William Hall

Image: William Hall (courtesy Canada Post Corporation)

In February 2010 Canada Post released a stamp to celebrate the remarkable story of William Hall, the first Black to be honoured with the Victoria Cross.

William Hall was the son of Jacob and Lucy Hall, former slaves who fled the US and landed in Halifax as refugees of the War of 1812. The Halls eventually moved to Horton Bluff, on the Minas Basin in Nova Scotia, where William and 6 other children were born. Like many Nova Scotians growing up in the age of sail, William chose to go to sea. He was only 15 years old when he joined the crew of a merchant ship. He served for three years in the American Navy and in 1852 joined the British Navy as an able seaman. During the Crimean War he saw action with a gun crew in the siege of Sevastopol (in present-day Ukraine).

In those days Britain ruled a vast empire with its navy and the jewel in its crown was India. Hall was serving in the Far East on board HMS Shannon when Indian regiments of the British Army rose in arms against the British in 1857. In November 1857 Hall and his fellow sailors from the Shannon were sent on a mission to rescue a British garrison under siege in Lucknow, India.

Hall and his fellow gunners were given the task of breaching the thick walls of a large mosque, which was being used as a fortress by the rebels. Six men were killed and only Hall and another man were left firing their gun, moving it forward through a hail of bullets until a breach was torn in the wall. For his gallantry, Hall was presented with the Victoria Cross on October 28, 1859. He was the first Black and the first Canadian sailor to receive that famous medal.

William Hall served in the Royal Navy until 1876, when he retired to live with two sisters in a small farmhouse near Hantsport, Nova Scotia. He was buried without military honours in a nearby churchyard, where his grave became neglected. In 1945 his body was disinterred and reburied in a special plot of land adjacent to the Baptist church in Hantsport. Two years later a special cairn was erected there as a permanent memorial.

William Hall, V.C.
An illustrated biography of Canadian war hero William Hall, V.C. From the Nova Scotia Museum website.

Our Roots: William Hall
A biography of William Hall from a digitized copy of Pictorial on black history, Nova Scotia from the Our Roots website.

William Hall
A biography of William Hall from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

Petty Officer William Hall
This page features a photograph of Able Seaman William Hall, recipient of the Victoria Cross. From Library and Archives Canada.

William Hall V.C. Memorial
A photograph and description of the William Hall V.C. Memorial, in Hantsport, Nova Scotia. From the We Will Remember website.

William Hall, VC April 18, 1827 – August 25, 1904
A short biography of William Hall as well as transcripts of related news stories and obituaries. From ancestry.com.

William Hall: Winner of the Victorian Cross
Read a digitized copy of the biography William Hall: Winner of the Victorian Cross. Written for young adults. From the Our Roots website.

Canada And The Victoria Cross
An article about William Edward Hall, Herbert Taylor Reade, and Campbell Mellis Douglas, three Canadian recipients of the Victoria Cross. From the Legion Magazine.

William Hall
A brief bio of decorated Canadian war veteran William Hall. From the website for the Ontario Black History Society.

Black History Month
This site is devoted to the annual celebration of Canada’s Black History Month. See profiles of notable Black Canadians and videos that highlight many of the Black community's outstanding contributions to our shared history and heritage. From Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Canadian Black History - An Interactive Experience
Search for clues about Black Canadian history in this interactive online treasure hunt presented by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

William Hall (1829-1904)
A photograph of William Hall, the third Canadian to win the Victoria Cross. From Nova Scotia Archives & Records Management.

William Neilson Hall
A biography of William Neilson Hall, first Black, the first Nova Scotian, and the first Canadian naval recipient of the Victoria Cross. From The Canadian Encyclopedia.