcher owned more than twenty ships and had a vast trading network from Europe to the Caribbean. Andrew and Sarah’s son, Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) was Colonial Governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire from 1730-1741.
Below is the Belcher ancestral tree (with marriages) for the next 200 years from 1637 to 1836 to where the Belcher–Spaulding connection occurs:
Charles Belcher, Jr. became my third great-uncle when he married my third great-aunt Helen (Spaulding) Belcher. Helen is daughter of my third great-grandparents Addison and Nancy Spaulding and sister of my third great-uncles Henry, Oscar and William Sidney Spaulding.
Helen (Spaulding) Belcher died on May 29, 1878 at a heartbreakingly young age of forty. Helen is buried in Spaulding family plot number 1195 at the Lowell Cemetery in Massachusetts.
A Chance Civil War Meeting
My third great-uncle, Private Charles Belcher, Jr., served in Company C of the 19th Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War. He was captured by Confederate forces in Petersburg, Virginia on June 22, 1864. Private Belcher was then transferred to the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia.
Helen Spaulding’s cousin Private Henry Spaulding of Company F of the 1st Vermont Cavalry was captured and transferred to Andersonville just three weeks prior. It’s likely that Private Charles Belcher, Jr. would have met his wife Helen’s cousin Henry Spaulding while at Andersonville.
Imagine how that initial conversation may have went:
In the midst of the dreadfulness of Andersonville, perhaps a brief moment of joy occurred between these two soldiers when Charles, after discovering Henry was a Spaulding, would have likely proclaimed: “My wife Helen is a Spaulding!” Turns out that Henry and Helen were first cousins. Henry’s father Otis Spaulding was Helen’s uncle, the younger brother of her father Addison Spaulding.
History is so vast – yet so closely woven together. The Belcher-Spaulding treasure connection and the Belcher-Spaulding meeting at Andersonville are classic examples of the small-world phenomenon.
Sadly, just a month later on August 12, 1864, Private Henry Spaulding died in the Andersonville prison camp of “scorbutus” at age twenty. Private Charles Belcher, Jr., however, was one of the fortunate that survived the horror of Andersonville. Union troops liberated the camp in May of 1865 a few weeks after General Lee surrendered to General Grant ending the Civil War. You can read the entire compelling story of cavalryman Private Henry Spaulding in my book Fortitude.
Discovering Your Past
I wonder if my third great-uncle Charles Belcher, Jr. was aware of the treasure explorations of his ancestor Captain Andrew Belcher? Were these stories of adventure on the high seas passed down through the generations? Personally, I would have never discovered these stories if it weren’t for a subtle mention of Captain Andrew Belcher on the History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island.
What this blog post has taught me is that we need to be continuous learners of history. There are limitless yet to be discovered stories of our past. So, the next time you’re enjoying a show on The History Channel and a name surfaces that seems familiar, take some time to do some investigation.
You may be astonished as to what you discover! It’s a small world after all.
- Small World Photo (pexels-artem-beliaikin-1079033.jpg) by Artem Beliaikin is free to use from Pexels.com.
- Oak_Island.png by Norman Einstein is licensed with CC BY-SA 3.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en
- Paine, Ralph D. The Book of Buried Treasure. (London: William Heinemann, 1911), 70.
- Paine, Ralph D., 140.
- Paine, Ralph D., 141.
- Andersonville_Prison.jpg, a drawing by Thomas O’Dea in 1884, is in the public domain.
5 thoughts on “The Small World Phenomena”
I love all your connected stories, Dale. I don’t know who has dug the longest and deepest……you or the Oak Island team!!!! I would bet on you!!
This is absolutely fascinating stuff Dale. One could follow several rabbit holes for a long time. Its really amazing. I have been meaning to finish your book and write a review (and I will), but I have fallen behind in my reading. I just returned from a two week road trip across the country and am currently looking for work so other priorities have kept my attention. I do look forward to reading more. Hope you are doing well sir. God Bless!
Thanks for the encouragement my friend. I appreciate it.
Hi Dale However nice of you.I just came home and found a package on the porch. I knew I had not ordered anything lately with recent surgery and adjusting to retirement. Danielle is doing better now thanks to Dana Farber no live cancer cells detected but now til December getting radiation. Thank you again Your cousin Jill