| Lighthouse Keeper David Evans Quidley - Thirty-two commendations for rescues documented 1917-1940 from LIghthouse News Vol. XX 2014 by Cheryl Shelton-Roberts
Served at Bodie Island, Gull Shoal, Harbor Island, Wade Point, Point No Point (Maryland), Brant Island Shoal, and Roanoke River Lighthouses
Lighthouse Keeper David Evans “Dave” Quidley’s family lineage traces back to Captain John Quidley who was born in 1640 in Devonshire England and immigrated to Nansemond County, Virginia. The locale is now known as Suffolk and, as one would expect of a life-long mariner, he chose a homesite situated near the Nansemond River that is part of the Chesapeake Bay area. True to Hatteras Island heritage, Quidley ancestors and their descendants are part of a core group of families that produced men and women who spent most of their lives either directly employed by or married to members of various American civil and military services that helped keep the lights shining or rescued mariners in distress. Keeper Dave Quidley did both. In this article in which our keeper will be referred to as “Keeper Dave" or simply “Dave,” we will take a look at the stations at which he served, and the personal price he paid to work at isolated light stations. Throughout his US Lighthouse Service (USLHS) career that spanned 1917 to 1940, this lighthouse keeper frequented the Service’s records with commendations attributed to 32 rescues of grateful souls in need of help on the waters of North Carolina.
David Evans Quidley was born on Hatteras Island in the village of Buxton on February 27, 1891, to David G. Quidley Sr. (1847 - 1902) and Rovena Simpson Rollison (1864 - 1955) [pronounced “Rovene” by her grandson who was interviewed for this article].
According to one of David G. Quidley Sr.’s grandsons, Dallas E. Quidley Jr., he served as a life-saving surfman on horseback that patrolled the shoreline for ships in distress. When a foundering ship was spotted, he signaled the station at Kinnekeet and his fellow surfmen and equipment arrived to help. After his Civil War duty in the 1st NC Infantry, Quidley Sr. became a lighthouse keeper.
David G. Quidley Sr. and Rovena Quidley had three sons who served in the civil service: David “Dave” Evans, Guy, and Thomas Dallas (T.D.). Guy was a seaman with the Coast Survey while Dave, T.D., and first cousin A.J. Quidley became lighthouse keepers. Bill Quidley (from David Quidley Sr.’s first marriage) and Amasa Quidley were raised in Dave’s home after Amasa’s parents died when he was young. Both would also become US Lighthouse Service keepers. In the 1930 census, several households immediately surrounding Dave’s home in Buxton are listed as lighthouse “captain” aka “keepers.” Other households were occupied by US Coast Guard life-saving surfmen. The influence of these two services revered by the community certainly was a factor in the careers that these young men chose.
Dave’s mother, Rovena, was the island midwife and is listed in the 1910 census as “nurse.” She delivered hundreds of babies including all 13 of Dave’s children. One of these was Dave’s son, Lenwood Quidley, who remembers her well. “I was burned one time and Grandma Rovene held my hand, blew on it, prayed over it. It went away—might have come back, but it went away. She was known as the ‘island doctor.’” She used natural and spiritual remedies that endeared her to generations of Hatteras Islanders.
Keeper Dave’s son, Lenwood Quidley, an accomplished maritime man himself, stated of his father, “He served on buoy tenders when still in his teens—near Wilmington—the Violet and Jasmine, I believe. He served short periods of time, ‘temp’ duty.”
Dave listed his occupation prior to USLHS as “Fisherman.” He attended “public schools to the 6th grade”; he listed his special qualifications as “painter, fisherman, and gasoline engineer with license for 65-foot boats.” These skills would serve him well throughout his lighthouse career because a keeper had to be a jack-of-all-trades.
David “Dave” Evans Quidley’s Career
Keeper Dave’s first four assignments helped the USLHS to replace or substitute keepers who were on leave or had transferred to another station. His first duty station was at Point No Point, Maryland, in 1917. His starting pay was $516 per annum. This remote, Chesapeake Bay caisson light is located several miles north of the mouth of the Potomac River on Maryland’s coast. He was ordered to report post haste as the station had been without an assistant keeper for two weeks. The isolated setting of this light would be repeated throughout his career.
