Lost at Sea

Following is a partial list of Ocracoke Island natives, residents, descendants & others associated with Ocracoke who were lost at sea or drowned (from ca. 1800 to 1967). This list does not include the many mariners from other places who were lost when their vessels wrecked at Ocracoke.

The information below was collected from oral interviews with native islanders, especially Blanche Howard Jolliff, genealogical research by Earl O’Neal, Jr., and contemporary reports in newspapers and other periodicals. [Letters & numbers in brackets refer to individual’s codes in Ocracoke Island genealogy books by Earl O’Neal]

•    “Old Quawk” (D. March 16, ca. 1800) About 200 years ago there lived on Ocracoke Island a fisherman of indeterminate provenance. He was a reclusive figure, preferring to live in a small hut made of driftwood and bullrushes about 5-6 miles from the village. No one remembers his given name, but folks called him “Old Quawk” because, they said, he “quawked” like an old night heron.

Old Quawk was a fisherman, often venturing out into Pamlico Sound in his sail skiff when cautious islanders stayed in port waiting for more propitious weather.

On March 16, many years past, Old Quawk made his last voyage into Pamlico Sound. Storm clouds were piling up in the darkening sky. Legend has it that Old Quawk defiantly disregarded the warnings of other islanders, raised his clenched fist to the heavens and dared the gods to thwart him, then set out in his sail skiff. A frightful gale churned the Sound into a wild turbulence and swamped Old Quawk’s tiny craft. Neither Old Quawk nor his boat were ever found.

For many years Ocracoke fishermen refused to go out in their boats on March 16. Even today it is best to be prudent on Old Quawk’s Day. There’s no telling what the weather gods will dish out on March 16.

•    Wilson O’Neal [F4-3A1] (B. 02-05-1801 D. 1821) drowned, see below

•    Francis Burrus (D. 1821) drowned, see below

•    Phillintine Austin (D. 1821) drowned, see below

•    Cornelius Austin (D. 1821) drowned, see below

The following is from an article in the American Recorder April 27, 1821, page 2, column 1:  “On Sunday last as six of the Ocracoke pilots were attempting to board a vessel, the boat in which they were, unfortunately upset and four of the number found a watery grave. The names of the unfortunate men are as follows: Cornelius AUSTIN, Phillintine AUSTIN, Francis BURRUS, and Wilson NEIL. One of them, Cornelius AUSTIN, has left a wife and several children who are, by this sad stroke, deprived of their best friend.”

•    George Williams [J3-6B] (B. 1794 D. 1836) drowned

•    Joseph Williams (B. 02-24-1804 D. 1843) drowned

•    [Unnamed son] Williams [F3-14F8] (B. @1826 D. @1843) may have drowned with his father, Joseph Williams, above

•    Ephriam Williams [J4-7E1] (B. ca. 1825 D. <1850) believed to have drowned

•    Thomas Wahab [H5-2C3C] (B. 12-17-1828 D. 07-11-1852), drowned off Barbados, West Indies

•    Nathaniel Williams [J3-7-7G] (B. 1818 D. 1860) lost at sea

•    Richard Baxter Spencer [D5-2A3] (B. 02-14-1857 D. 09-17-1873) drowned on a trip between New Bern and Hyde County

•    Edward F. O’Neal [J4-117] (B. 1865 D. >1880) drowned

•    Thomas Ruff Gaskill [J5-8A10B] (B. 09-01-1853 D. 10-14-1882) lost at sea

•    Isaac Freeman O’Neal [F5-3A6I] (B. 05-01-1866 D. 1880/90) drowned at Hatteras, NC

•    William (Bill) Toler [H5-3C1B] (B. 02-28-1830 D. 08-30-1888) drowned at sea

•    William Allen Dailey [G5-1B3B] (B. 1861 D. 1892) drowned on the schooner Annie Hall

•    Amon Howard, Jr. [H6-3A1B6] (B. 02-17-1853 D. 1892) drowned on the schooner Annie Hall

•    Samuel Dudley Bragg, Jr. (1870-1892) drowned at sea, see below

•    Maltby Bragg (1877-1892) drowned at sea, see below

In 1892 Samuel Dudley Bragg, Jr. and his brother Maltby were on the mainland, having just sold a catch of fish. As they were getting ready to sail back to Ocracoke the weather began deteriorating. They were advised not to attempt to cross the sound in such weather, but they insisted, saying they knew the waters and they would be OK. They cast off and were never heard from again.

