Sailors Beware on Old Quork’s Day

Dare County fisherman, circa 1935-40.

On March 16, most likely in the 1780s, an odd and offbeat mariner from Ocracoke Island known as Quawk or Quork went to sea in his small fishing skiff despite warnings of impending foul weather. He never returned.

The sailor was said to be a loner, and was, by some accounts, the sole survivor of a shipwreck on the island. He was called Quork because of his voice, which was said to be like that of the “quawk,” the colloquial name for the black-crowned night heron.

The day became known as Old Quork’s Day, a day of bad luck or misfortune for seamen who might fall victim to quick-forming storms that could catch a mariner unwary. On Ocracoke Island and as far south as Carteret County, cautious fisherman and old salts still stay ashore on March 16, for only the foolhardy go out on Old Quork’s Day.

North Carolina storytellers and raconteurs have kept Quork’s tale alive for more than 200 years. In Morehead City during the 1970s, “Old Quork’s Day” was held as a promotional activity on a Saturday in mid-March to open the vacation season.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.