Two months into his first assignment, still in his six-month probation period as a fledgling assistant keeper, Dave was transferred to Wade Point Light Station Dec 1, 1917, with pay at $480. He had requested to be nearer his wife who was reported to have been in poor health at the time.
Next, he would step in for Victor L. Watson (also of Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras) who was taking two months paid sick leave from Gull Shoal Light Station. Watson’s leave coincided with the necessity to repair and reestablish the light at Wade Point after it “was one of the stations badly damaged by ice during the recent heavy weather,” as reported by Fifth District Lighthouse Inspector Harold King. Wade Point had been rebuilt in 1899 as a cottage-style lighthouse with about 1,000 square feet of living/working space. In winter, ice floes on the sounds and rivers of North Carolina were always a threat to screw pile lights because the slow, persistently moving ice could take a lighthouse right off its foundation. Dave packed his bags and made his way to Gull Shoal, located in Pamlico Sound.
Only a short time later in May 1918, Keeper Dave received another assignment that called for his timely arrival at Bodie Island Lighthouse (BILH) to replace 2nd Assistant Keeper Bill Etheridge. He responded immediately with a telegram to King in Baltimore, Maryland, “Will accept Body Island Light Station. D. E. Quidley” He transferred June 1, 1918, with his pay set at $456, a small reduction. The move proved to be a fortuitous one because he was promoted to principal keeper at BILH November 1, 1918, with a pay increase to $660. Each time he transferred, he received promotions as principal keeper, an esteemed title he would retain throughout his USLHS career.
Dave’s willingness to relocate paid off with a promotion, although there was a price to pay in stress and having to remain flexible. His stay at Bodie Island was brief, so if he were trying to get closer to home and family in Buxton, it wouldn’t last long. Or was he simply seeing how he liked a “big” coastal lighthouse as opposed to one of the “water stations” within the sounds or at the mouths of rivers? The only clue we have is Dave’s son Lenwood’s comments: “Grandma Rovene told my sister, and of course my mom told me, that there were two children who went to Bodie Island with my mother to live up there with my dad. Those two children, we didn’t know who they were—it was before I was born. But I figured it out—they were the first two born of my mother and dad: my sister Miranda and my brother Vernon. I remember my mother telling me that she didn’t like living there. Well, it is isolated. And I often heard about the mosquitoes.”
Next, Keeper Dave transferred to Brant Island Shoal, NC, on Jan 13, 1919, with another pay increase to $780. This remote station was located between the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers, which led to ports at Washington and New Bern respectively. But Brandt Point itself was in no-man’s land, basically in the middle of nowhere. Trips to get mail or groceries were long and dependent on weather. He was given three promotions over the next three years raising his salary to $1140. Possibly these pay increases helped offset the hours spent on a small water-logged lighthouse with only an assistant keeper as sole contact to all things social and worldly, but it’s difficult to imagine month after month, year after year of this sort of isolation with only infrequent trips home to see his family in Buxton. In 1926, it was noted by the lighthouse inspector that this keeper had been “sick, etc.” Nevertheless, Keeper Dave persevered under times of obvious duress.
And so did Keeper Dave’s wife, Lilla Margarette (Andrews) (1890-1962), who carried on during challenging years while raising a passel of children. Lenwood remembers his mother as “a beautiful woman, a wonderful woman. I never heard anything but good about her, never.”
With a growing family, it is presumed that Keeper Dave gladly watched his salary gradually rise in increments during the years 1924-28 to $1980.
After a decade at Brant Island Shoal, Dave transferred as principal keeper to his old duty station at Gull Shoal Light Station on December 1, 1929, with a decrease in pay at $1920. He relieved his first cousin, A.J. Quidley. He would soon see his pay restored via the Compensation Act July 3, 1930, to $1980. After 15 months at Gull Shoal, he received a promotion February 1, 1931, to $2100—this would be the pinnacle of his annual salary.
