Drumbeat of history: The 14-year-old hero of the Battle of New Orleans
On Jan. 8, 1815, the British Army fatefully advanced on the city of New Orleans, just outside of which a ragtag militia led by Andrew Jackson lay in wait on a Chalmette sugarcane plantation. Jordan Noble, a 14-year-old young man of color under Jackson’s command, had already proved his himself essential on Dec. 23, when the steady beat of his drum had led Jackson’s troops to victory in a surprise attack on the British. Then, on that January day that would forever be etched in New Orleans history, the fittingly named Noble yet again kept a steady beat. As the Daily Picayune wrote, “the rattle of his drum was heard amidst the din of battle,” helping to drive the Americans to their historic victory.
For the remainder of his long life, “Old Jordan,” as he became known, was widely embraced by the city as a hometown hero. He died in 1890 at age 90. Today, a plaque memorializes him at St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. Noble played his drum for the rest of his life, and in 2016, one of his drums went up for auction, with a starting bid of $130,000.
- The role of a military drummer wasn’t merely to keep a beat. It was the primary form of battlefield communication at the time, relating orders from commanders to fire, cease fire, advance, retire and so on. Soldiers at the time were expected to recognize dozens of different signals.
- Noble was a member of the funeral procession for President James A. Garfield.
- Noble was well-known and respected for his military service, but the black community specifically lauded him for his contribution to the movement for equality. In 1854, he attended a meeting of the National Emigration of Colored People in Cleveland, Ohio. At the meeting, members elected Noble to serve as a delegate from Louisiana.
- Noble served in the 7th U.S. Regiment. He was one among nearly 900 slaves and free men of color who helped defend New Orleans from the British.
- Noble was born a slave on a Georgia plantation at the beginning of the 19th century to parents of African and European descent. He was sold to John Noble and moved to New Orleans in 1812. The next year he joined the Army.
- The War of 1812 didn’t mark the end of Noble’s military service. He went on four tours of military duty, all as a battlefield drummer. After his time in Jackson’s army, he took part in the 1836 Seminole War in Florida, the Mexican War, and on the Union side in the Civil War.
- When he was no longer an active member of the military, Noble continued to play his drum for events in New Orleans, including parades, balls, commemorations for the Battle of New Orleans and at the 1884 World Cotton Exposition. He was always given a place of honor, often made a speech and was recognized by everyone in town.
- According to a 2001 story in The Times-Picayune, although Noble lived for a short time in the French Quarter, he spent most of his adult life in Central City, much of it in a house on Dryades Street. He married twice and had three children.
- In addition to formal events, Noble also began a New Year’s day tradition of marching through New Orleans’ neighborhoods with a friend who played the fife. Because he was well-known and revered, Noble marched through both black and white neighborhoods without a problem.
The Battle of New Orleans remains one of the most significant military events ever to play out on New Orleans soil, and Jordan Noble’s steady drumbeat was paramount to American success. Beyond his military service, however, Noble was a singular part of this city’s history: a man of African descent, a free man, a drummer, and a beloved resident of the city. Upon his death, The Daily Picayune wrote in his obituary, “The famous drummer boy of New Orleans has gone to join his comrades of many campaigns. Peace to him and honor to the brave man who served his country so often and so well.”