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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)

On Hearing of the Intention of a Gentleman to Purchase the Poet's Freedom

When on life's ocean first I spread my sail,
I then implored a mild auspicious gale;
And from the slippery strand I took my flight,
And sought the peaceful haven of delight.

Tyrannic storms arose upon my soul,
And dreadful did their mad'ning thunders roll;
The pensive muse was shaken from her sphere,
And hope, it vanished in the clouds of fear.

At length a golden sun broke through the gloom,
And from his smiles arose a sweet perfume--
A calm ensued, and birds began to sing,
And lo! the sacred muse resumed her wing.

With frantic joy she chaunted as she flew,
And kiss'd the clement hand that bore her through;
Her envious foes did from her sight retreat,
Or prostrate fall beneath her burning feet.

'Twas like a proselyte, allied to Heaven--
Or rising spirits' boast of sins forgiven,
Whose shout dissolves the adamant away,
Whose melting voice the stubborn rocks obey.

'Twas like the salutation of the dove,
Borne on the zephyr through some lonesome grove,
When Spring returns, and Winter's chill is past,
And vegetation smiles above the blast.

'Twas like the evening of a nuptial pair,
When love pervades the hour of sad despair--
'Twas like fair Helen's sweet return to Troy,
When every Grecian bosom swell'd with joy.

The silent harp which on the osiers hung,
Was then attuned, and manumission sung;
Away by hope the clouds of fear were driven,
And music breathed my gratitude to Heaven.

Hard was the race to reach the distant goal,
The needle oft was shaken from the pole;
In such distress who could forbear to weep?
Toss'd by the headlong billows of the deep!

The tantalizing beams which shone so plain,
Which turned my former pleasures into pain--
Which falsely promised all the joys of fame,
Gave way, and to a more substantial flame.

Some philanthropic souls as from afar,
With pity strove to break the slavish bar;
To whom my floods of gratitude shall roll,
And yield with pleasure to their soft control.

And sure of Providence this work begun--
He shod my feet this rugged race to run;
And in despite of all the swelling tide,
Along the dismal path will prove my guide.

Thus on the dusky verge of deep despair,
Eternal Providence was with me there;
When pleasure seemed to fade on life's gay dawn,
And the last beam of hope was almost gone.

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
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
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
poem

DEAR MISS: Notwithstanding the cloud of doubts which overshadows the mind of adoring fancy, when I trace that vermillion cheek, that sapphire eye of expressive softness, and that symmetrical form of grace, I am constrained to sink into a flood of admiration beneath those heavenly charms. Though, dear Miss, it may