In researching the Henry Sinclair story, I’ve found one claim repeated frequently in the recent literature: The Mi’kmaq (Micmac) people worshiped Henry Sinclair as a god named Glooscap, and the myth of Glooscap is identical to the history of Henry Sinclair. Glooscap was first introduced to non-Native audiences through the 1894 book The Legends of the Micmacs by Silas Rand, the basis for many later retellings. Most subsequent writers are not aware that Rand’s stories were not meant to be comprehensive or definitive since folklore takes many forms and undergoes many variants across time and space.
Well, if there is a cult of Henry Sinclair in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, it’s worth looking for. Sadly, this is another case where alternative writers simply repeat each other and never check the sources. But in checking those sources, I also discovered some interesting facts about the Nova Scotia connection that pretty much negate any attempt to identify Sinclair with Oak Island.
Frederic J. Pohl’s contribution to the Henry Sinclair literature is interesting. He bought into the Zeno Narrative hook, line, and sinker to the extent that in a 1959 journal article, he simple asserted that it told the story of Henry Sinclair and referred skeptical readers to Richard Henry Major’s fraudulent conclusions from nearly a century earlier. Based on this acceptance, he identified seventeen “parallel details” between his version of Henry Sinclair and the Wabanaki culture hero Glooscap, the gigantic creator god of several indigenous mythologies. While Pohl would vary the exact set of parallel details across twenty years’ worth of books, his claims appear unchanged in Holy Bloodline and Templar conspiracy literature down to the present day, including some of the best sellers in the genre.
So, since this is another of the foundational pillars of the Sinclair myth, I thought it was worth examining all seventeen correspondences one by one to see how closely they conform to the real Henry Sinclair and his assumed fictional counterpart, Zichmni of Frisland. Comparisons with Glooscap are a bit more complicated since the figure is shared among many Native/First Nations groups and has different attributes and roles in each. Pohl admits in Prince Henry Sinclair (1974) that he derived his information from Rand, and, frankly, he just straight up lied, as we shall see. I think he took the whole book for a discussion of Glooscap, which it is not.
In the analysis below, Pohl’s exact words from the 1959 journal article “A Nova Scotia Project” are in bold and my comments are below in standard type. Pohl later expanded upon this in his books, with citations to Rand’s text, and in places he altered the correspondences in later books. For example, in later works, he “interprets” Glooscap’s magical floating island covered in rocks and trees (Rand, p. 186) as a European ship with masts and sails. It would be a rather small sailing ship to make it into an inland lake.
1-2. Each was a "prince" who came across the ocean via Newfoundland.
No document asserts Henry Sinclair ever set foot on Newfoundland.
The Zeno Narrative says only that Zichmni reached Greenland (Engronelanda). Only Richard Henry Major’s special pleading extended this to Canada. He identified some of the Zeno Narrative’s references to a large Atlantic island of Estotiland as Newfoundland, for which the text and the accompanying map offer no true warrant. He derived this from the idea that the Vikings had landed in Newfoundland.
In anthropologists’ collections of myth, Glooscap did not come across the ocean but rather was a giant who, in the form of a beaver, created Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, which he used as his bed and pillow. Even in Rand, he is not a prince, though there is a legend in Rand’s book about an unrelated prince, from which Pohl appears to have conflated his version.
3-4. Each was a "king", who had often sailed the seas.
Henry Sinclair was not a king. He was a baron and an earl, and in both roles was the feudal vassal of the Scottish and Norwegian kings. There is no evidence he did any sailing beyond his voyages to and from Norway.
Zichmni sailed the Atlantic, and the Zeno Narrative said he held the title of “prince.”
Glooscap was not a king, though he was often called the Great Chief (Ukchesakumau); he was a god. He also held the title of Lord of Man and Beast, much as Artemis was Mistress of Animals and Yahweh simply went by the Lord. Pohl confuses him for the “King” in Rand’s unrelated “Legend of the Magical Coat, Shoes, and Sword,” but these figures are not the same. In legend, Glooscap uses a boat to sail out into the sea to hunt a whale, which is not the same as voyaging across the ocean.
5-7. The home of each was in a "large town", on an "island", and each brought with him many "soldiers".
Henry Sinclair’s home was for most of his life Roslin, in Scotland, a small town. By “island” I can’t tell whether Pohl means Britain or Orkney. While he did have knights who fought for him, his battles were in Britain and Orkney.
