Old Quawk's Day

Sundae Horn

Avoid boats and water in commemoration of this hallowed day on Ocracoke. 

You've probably heard that you should beware the Ides of March, but on Ocracoke, watermen beware the day after: March 16th, better known as Old Quawk's Day.

Philip Howard himself as Old Quawk cursing the heavens for the Ocracoke 4th of July parade.
Philip Howard himself as Old Quawk cursing the heavens for the Ocracoke 4th of July parade.
And while the rest of the world is preparing to celebrate an historic personage who was born in an ancient land, who came against his will (by pirate capture!) to a beautiful island in the sea, who lived as a misunderstood foreigner in this new land, who died under mysterious circumstances, who has places on that island named for him, whose legacy is larger than life, and who is honored each year with a holiday in March, Ocracoke keeps a weather eye out for storms.

Who needs St. Patrick when Ocracoke has our own patron sinner of weather forecasters and fisherfolk?

Old Quawk is all ours – a unique Ocracoke character who inspired a unique excuse for mariners to take the day off and perhaps drink a toast to the cranky, old fisherman lost at sea. 

Read about Old Quawk in this article by Philip Howard, originally posted on his Village Craftsmen blog.

In the late 1700's or early 1800's a man of indeterminate origin made his home on Ocracoke, but not in the area of the present-day village. Several miles north, on a small hill he built his simple home of bull rushes and driftwood. He had arrived on the island, some said, on a schooner from a distant land. Others claimed he had been shipwrecked on the beach and had decided to remain here. It was even rumored that he had once been a pirate. At any rate he was different from the other residents.

Not only was he dark skinned (some think he was of African, West Indian, or perhaps Puerto Rican descent), he was not a friendly sort of fellow. It is said he was often surly and disagreeable, preferring his solitude to interaction with the rest of the island community. When he got excited or argumentative people thought he squawked like a night heron. Hence the nickname, Old Quawk, or Old Quork. No one knew his given name.

Like many of the other men of the island, Old Quawk fished nets in Pamlico Sound. On March 16th many years ago the weather had turned nasty. Storm clouds formed on the horizon, the wind picked up and the sea was running rough. All of the fishermen were concerned about their nets but more concerned still for their safety. It was agreed among them that the day was much too stormy to risk venturing out in their small sailing skiffs.

All agreed, save Old Quawk. His nets were too important to him and he had no fear. Cursing the weather, his neighbors, and God himself, he set out in his small boat to salvage his catch and his equipment. He was either very brave or very fool-hardy, or both. He never returned, and he and his boat were never seen again.

For two hundred years, seafarers from Ocracoke and even farther north on the Outer Banks paid healthy respect to the memory of Old Quawk by staying in port on March 16th.

Old Quawk lives on in the names of landmarks near where he made his home: "Quork Hammock" and "Old Quoke's Creek." Next time you cross the bridge that leads across the creek that bears this colorful character's name think of him on his last tempestuous day, his fist raised to the heavens, cursing and inveighing against God and Mother Nature.

Perhaps you will even be a tad more cautious if you decide to go boating on March 16th. Or maybe you will wait for another day, when the forecast is a bit brighter!

Not today. We have blue skies and 10 kt. breezes for Old Quawk's Day 2017, but there's no sense in taking chances.
Not today. We have blue skies and 10 kt. breezes for Old Quawk's Day 2017, but there's no sense in taking chances.
Crystal Canterbury

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