Hero in family

Cornelius Macbeth eyes a genealogical chart of the Noisette family during a Veterans Day event Wednesday honoring Henry Benjamin Noisette.

Robert Behre

Roberta Frasier, Robert Frasier and Estelle Bethea knew their great-great-grandfather was an accomplished home builder, but it wasn't until a few months ago that they discovered his memory also should be honored on Veterans Day.

Henry Benjamin Noisette was born in Charleston in 1841 and died here in 1911. A young slave with carpenter skills, he managed to flee to Boston and freedom.

Shortly afterward, he served alongside 80 other sailors aboard the USS Huron, a lightly armed wooden ship that intercepted blockade runners and often tested Confederate defenses along the Lowcountry's rivers.

Lex Musta, a Maryland historian and researcher, recently uncovered Noisette's remarkable story and thought it would be fitting to pay tribute to him.

Musta is a member of the African-American Historical Alliance of South Carolina, a nonprofit group formed in 2006 to highlight the contributions of more than 200,000 black soldiers and sailors during the Civil War.

But Musta and the alliance faced two hurdles: They didn't know how to contact Noisette's descendants, and they had no clue where Noisette was buried.

Then by chance, Musta did yet another Google search earlier this summer and found exactly what he was looking for.

He stumbled across a May 31 story in The Post and Courier about an event at Burke High School encouraging people to preserve African-American treasures. The story began by talking about a yellowed and fragile piece of linen mapping the burial plots in a cemetery established by the Friendly Charitable Organization.

"Roberta Frasier of Charleston brought the cloth that depicts where family and friends have been buried for generations," the story said. "Her great-great-grandfather, Henry B. Noisette, was a founder of the organization -- a burial society that bought the land for the cemetery in 1878."

With the dots freshly connected, Musta, Frasier and other Noisette descendants gathered Wednesday for a uniquely Charleston Veterans Day event, one that remembered the role of Noisette's service and the service of others like him.

Joseph McGill, a re-enactor with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and an alliance member, said many African-Americans who fought for the Union had not been free for long, so they were less educated and not as able to record their stories.

"We're going to move their status from footnote status to paragraph status to chapter status to book status to movie status," McGill said. "We're going to make sure that their story is forever told."

Alliance member Russell Horres, a National Park Service volunteer, gave an overview of what Noisette's service aboard the Huron would have been like.

The Huron was one of 23 "90-day wonders," hastily built, lightly armed ships the Union employed to stop Confederate blockade runners from trading Southern cotton for European war materials. The Huron captured a few such runners and ran dangerous missions on the Stono and Ogeechee rivers.

The ship's luck ran out in the fall of 1862, when 20 crew members succumbed to yellow fever in the North Edisto River. The Huron limped north to Boston so it could be "frosted," or sanitized.

"Henry was not only a veteran. He was a hero," Horres said. "He was part of giving us the liberties we enjoy today."

Roberta Frasier, Robert Frasier and Estelle Bethea were given shovels Wednesday as part of a groundbreaking ceremony for a new headstone for Noisette, though rain forced the ceremony to be moved inside instead of being held at his grave.

By year's end, the alliance plans to gather again to place a new marker on Noisette's burial plot at the Friendly Charitable Cemetery at Oceanic and Mechanic streets -- a marker that will help ensure that future generations don't forget the service of this veteran.