Zichmni is only said to have traveled to Greenland with “some sailors” who fled from some islanders en route because they had no protection. Confusingly, later “one hundred soldiers” are said to be among the crew.
Glooscap was believed to live alone in the wilderness in a Great Wigwam at Cape Blomidon, though Rand assigns him a wigwam on an island (p. 23), though only temporarily. (He has several different residences in different tales, usually wigwams.) The “large town” is a place Glooscap visits in Rand’s book (p. 73), but he doesn’t live there. I cannot find any reference to him having soldiers, though in some tales he has several companions. More often, he is opposing the soldiers of human chiefs. Again, Pohl seems to have conflated Glooscap with human kings in Rand’s book and assigned him their soldiers.
8. The principal weapon of each was "a sword of sharpness", (hence he came before the advent of firearms).
Henry Sinclair probably used a sword, but so would anyone else, including the Vikings.
Zichmni’s weapon is never described, if indeed he used one.
The “Sword of Sharpness” appears in the unrelated “Legend of the Magical Coat” (Rand, p. 14) and again has nothing to do with Glooscap. In fact, it isn’t even in the story proper but is rather Rand’s fanciful description in his introductory note to the story. Glooscap does not have a regular weapon in Rand’s stories but relies on magic.
9. Each had three daughters.
I’m sure someone will correct me, but I can’t find any evidence Henry I Sinclair had three daughters. The only Henry Sinclair I can find who had three daughters and no sons was a random fellow whose case ended up in the Scottish court system in 1835. Our Henry Sinclair had two daughters and three sons, according to the Sinclair Diploma, the only record of his issue; and Burke’s Peerage similarly asserts that our Henry Sinclair had multiple sons.
Zichmni’s children are never described.
The king in the “Legend of the Magical Coat” has three daughters, not Glooscap (Rand, p. 14).
10. Each explored Nova Scotia extensively.
Henry Sinclair did not explore Nova Scotia according to any extant record.
Zichmni traveled in search of “Estotiland” which Major identified with Newfoundland, and arrived in Engronelanda, which Major identified with Greenland. (I agree with him on this point, though others have suggested other identifications, including Shetland, Friesland, Iceland, etc.) Nova Scotia is entirely Pohl’s own insertion into the myth, based on a sighting of burning pitch, which Pohl asserts must refer to a natural feature of Nova Scotia. (See below.)
Pohl follows Rand (pp. 291-2) where Glooscap, on a hunting trip, travels around Nova Scotia and produces miraculous events, including the creation of rock bridges and the slaughter of copious quantities of animals. As the creator of Nova Scotia, I’m not sure how much exploring of it he’d need to do, but an itinerant god is rather standard in Native myth.
11. Each spent only one winter in the land.
Henry Sinclair did not explore Nova Scotia according to any extant record.
Even interpreting the land of burning pitch as Nova Scotia, Zichmni does not spend only one winter. His crew fear the coming winter and leave, so Zichmni contrives to stay, and he founds a colony. According to the Zeno Narrative, he is still living there when Antonio Zeno returns to Italy, and the younger Zeno (the author of the book in 1558) states explicitly that Zichmni settled on his new island and lived there for the rest of his life.
Glooscap spent one winter in a wigwam at Cape D’Or (Rand, p. 292), but he was active in the area for all of time, being a god and all.
12. Each built a ship and sailed home in it.
Henry Sinclair never built a boat. Even if he did sail somewhere, there is no evidence of building a new ship when he got where he was going.
Zichmni never built a boat either. Pohl interprets the fact that Zichmni kept only a few small canoes with him on Greenland as evidence he planned to build a new, larger boat to sail home, but this is an assumption based on circular reasoning; the Zeno text says he stayed put and used the small boats to explore both coasts of Greenland.
Glooscap’s first ship was previously described as a floating island. Later, he left the Mi’kmaq sailing away on the back of a whale (Rand, p. 228). Pohl, in his later books, reinterprets this—without warrant—as a boat by suggesting Native people could not fathom a large ship and thought it a whale. Rand states that Glooscap explicitly sailed west to the mainland, not east across the Atlantic.
13. Neither one was a religious teacher, but a man who lived like other men, a secular individual.
Henry Sinclair was a nobleman who had feudal privilege over his fellows.
Zichmni was a prince and lived as absolute ruler of his country.
