Municipal license plates are no longer being issued by Grifton (or most other towns), but the Shad Festival lives on. This year’s will be April 20-22 (and will of course include the traditional Shad Toss).
Since 1971 the town has been celebrating the annual return of shad upstream from the Atlantic Ocean to Contentnea Creek, a tributary of the Neuse River.
But the festival idea, proposed by Cooperative Extension Agent Ed Comer, didn’t meet instant acceptance. Many anglers disdain the predominant local variety, the hickory shad, which is smaller and bonier than the American shad. (Both are in the herring family.)
Mayor Dave Bosley saved the day for the hickory shad: “We don’t have to eat the shad; they don’t eat azaleas at the Azalea Festival or mules at Mule Day in Benson.”
“The diary [of John N. Benners] is an almost daily account of the years 1857 to 1860. I open the old volume to the first page and I am immediately swept up: Jan. 24. 1857. The river still frozen, navigation entirely impeded. A large sea vessel frozen up at Wilkinson’s Point [in what is now Pamlico County]. The weather was so very cold this week no work could be done outdoors….
“The ‘large sea vessel’ was the schooner Isaac W. Hughes. Benners was witnessing the great freeze of ’57, of which there are many accounts, though few so poignantly rendered.
“At Wilkinson Point , the Neuse is opening into the Pamlico Sound and is miles wide. Benner had never seen the river freeze from shore to shore before, and I have not heard of it doing so since.
“The freeze of 1857 became an enduring benchmark in the passage of time on the North Carolina coast, like the great meteor shower of 1833 or Hurricane Hazel in 1954….”
— From “John N. Benners’ Journal: A Saltwater Farmer & His Slaves” by David Cecelski at davidcecelski.com (Oct. 2, 2017)