Is Oak Island Really the New Atlantis of Francis Bacon? Randall Sullivan Says His "Best Guess" Based on "Things I've Heard" Is Yes!
I hadn’t written much about this week’s episode of Curse of Oak Island, mostly because I find it hard to gin up much enthusiasm for watching construction equipment move earth. If I wanted to see that, I can watch it live at the dozens of construction sites around town. Plus, I was busy this week with more interesting things to do. Anyway, I eventually got around to taking a look at the episode, and it turns out that they had a crazy conspiracy this week, offered by another in the parade of know-nothing pseudo-experts who pretend to have vast insights that they can never quite back up.
Our guest expert this week was Randall Sullivan, a onetime Rolling Stone journalist who flipped over to the fringe side of things. Sullivan spent time as a “miracle detective” for the Oprah Winfrey Network TV series of that name. I don’t suppose that it will surprise anyone to discover that Sullivan has a new book coming out this summer called The Curse of Oak Island, from the Atlantic Monthly Press. As the title suggests, it is a spinoff product of the History Channel series, though it is not clear if it is authorized by the network or the producers (who promote it nonetheless), but which serves up a history of Oak Island and an account of the Lagina Brothers’ so far fruitless quest to find secret treasure under the island. It gives me no confidence that Sullivan—described here as an “Oak Island historian”—claims on air that his book is a “best guess” based on “things I’ve heard.”
Sullivan presents a remarkable and strange hypothesis (“the one theory that really connected with me”), but one that is the inevitable outgrowth of previous Oak Island hypotheses. Sullivan states that Sir Francis Bacon was the true author of the plays of William Shakespeare, and his original manuscripts are possibly hidden on Oak Island. But that’s not all. Bacon, he wrongly says, “founded” the Rosicrucian brotherhood, and therefore had a close connection to the remnants of the Knights Templar, whose occult ideology is somehow preserved by the Rosicrucian order. Therefore, the Jewish Temple treasures that the Templars are alleged to have taken may be down there with the manuscripts of Shakespeare. What’s more: Sullivan also states that Bacon’s allegory of the perfect society known as The New Atlantis really described the miniscule spit of uninhabited land known as Oak Island.
Nothing much comes of the speculation on the show, but it’s probably worth noting that Sullivan isn’t the originator of it.
At the grossest level, Francis Bacon’s connection to the Rosicrucian brotherhood is a long-established if largely evidence-free hypothesis, which occurs as far back as the Victorian writings of William Francis C. Wigston, stemming from the coincidence that the first Rosicrucian text was dated 1616, the date Shakespeare died, as well as from a conflation of Baconian philosophy with Rosicrucian beliefs and Freemasonic ideals. Some modern scholars (notably Frances Yates) have tried to maintain that the brotherhood running the New Atlantis of Bensalem was modeled on the Rosicrucians, but Bacon never once referred to the Rosicrucians or their publications in his own writings. They are unnecessary to explain Bacon’s book, and Bacon dismissed most occult societies as so much fantasy. In no wise did Bacon “found” the Rosicrucian order, whose key texts emerged in the Holy Roman Empire at any rate, regardless of whether you believe there was a real cult of Rosicrucians.
I see that in 1996 David Hatcher Childress wrote about it in his book Lost Cities of Atlantis, where he seems to have stumbled into the claim by accident. Describing the allegations by Andrew Sinclair and Michael Bradley that the medieval minor noble Henry Sinclair and the (long-disbanded) Knights Templar colonized Oak Island in the name of Jesus’ secret children (and/or the Freemasons or Rosicrucians), Childress begins to speculate about whether, if America were Atlantis, that means that Oak Island would be the New Atlantis, the place where Henry Sinclair started the occult wonderland of ancient Atlantis anew:
The fascinating concept of the Knights Templar taking the Holy Grail to the New World in order to found the New Jerusalem takes us directly into Atlantis studies. It is possible that the exploits and desires of Prince Henry influenced Sir Francis Bacon who, around the year 1600, published his unfinished utopian romance entitled The New Atlantis.
Childress offers no evidence, nor does he specifically identify the new Atlantis of Bensalem with Oak Island. Instead, he fancifully speculates that the Grail Dynasty and its secret paradise of Jesus’ descendants provided the model for Bacon’s lost Pacific island.
Three years later, in The Lost Treasures of the Knights Templar, Steven Sora discusses the claim that Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare and hid them, relating this to the Invisible College and the occult activities of John Dee, whom he suspects of being connected to Bacon in some unspecified way. Sora also connects the Invisible College with Rosicrucianism, following Yates and Wigston.
The complete version shown on Curse of Oak Island is a bit of a gross simplification and flattening of a number of different ideas, smashed together into a single claim. So far as I can find, Childress was the first to link The New Atlantis to Oak Island, but in 1987 we see references to Francis Bacon’s alleged Shakespearean manuscripts being secreted on Oak Island, as per Penn Leary’s The Crypotgraphic Shakespeare, based on speculation going back decades. We see it in 1969’s Treasure and Treasure Hunters, and in 1973, when the same claim was published in Esquire magazine, and 1977 when Business Week repeated the speculation. All of this, however, seems to be an outgrowth of Thomas P. Leary’s book The Oak Island Enigma, the 1953 work identifying the treasure of Oak Island as “the lost manuscripts of Sir Francis Bacon,” which were of course Shakespeare’s plays along with other scientific materials. However, because I haven’t read the book, I have no idea if Leary connected Oak Island with the New Atlantis. The lack of references between 1953 and 1996 suggests not.
In short, however, we’re still recycling old, unproven material and remixing it into ever more baroque combinations.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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