His story, much covered in earlier blogs, told of his grave with the misspelled surname of NOEL, instead of NOIL... and thus... lost to history for over 130 years. So too, the fact that he was a recipient of the US Medal of Honor for his bravery in saving a fellow sailor from drowning.
With incredible irony, of the 5,000 or more graves at DC's St Elizabeth's Hospital, (2,000 being veterans) they had only one marker identifying a Medal of Honor recipient. But it was not Noil. It was someone whom, after much research, was verified by this blogger to be buried not in the DC area but in fact in Florida.
So the true lone Medal of Honor recipient at this grave yard went unmarked for over 130 years whist another was incorrectly so marked for many decades.
After seven years of work on my part, aided by several others, the DC grave was verified to be Joe's final resting place. A few more years would pass but finally in 2016 a new marker with the correct spelling and noting his status as a Medal of Honor recipient was unveiled at the hospital cemetery.
Noil was a Black man. He was one of the few Blacks in the entire history of the Medal of Honor, some 3,500 strong, to be awarded this most prestigious award. But the Blacks were so discriminated that their total numbers getting the medal would be about 90. That's less than 3 percent in the medal's 156 year history.
And Noil was not an American. He was among the one in five throughout the medal's history that was a foreigner. In Civil War days that number rose to one in 4. Medal recipients came from no less than 48 different countries.
Of these, British North America (Canada) was I believe the third largest contingent fighting in the Civil War with some 50,000 men AND women serving. Figures suggest that Canadian sailors served on about 60 different warships during the Civil War. Thousands from Canada were believed to be Blacks. The Black and White Canadians came home with approximately 120 Medals of Honor. Eighteen of these are believed to have Nova Scotia connections.
And one of these was Joseph Noil, said to have come from Liverpool NS.
But it is my understanding that there is only one historic marker and, no roads or streets, no schools or parks anywhere in the province or the entire country telling of the incredible significance of the Noil story. Not only being a MOH recipient... but the only Black MOH recipient from Canada.
His lone entry is on a plaque with 40 other recipients from Canada, and displayed at the Veterans Affairs complex in Charlottetown PEI. A marker that misses more than it includes. (Though in fairness, much of what I have uncovered in this regard over the last 2 decades was not known when this plaque was created.)
On the other hand there are a few grave markers for recipients within the province and a plaque honouring the Miller brothers, both being navy medal recipients.
While the Medal of Honor recipients have basically been ignored for the most part, it seems that a Black man described as a hero has a road named after him and even a panel as part of the Matthieu DaCosta Heritage Trail in Western Nova Scotia.
That man's name is Ben Jackson, who served on several Union ships during the US Civil War. He was a brave man clearly but his bravery was not rewarded with the only medal for bravery at the time... the Medal of Honor.
Ironically another fellow in that same battle and ship as Jackson did get rewarded for his bravery with a Medal of Honor, as did several others from Nova Scotia, in that and other battles.
One of these, from Halifax actually was on the first ship destroyed by the Confederates during the famous battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack, which gained international fame.
In fact it is the very scene depicted on what was called the Civil War Service Medal. One for the navy and one slightly different for the army.
It was this "Medal", one for service... not bravery, that Ben Jackson received as did all service members from the Civil War who applied.
Back to Noil, years ago the then serving Minister responsible for black history in NS indicated that he would take steps to see the Noil story be preserved. The Lt. Governor of the day, two NS Premiers, the minister of finance and others have all indicated a desire to promote Black history.
Yet I still await some action in this regard that includes promoting the Noil story within Nova Scotia and beyond.
Several recent blogs gave coverage to numerous accolades given regarding the Viola Desmond story and the importance of keeping her history alive. But I see next to nothing in this regard involving Joseph Noil, the only Black man from Nova Scotia, and indeed Canada, out of tens of thousands who served in the US Civil War, and was awarded, not a campaign medal or service medal, but an actual Medal of Honor. One equal to the British Empire's Victoria Cross.
I shall take considerable efforts over the next year to see some action in this regard. It will then be the 150th anniversary of the Noil award.
I welcome your comments and input regarding this seemingly endless battle to bring these stories to light.
Back in 2 weeks,