Thursday, July 19, 2012

John Day's Ditch

I recently read the book "Cedar Island Fisher Folk," a recommendation from a distant cousin who follows this blog and came across an unusual story.

John Jarvis Day who lived in the part of Carteret County that used to be called the Hunting Quarters is a distant relative by marriage. He was born in 1870 and died in 1940. He owned a Sailing Schooner, the G.J. Cherry and sailed her as far as France on commercial ventures.

He made his money as a Sea Captain but his legacy was supposed to be on shore. It is fitting I guess for a Mariner to battle the sea even 70 years after his death.

John Davis bought land on Cedar Island, located in the Northeast corner of Carteret County, North Carolina with the intent of farming and raising cattle. They say at one time he had almost 1,000 head of cattle on the Island. To keep them from disappearing and wandering into the gardens of his neighbors, he decided he needed a fence. The only problem is that wire fencing would require constant maintenance in this isolated area that was also exposed to the sea.
J.J. Day 1919 Passport Photo

He decided to use his Norman ancestor's skill and build a moat to keep in the cattle. He hired out the work to a man and his three sons who started in 1927 to dig a ditch along Day's property line from Rumley Bay to West Bay. The ditch was supposed to be 6 feet wide and  2-3 feet deep. It went through not just vacant land but virgin forests. The total distance of his project was almost 2 1/2 miles.

He figured the cattle wouldn't try to cross it and would stay on his property. His theory was ok but he didn't figure on the Sea getting it's revenge.

Over the years, since both sides of the ditch are open to the waters of the Atlantic, it has flooded the ditch so that now it is 40 feet wide in places. If the cattle were still there it would be good barrier for them so Day's idea was sound. I guess he didn't have any other plans for the vacant land so a 40 foot wide moat would have worked.

You can see the ditch clearly when you drive on the main highway, but most people would have no idea of the history. It looks like an abandoned canal. It is straight as an arrow in both directions. It is also visible using Google Earth,

1 comment:

John Day said...

Thanks for posting this story about my great uncle. Really cool to see it.

John Day
Saxapahaw, NC