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About this poet

George Moses Horton was born into slavery on a North Carolina tobacco plantation, likely in 1798. He spent his childhood as a slave on a farm in Chatham County, where he taught himself to read and began composing poetry.

In 1815 Horton was transferred to a new master, who sent him on frequent trips to Chapel Hill. There, Horton met students from the University of North Carolina; these students encouraged him to pursue poetry, donated books for his education, and occasionally commissioned poems from him. Although Horton could not write, he composed poems in his head while plowing fields and later dictated them to others.

Horton worked closely with a professor’s wife, Caroline Lee Hentz, who tutored him in grammar and helped him secure publication in small newspapers. In 1829 Horton published his first book, The Hope of Liberty (J. Gales & Sons), which he hoped would earn him enough income to purchase his freedom. While this was not the case, with this collection Horton became the first black author in the South to publish a book, as well as the only American to publish a book while living in slavery.

Horton went on to publish two more volumes of poetry, Poetical Works (D. Heartt, 1845) and Naked Genius (William B. Smith, 1865), which he composed after leaving his master’s farm and joining the Union army in 1865. After the Civil War, Horton moved to Philadelphia, where he continued writing. The details of his death are unknown. Horton was posthumously declared “Historic Poet Laureate” of Chatham County in 1997. In 1999 North Carolina placed a historic marker, the first in the state for an African American, near the farm where Horton lived.

 


Bibliography

Naked Genius (William B. Smith, 1865)
Poetical Works (D. Heartt, 1845)
The Hope of Liberty (J. Gales & Sons, 1829)

George Moses Horton, Myself

I feel myself in need 
   Of the inspiring strains of ancient lore, 
My heart to lift, my empty mind to feed, 
   And all the world explore. 

I know that I am old 
   And never can recover what is past, 
But for the future may some light unfold 
   And soar from ages blast. 

I feel resolved to try, 
   My wish to prove, my calling to pursue, 
Or mount up from the earth into the sky, 
   To show what Heaven can do. 

My genius from a boy, 
   Has fluttered like a bird within my heart; 
But could not thus confined her powers employ, 
   Impatient to depart. 

She like a restless bird, 
   Would spread her wings, her power to be unfurl'd, 
And let her songs be loudly heard, 
   And dart from world to world. 

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

George Moses Horton

George Moses Horton, born around 1798, was the first black author in the South to publish a book, as well as the only American to publish a book while living in slavery.

by this poet

poem
Esteville begins to burn;
The auburn fields of harvest rise;
The torrid flames again return,
And thunders roll along the skies.

Perspiring Cancer lifts his head,
And roars terrific from on high;
Whose voice the timid creatures dread;
From which they strive with awe to fly.

The night-hawk ventures from his cell
poem
Alas! and am I born for this,
   To wear this slavish chain?
Deprived of all created bliss,
   Through hardship, toil, and pain!
   
How long have I in bondage lain,
   And languished to be free!
Alas! and must I still complain--
   Deprived of liberty.

Oh, Heaven! and is there no relief
   This side the silent
poem
I lov'd thee from the earliest dawn, 
   When first I saw thy beauty's ray, 
And will, until life's eve comes on, 
   And beauty's blossom fades away; 
And when all things go well with thee, 
With smiles and tears remember me. 
  
I'll love thee when thy morn is past, 
   And wheedling gallantry is o'er, 
When