Keeper Quidley transferred to the Roanoke River Light Station on May 1, 1932, with a pay decrease to $1800. Son Lenwood said this was a career move as he was going for a position at Wade Point; indeed, 14 months later he did transfer as principal keeper to Wade Point July 1, 1933, another one of his former duty stations, with a salary of $1800.
“My father took a demotion to get a job he wanted,” Lenwood commented. He transferred to Roanoke River in order to get a future position at Wade Point. This was a good move because most of his rescues were done here [Wade Point] and he received numerous commendations.”
Among the 32 commendations he received from the USLHS, Dave had rescued family boaters, fishermen, and even a canoeist clinging for dear life to anything he could for hours. Most of these rescued people wrote the Lighthouse Service to thank Keeper Dave E. Quidley for his life-saving efforts. He touched many lives.
Keeper Dave transferred to the US Coast Guard and finished out his career at Hooper Island, MD, leaving the service on December 31, 1940, on disability.
A Keeper’s Son Remembers All the Good Things
“I searched for someone to help get dad’s records for me,” stated Lenwood. “It had been on my mind and I needed to do something about it. I was getting bits and pieces about his history from friends on Hatteras Island. My dad served at Bodie Island, but why didn’t we know about him? The only way I knew my dad had served there was that my momma told me so. My sister and I are the last of the generation—last of the family. My sister remembers our mother telling her that our father had served at Bodie Island Light. I wasn’t even born. Grandma Rovene told my sister and my mom told me.
“This is how I’ve come to know about my dad serving there. Before I didn’t have a single piece of evidence that he did serve at Bodie Island, but now I’ve got it. Interesting, really. Now I have the step-by-step positive things about my father.”
Lenwood hired a researcher to help him find his father’s Lighthouse Service records from the personnel office in St. Louis. “It cost $77, but I would have given $700 if I had to.” This indicates how important these documents on his dad are to him. “It took about four months to obtain. They did a beautiful job. I think it’s beautiful how they kept records in those days, and most records are handwritten. My dad had a beautiful handwriting like when he signed his name. People addressed him as ‘Captain Dave.’ I heard that as a child.”
Men who were known for their great ability on the water and handling a boat were often addressed with the title of admiration “Captain” or “Cap’n.” Keepers were also called “Captain” due to their respected job and place in the community; additionally, as a rule, keepers had been raised near water and were expert watermen.
“I am proud of my father’s rescues. I want others to know about this. In the one case it was an individual who held onto his life jacket for like 4 ½ hours before he was discovered. And the reason that gentleman was in distress, believe it or not, he was traveling from one point to another on a surfboard.
“My dad used a simple boat owned by the Lighthouse Service to rescue people time after time after time. He’d rescue people he could see from his station that he could see they were in trouble. The Lighthouse Service didn’t write about every effort he made, they just wrote if what he did was really important. So there are other times he helped people.”
Although Lenwood had known his father most of his life, he went on a personal journey to find out more about him since his father was away from home a great deal. One of his strongest memories is when his father was stationed at Wade Point and had bought a home in Old Trap. Keeper Dave arranged for sons Lenwood and Preston to visit him in Elizabeth City. At about 12 and 14 years old, this was quite an adventure. The two boys traveled aboard the Mallison across Pamlico Sound from Hatteras Village. “My dad picked us up at the dock in Elizabeth City, introduced us to some of his friends, and then went to his home that he’d bought in Old Trap. It lies between the Pasquotank and North Rivers. We stayed about four days and took the same boat back to Hatteras Village. We couldn’t go very much because it was too far away from us—a long way from Hatteras Village. It’s a long boat ride back in his day and about 130 highway miles with nothing but sandy roads on the island back then. Which made a trip far longer because a vehicle would get stuck in the sand and we had to push it—a lot of pushing and digging it out.
“So I knew little of my father’s work. When I visited him, he was not working. I didn’t know about his rescues and many commendations. I personally didn’t know anything about his rescue efforts until I saw this [personnel records]. I was too young to grasp what was being written. And when I visited him, we were at my father’s home—not at a lighthouse. When my father was off from work, his time went to family.