Glooscap was a god. I’m not sure how a god can live secularly.
14-16. Each ascended a high hill or mountain and discerned in the great distance another high hill or mountain ("monte" in Zeno narrative, "mountain" in Indian legend) to visit which involved a journey of "eight days" (Zeno narrative) and "at least a week" (Glooscap legend).
Henry Sinclair does not have any documented evidence of mountain climbing.
In the Zeno Narrative, Zichmni sees a mountain in the distance at the newly-discovered island (Engronelanda) and sends 100 soldiers to explore it. They travel to and from the mountain and report back to Zichmni, who waits in the boat. This takes eight days (meaning four out and four back). They did not see a second mountain.
This incident is reported in Rand on page 257, but although the mountain seems to be a week away, he and his companions actually reach it by mid-afternoon of the same day.
17. Each had the same character, being notably generous, except when openly defied.
This is so general it could apply to anyone. Pohl took the wording directly from Rand, p. xlv, the same page where Rand notes that the Mi’qmak state that Glooscap was present at the time when the Europeans colonized Nova Scotia, after 1605.
And now for that burning pitch…
In the Zeno Narrative, Antonio Zeno supposedly encounters the following in the land of Engronelanda:
After eight days the hundred soldiers returned, and brought word that they had been through the island and up to the mountain, and that the smoke was a natural thing proceeding from a great fire in the bottom of the hill, and that there was a spring from which issued a certain matter like pitch, which ran into the sea, and that thereabouts dwelt great multitudes of people half wild, and living in caves.
Pohl explains it thus: “In the Pictou region of Nova Scotia, at Stellarton, an open coal seam burned at the bottom of a hill, from the top of which pitch flowed down in what is now called ‘Coal Brook’ and crossed the burning seam.” Pohl fails to note that this is not a continuous feature. The coal seam at Stellarton, called the Foord Seam, was reported to have caught fire more than once in historic times, including a stretch from 1870 to 1901, but I can find no evidence that the seam was actively burning prior to the start of coal mining in the area in the 1830s, when mining activity sparked several fires. In fact, according to the 1901 Annual Report of the Geologic Survey of Canada ("Coal Field of Pictou County, Nova Scotia," p. 35), the fires actually occurred within the mines, not in the open air, and were driven by natural gas released from mining activities.
But beyond this, in the passage Pohl cites, Zeno seems to be repeating himself. For earlier in the narrative, he has the elder Nicolò Zeno make a first voyage to Engronelanda:
Here he found a monastery of the order of Friars Preachers, and a church dedicated to St. Thomas, hard by a hill which vomited fire like Vesuvius and Etna. There is a spring of hot water there with which they heat both the church of the monastery and the chambers of the Friars, and the water comes up into the kitchen so boiling hot, that they use no other fire to dress their victuals.
The exports of this land are “brimstone and pitch.”
The second version seems very much like the author has duplicated an enhanced his first version, repeating the volcano and transforming the hot spring to a pitch spring in conflating the details of the lengthier first version into the more compact second.
But here’s the clincher: As noted as long ago as 1899 (in anonymous article in The Spectator), both versions have a clear antecedent in Olaus Magnus’ description of Iceland from his 1555 History of the Northern Peoples, published in Italy just three years before the Zeno Narrative. There, he describes a monastery at the foot of one volcano, and he elsewhere talks about burning waters. The illustration below (from book 2, ch. 2) shows the burning hills, the volcanoes, with fire at the bottom of the hills, and rivers of hot substances (presumably lava, but someone with no knowledge of volcanoes might mistake it for pitch) flowing into large cauldrons for a heating system and then onward, presumably to the sea.
The next illustration (Book 2, ch. 1), also of Iceland, shows a river and a lake of burning pitch and sulfur beside a smoking mountain and a village.
It seems that Zeno, adapting Olaus’ three volcanoes of Iceland to two for his fictional version of Greenland, assigned his Greenland monastery to one and made the lake of burning pitch into rivers of the stuff, and he simply accepted Olaus’ false but popular idea that volcanoes burned from the bottom.
So, given that every correlation Pohl makes between Henry Sinclair and Glooscap evaporates before facts, and given that the only evidence Zichmni made it to Nova Scotia can be better explained through Zeno’s use of Olaus, the entire Sinclair-Oak Island myth crumbles before the truth: This was just another myth assembled from ignorance, a willful misreading of texts, and blatant lies.
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