Joel Noah: Jewish 49er & Respected Masonic “Tiler” of Early San Francisco

Joel Noah

Joel Noah, Masonic Tiler WS 14/2094

Joel Noah, Masonic Tiler
WS 14/2094

Values Codes   I-E-L

Joel Noah was born in Lancashire, England in 1808, of Hungar­ian-born parents.

He was brought to America as a child.

By the 1840s Joe Noah was a prosperous Rochester, New York mer­chant.

There he had become active in the Masons, joining the order in 1833.

When news of the Gold Rush came, Joel Noah quickly sold out and left.


Joel Noah, was easily one of the best-known Jews in San Francisco during the 1850s and 1860s.

Happily, the actual ’49ers were eligible to join the Society of California Pio­neers, and they kept accurate biographi­cal records of their members.



In 1849 Joel Noah established two clothing stores on Jackson Street, San Francisco, and in a short time cleared $75,000.

But economic disaster hit Joel Noah repeatedly: he was burned out six times, usually without fire insurance, which in any case was impossibly expensive in the early years of Gold Rush San Francisco.


Joel Noah’s great prominence was due to his activities as a “tiler” for the Masons, and to his own physical appearance.

Each Masonic Lodge had a “tiler” who was in charge of security for all Lodge meetings, and it was a compensated position.

Joel Noah served as “tiler” for a number of Lodges at the same time.

Joel Noah was a man of impressive di­mensions. In a day when the average American male was about 5’  6”. Noah stood 6’ 3” inches in and weighed about 300 pounds!

Parades were frequent occurrences in San Francisco in the 1850s and 1860s, and Joel Noah appeared at the head the  Masonic march­ing groups, bearing the sword and sash of his office of “tiler.” He was referred to as “a fine specimen of a man.”

He was especially proud of his many years as “tiler” for the Masons, and had himself listed as “Joel Noah, ‘Tiler,” in City Directories.


Joel Noah was also an organizer of California Lodge No. 1 of the Odd Fellows in 1849,.



Joel Noah attended the first High Holy Day services in the Far West in 1849 at Lewis A. Franklin’s San Francisco store where the Polish rite was used.

In 1852 (not 1849 as usually reported) he miscalcu­lated the date of Yom Kippur and fasted the day before in his quar­ters.

Emerging at dusk he met some fellow Jews on their way to Yom Kippur eve services, and “not daunted,” he “went back to his room and prayed and fasted for another 24 hours.”


In 1849 San Francisco Jewry named Joel Noah and Israel Solomon as a committee of two, responsible for calling the local Jewish residents together when an emergency need should arise.


In his later years Joel Noah was occupied as a builder.


Joel Noah never married.


Joel Noah died in 1883.

He  was interred at Hills of  Eternity Cemetery.

His Pioneer Society biographer observed in 1880, that, “Joel Noah was the largest and heaviest member of the Pioneers’ Society.”


More information can be found in the following issues of Western States Jewish History:

  • Noah, Joel; Joel Noah: San Francisco Forty-Niner; San Francisco; 15/4
  • Noah, Joel, Pioneer Jews of San Francisco, Part Two, M-Z, Norton Stern, 41/2

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