Sunday, March 16, 2014

Old Quawk

I almost forgot -- today is Old Quawk's Day!! I wrote the following story 14 years ago. Enjoy.

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, or hammock, 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 the other men of the island, Old Quawk fished nets in Pamlico Sound.  On March 16 many years ago the weather 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 weak-kneed 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.  At any rate, he never returned and he and his boat were never seen again.

For more than one hundred and seventy five 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 16.  Superstitions pass with time, however, and nowadays many islanders do not even note the date, let alone pay it any heed.

Nevertheless, Old Quawk lives on in the names of landmarks near where he made his home: "Quork Hammock" and "Old Quork'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 16.  Or maybe you will wait for another day, when the forecast is a bit brighter!


  1. Anonymous10:46 PM

    Strange that such a man should gain a kind of immortality.
    As long as there is an Ocracoke his name and story will be remembered.

  2. Anonymous10:20 AM

    I find it rather curious that the storm occurred the day following the Ides of March. A time of foreboding a, time to settle one's accounts. Hmmmm, maybe one needs to tidy things up because it is a time of inclement weather and who knows what can happen.! Does any one remember the storm of the Century in 1993? Around the Middle of March, the 12th according to a source-- March in like a lion out like a lamb. Sounds if someone is keeping records , March is a roller coaster ride in the weather department. Do you suppose others were talking up Old Qawk a few days ago? I mean gee, you almost forgot!!! What helped you to remember the old salt??Today up along the Eastern seaboard ,they have snow.

    1. Sometimes I just don't think about these things. Then it hit me -- March 16...Old Quawk's Day. It's good to keep the old stories alive.

    2. Anonymous11:57 AM

      I agree.
      Do you think Amy will carry the torch?

    3. She already does!

  3. Anonymous2:59 PM