When Nicolas Cage took on the leading role of Benjamin Franklin Gates in the first installment of National Treasure, he showed us how awesome it would be to become a treasure hunter. He also showed us how awesome American history can be once you get below the textbook definitions of it.
The story follows Cage's character, Ben Gates, as he attempts to steal the Declaration of Independence so that the bad guys don't get it first. The movie runs on the premise that there is a secret treasure map on the back of the document, and that it will lead whoever has it to a secret Templar treasure hidden somewhere in the United States.
The movie has raised a number of questions surrounding the historical accuracy of the "facts" portrayed throughout the story, and it's time that a few of them were answered for fans across the country.
1. Were the Knights Templar real people?
Yes, the Knights Templar were very much real people. During the middle-ages, the group amassed a huge amount of wealth and power, which is ultimately what led to their eventual downfall at the hands of the Catholic Church.
2. Are the Freemasons real people as well?
The Freemasons are very much real. In fact, they are one of the longest running "secret" societies left in the world. They have moved into the public light in recent decades, and if you want to join you should reach out to the local lodge to see what you need to do.
3. Did the Freemasons evolve out of the Knights Templar?
There are rumors that the Masons were a product of the destruction of the Templars, but there is no proof to back that up. Most historians agree that the Masons were a separate group that formed on their own.
4. Is there really a Templar treasure hidden somewhere?
Obviously, one has never been found, but based on the amount of power the Templar Knights had, it is safe to assume they were sitting on a load of valuables. Legend says the treasure was smuggled out of Europe and transported across the Atlantic to be hidden on an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. Allegedly, the treasure was then moved again to somewhere in the continental United States. All we can say at this point is that it's a legend with some possibility of being fact.
5. Is there a map on the Declaration of Independence?
No. There is no map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. There is writing on the back of the document but it is just routine information: Original Declaration of Independence, dated 4th July 1776. The ink is not invisible nor is there any hidden code included.
6. Did Freemasons really design the layout of Washington D.C.?
The short answer is no, they didn't. The primary architect of Washington was Pierre L'Enfant, and even though he has sometimes been said to be a Mason, there is absolutely no historical proof that he was.
7. Were all the founding fathers Freemasons?
No, they weren't, regardless of what you would like to believe. Sure, several founders were definitely Masons: George Washington, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Paul Revere. But of the 56 men who signed the document, only nine of them were confirmed to be members of the Masons. Going further, only 13 of the 39 members of the original Continental Congress were Masons.
National Treasure was a very entertaining movie, and it helped spark the love of history in a great number of people. But unfortunately, it was rife with historical inaccuracies in order to make its plotline work. That doesn't take away from the meaning behind it all though, that America is rich in history, and you never really know what is out there until you go looking.
Did you want to become a treasure hunter after watching this movie?