Noah H. Pinkney was born Dec. 31, 1845, in Maryland and was a Civil War veteran. Based on his date and location of birth, Pinkney most likely grew up in slavery. Because there are next to no sources regarding Pinkney's early life and the first census that includes him is the 1910 census, it is impossible to know when exactly he moved to Carlisle. However, according to memorials to him, Pinkney began interacting with Dickinson in the early 1880s.
According to Boyd Spahr's recollection of Pinkney in Dickinson Doings in 1900, Noah Pinkney was "heavy set, a well shaped head on good shoulders, his short curly hair and mustache turning gray from its once jet black, a broad grinning mouth showing two rows of shining ivories..., [and] an old slouch hat on his head..." (Spahr 55-56). This description is very in depth, yet looking at pictures, it is hard to see him as a heavy-set man. Most likely, these pictures were taken before or after Spahr's time at Dickinson.
Pinkney was not formally employed by the college. Regardless, he was well-loved by Dickinson students and was a member of the Dickinson College campus at heart. He was even known as the "Dickinson College 'Caterer'" because students perpetually requested his food and service. Although he often sold his pretzels and ice cream near East College, he set up a refreshment stand outside of West College in 1894.
Outside of the walls of Dickinson, Pinkney owned a restaurant that many students visited. According to Dickinson Doings, the students were particularly partial to his pretzels and oysters. He often advertised his business in newspapers and to the students who visited his stand at the school. In Spahr's chapter on Pinkney, he details Pinkney's house, claiming that "on the wall behind [one of the rooms] are some shelves containing a few jars of peppermint stick slowly crumbling to decay, flanked by an unframed print of Lincoln freeing the slave and a certificate of his membership in the colored Odd Fellows, both somewhat the worse from fly-wear.” (Spahr 56) The print of Lincoln freeing a slave was most likely the image "Emancipation of the Slaves" in which Lincoln stands over a hunched black man and shakes his hand. The other image on Pinkney's wall as described in this recollection is the certificate from the colored Odd Fellows.
Forty years of Dickinsonians will picture him at his old stand at the East College gate...some will have the more intimate recollection of the gentle tapping at a dorm door or the pciture of the little home on North West Street just across from the Armory, and oyster sandwiches." - Quote from The Alumnus (August 1923) that appears in "Who Remembers Uncle Noah?" (December 1972).
Upper left image is an old slouch hat. Courtesy of the Historical Emporium. Right image is of Noah Pinkney wearing the old slouch hat. Courtesy of the Noah Pinkney Image File in the Dickinson College Archives.
Image of Carrie and Noah Pinkney outside their restaurant.
Courtesy of the "Negro Directory of Business, 1910."
Spahr's recollection also details Noah Pinkney's wife. He claims that just as the students called Pinkney Uncle Noah, they also referred to his wife as Aunt Noah. Spahr describes her as "Uncle Noah's other half" (Spahr 57). "She is slightly broader than long, with a face that is all smiles and all wrinkles and dimples...and a little knot of crimpy hair tightly drawn at the crown of the head" (Spahr 57). According to 1910 census records, Aunt Noah is Carrie Pinkney, a woman born around 1857 in Virginia. They were together for about forty years before her death in the late 1910s. After the death of Carrie, Pinkney married Nannie J. Pinkney. According to the 1920 census, she was born around 1880 in Pennsylvania.
Beyond working in the food industry, Pinkney was well-known in Carlisle for his various activities in the community. He served for a while as the president of the Pomfret Street A.M.E. Zion Church. He also managed a grocery store in addition to running his restaurant. In 1896, he served as the Post Commander. He was often asked to give speeches, and upon Henry Spradley's death, he served as a pall bearer.
Noah Pinkney died on August 6, 1923, just a few years after his first wife's death. He was buried in the Lincoln Cemetery in Carlisle.
Pinkney was a well-known figure on campus known as "Pink" or "Uncle Pinkney." In 1900, Boyd Spahr published Dickinson Doings which contains a chapter on Noah Pinkney. In addition to this descriptive text, multiple articles and even a poem were published in his honor and memory. Dickinson College produced a plaque to hang on the gate of East College and replaced it with another plaque when the old one began to decay.