•    John Gaskins [F5-4F1F] (B. 1864  D. 1900) drowned in Delaware River near             Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

•    Samuel Dudley Bragg, Sr. (B. 1836 D. 1902) pilot, lost at sea, see below

•    James Bragg (D. 1902), lost at sea, see below

In 1902 a schooner captain brought his vessel to an Ocracoke anchorage because his ship was leaking. Not being able to make the repair, he left his vessel at Ocracoke under the care of Capt. Dudley Bragg, Sr. After Bragg finished the caulking, a tug arrived to tow the schooner to Norfolk. Capt. Bragg and his son, James, accompanied the schooner. After rounding Cape Hatteras they encountered high winds and rough seas. The captain and crew of the tug feared that the heavy seas and strong wind would pull the bowsprit out of the schooner, so they decide to “cut her loose.” The schooner disappeared in the storm and sank.

•    George Hodges Williams [J5-7C3H] (B. 9-27-1867 D. 11-13-1904) drowned on the vessel Missouri when it capsized

•    Charles Morton Williams [J5-7C3K] (B. 11-18-1877 D. 11-13-1904), drowned on the vessel Missouri when it capsized

•    John Washington Dailey [D5-1A3] (B. 05-1868 D. > 1910) drowned at sea

•    Thomas Franklin Dailey (Capt) [D5-1A5] (B. 03-1875 D. 01-06-1913) stepped off his boat in Durham’s Creek, NC, and drowned

•    Augustus Abner McQuire (B. 4-24-1956 D. 9-23-1913) On September 23, 1913, McQuire, an Irish-American diver on board a Norwegian vessel, died in an accident at sea off of the Outer Banks. He was buried on Ocracoke. Ever since, islanders have periodically reported seeing his ghost (in full diving gear) wandering slowly through the old Howard and British cemeteries.

•    Henry N. (Harry) Kelly [H73A3E4D] (B. 1897 D. 1914) died while working on a tugboat when a log fell on him

•    Bradford O’Neal [F7-4C6A7A] (B. 09-20-1899  D. 04-22-1916) drowned

•    Rayfield Garrish [G5-1C4E] (B. 1898 D. 03-04-1917) lost at sea, see below

•    Monford Lambert Austin [D6-2F1A] (B. 12-30-1900 D. 03-04-1917) lost at sea, see below:

Following is information collected by Earl O’Neal from the Original Log of the Coast Guard Cutter Yamacraw at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.:

Monford Austin enlisted as an Ordinary Seaman in the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Service aboard the cutter Yamacraw on 12 February 1917.  At 8:55 on the 4th of March the Yamacraw was at sea responding to a distress call from the Steamer Louisiana that it was aground on Winter Quarter Shoals off Ocean City, Maryland and in need of immediate assistance.  Steamer Louisiana was located at 8:20 p.m.  A lifeboat with 9 men aboard, was launched and sent to the wreck to bring off the crew of the Louisiana.  The weather was rainy, foggy and heavy seas.  At 8:35 a blinker message was received from the Louisiana that the lifeboat had capsized.  As there was not enough men remaining to send out another the Yamacraw got underway in attempt to try a rescue of any of its crew.  She did launch two smaller boats with six men but these too were lost.  All the effort by the Yamacraw proved fruitless.  At 8:00 a.m. on 5 March the Yamacraw signaled the Ocean City Coast Guard Station.  The station replied that two capsized boats found on the beach and four crew alive, no dead found.  At 4:00 p.m. Seaman Austin and ten other crewmen were entered in the log as missing.  At 12:45 the Yamacraw got under way to return to Norfolk, Va.  On 15 March 1917 ships log had entry that Monford L. Austin’s personal effects were shipped to Mrs. Belle Austin at Ocracoke, N.C.

From The Gettysburg Times, Tuesday, March 6, 1917: “Ten men lost their lives in an attempt to rescue the crew of the oil tanker Louisiana, grounded on Winter Quarters Shoal off the coast from Ocean City, Md. All were members of the crew of the coast guard’s cutter Yamacraw…. The dead [include] Rayfield Garrish, Ocracoke, [and] Monford Austin, Ocracoke….”

•    Robert Howard Thompson [H7-2C5B1B] (D. 1918) lost at sea.