“When he started at Gull Shoal, he speaks in his letters how difficult it was to get his mail, his groceries; he had to travel 45 miles by dirt road or travel that distance by boat. The best I can tell that despite only a sixth-grade education, it’s obvious he taught himself over the years—beautiful handwriting. I have that in common with him—my handwriting, that is. I’m not looking for any glory except what I did to bring my father his dues to light.”
“My dad and I share some of the same qualities: dedication to duty, honor to service, and love for fellow man. I have faith in my father’s goodness. It’s in the numbers in his records. And I have his mechanical ability. Even as a kid, I made toys out of whatever things I could find and made into what I wanted. I even made a small car out of tin cans and a steering mechanism.
“Dad built a small model of a freight boat driven by sails. He made it for me when I was about 10 years old when he was at Wade Point. He brought it home to me in Buxton. I’ve kept it all these years—from seven decades ago. He named it after his last child, my sister Winnie Fay.
“I’ve served my country well and raised three sons. I was a Petty Officer Third Class when I got out of the Navy after two years. In the USCG, I went every step of the way from a recruit to Lieutenant Commander. So, I followed in my father’s footsteps to a degree. I’ve been associated with lighthouses all my life throughout my Coast Guard career. I had to pick up the buoys, clean them, paint them, recharge the batteries, and number them while on the buoy tenders.
Dave and Lilla Quidley had four boys who became USCG career men. Lenwood stated, “There were four of us sons who followed in my dad’s footsteps in the Coast Guard: my brothers Vernon, Preston, John David, and I. I think that’s pretty amazing."
Keeper Dave’s last home had much waterfront and was in the middle of nowhere in keeping with his keeper’s lifestyle. He had grown to be comfortable in that setting, which had been his surroundings for over 20 years.
Keeper David Evans “Dave” Quidley died in Old Trap, Camden County, May 9, 1962. He is buried along with his wife Lilla in the Quidley cemetery in Buxton. Were it such that all human flaws could be corrected, perhaps it would be a more perfect world. But for anyone having sacrificed to serve his fellow man, we simply say, “Thank you.”
National Archives and Records Administration. US, Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.
Original data: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. T288, 546 rolls.
If you would like to research an ancestor who served in military or civilian service for the government, contact the National Archives at St. Loiuis, National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138. Telephone: 314-801-0800 or E-mail: MPR.email@example.com
We discovered Keeper Dave Quidley too late to include him in the commemorative book Bodie Island Keepers Oral and Family Histories by Cheryl Shelton-Roberts and Sandra MacLean Clunies. How wonderful to have his story while son Lenwood Quidley can give us first-hand witness to his father’s life and work. Lenwood is an accomplished (retired)US Coast Guard commander.
The editor thanks Lenwood Quidley, son of Keeper Dave E. Quidley, and Lanny Quidley, grandson of the keeper as well as Dallas E. Quidley Jr, author of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Son, LifeRich Publishing 2014. A chapter on the keeper’s mother, Rovenia (also spelled Rovene or Rovena) Rollison Quidley) and his brother, Thomas Dallas Quidley, can be found in Hatteras Keepers Oral and Family Histories by Cheryl Shelton-Roberts and Sandra MacLean Clunies, Outer Banks Lighthouse Society 2001.Other information on this family and other relatives can be found in Lighthouse Keeper’s Son by Dallas Quidley. Also thank you to Kay Lynn Midgett Sheppard for genealogical help on the Quidley family. The editor also expresses appreciation for all the diligent work that has gone into Ancestry.com.
In 1917 when Dave Quidley took his first assignment as an assistant keeper, our President was Woodrow Wilson. Inventions of the day were sonar echolocation, the cruise missile, the electric water heater, the modern zipper, and a British version of a forklift truck. A loaf of bread was $0.18, a gallon of milk cost $0.97, and a postal stamp was only $0.03. In 1917, the average wage was $70/month, equivalent to $12,308/year in 2014; a car was about $360 and the average house cost $6,313–that would be $107,914 today. Keeper Quidley’s wage at $43/mo was below average. He would earn promotions and commendations that would eventually bring his salary to $2100. His retirement/disability pay in 1940 was $1,079 each year, which is equivalent to a little over $17,000 in 2014.
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