•    Norman H. Spencer [F6-4C4A8] (B. 02-27-1905 D. 01-01-1923) drowned

•    Samuel Elwood Midgett, Sr. (B. 03-04-1884 Rodanthe, NC D. 03-04-1924) lost at sea, (he was married to Nancy Jordan Cudworth (Nannie) [H7-2A2A4F] (B. 10-12-1886 Wanchese, NC D. 09-06-1958)

•    Sherwood Kelly [H7-3A3E4B] (B. 1904) died at sea (drowned??)

•    Freeman Wallace Stowe [F6-5A4C3] (B. 10-31-1881 Hatteras, NC, D. 12-15-1925) drowned

•    Ivey O’Neal [D6-1A4A]  (B. 07-11-1887 D. 11-05-1927) drowned, see below

•    John Puet Spencer [F6-4C4F4] (B. 2-12-1888 D. 11-05-1927), drowned, see below

•    William Isaac (Billie) O’Neal [D6-1A4B] (B. 09-10-1889 D. 11-05-1927) drowned, see below

ELIZABETH CITY, Nov. 8 [1927] – Trapped by heavy seas in a roaring gale off Ocracoke last Saturday, three fisherman lost their lives, and a fourth, able to withstand the buffeting waters, managed to swim ashore to safety.  First definite details of the tragedy were received at the coast guard station here today from James H. GARRISH, keeper of the Ocracoke life guard station.  The sinking of the craft, the motor boat 2021-T, was witnessed by M.P. GUTHRIE, member of the Ocracoke coast guard crew patrolling the beach Saturday morning.  The lone survivor, Joseph GASKINS, was observed wading in the surf near the shore a short time later.  He was taken to the coast guard station and the crew set out in a motor boat in an effort to save the others.  The body of John P. SPENCER was found floating and by use of a seine, the bodies of William and Ivy O’NEIL [sic] were recovered.  (The Gastonia Daily Gazette – Friday afternoon, Nov. 8, 1927; pg. 4)

•    Josepheus Willis, Jr. [F8-3A3B4B4] (B. 05-25-1925 D. 09-23-1928) drowned

•    Wesley L. Styron (married Mrs. Christiana Jane Burrus Styron (B. 08-17-1854 Hatteras, NC D. 10-02-1928 Hatteras, NC), drowned on the Cox.

•    James Baughm Gaskill [G6-1A3E8] (B. 07-02-1919 D. 03-11-1942) James served in the U.S. Merchant Marine as 3rd Mate during World War II, was drowned when the freighter Caribsea was torpedoed off Ocracoke by German U-boat, U-158, on March 11, 1942.

•    Elton Murray Daniels [H8-2A2A4H2] (B. 08-14-1912 D. 07-12-1942) was in the Merchant Marine service during World War II and lost his life while he was Engineer Officer on the SS Oneida when she was torpedoed and sunk off Cuba by German U-boat U-166 on July 13, 1942. Article from The Coastland Times, 05-23-1996

•    William David Gaskill [] (B. 11-29-1906 D. 11-21-1947) drowned while working on the freight boat Dryden

•    Donnie Smith [F6-4H10C8] (B. 02-07-1909 D. 06-26-1951) drowned at Camp Kanata

•    Albert Monroe Styron (B. 02-03-1893 D. 03-06-1956) lost at sea. Following is information from Hyde County History published by the Hyde County Historical Society in 1976:

One of the most extensive searches ever made of Pamlico Sound was called off today after the five-day effort to find a missing Ocracoke fisherman failed. Coast Guard planes and boats and volunteers scoured the 2,000 square miles of the sound looking for veteran fisherman Albert Styron, who failed to return Tuesday afternoon after going out to plant an oyster bed. Eighteen Ocracoke Boy Scouts mounted on Banker ponies also participated, along with the volunteers on foot and in vehicles. The search lasted one hundred and twenty hours. A Cape Hatteras Flying Service Pilot discovered his eighteen-foot motor powered fishing boat at Terrapin Shoals four miles south of Hatteras Inlet. The boat contained his wallet, social security card, and wrist watch. Searchers theorized that the items had been placed in the boat by Styron to protect them from water

•    Mary Ann Scales (B. 1924 D. 1957) From The Wilmington, North Carolina Morning Star, Tuesday, February 12, 1957: Ocracoke, N.C., Feb. 11 (AP) –A pretty nurse vanished mysteriously from an anchored yacht here Saturday night, and her employer, a New Jersey physician [Dr. James T. Dodge], said today that high waves might have pitched her overboard.

•    Milon Justus Fulcher (B. 10-20-1927 D. 2-1-1967) lost at sea