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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.



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

On Liberty and Slavery

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 grave--
To soothe the pain--to quell the grief
   And anguish of a slave?
Come, Liberty, thou cheerful sound,
   Roll through my ravished ears!
Come, let my grief in joys be drowned,
   And drive away my fears.
Say unto foul oppression, Cease:
   Ye tyrants rage no more,
And let the joyful trump of peace,
   Now bid the vassal soar.
Soar on the pinions of that dove
   Which long has cooed for thee,
And breathed her notes from Afric's grove,
   The sound of Liberty.
Oh, Liberty! thou golden prize,
   So often sought by blood--
We crave thy sacred sun to rise,
   The gift of nature's God!
Bid Slavery hide her haggard face,
   And barbarism fly:
I scorn to see the sad disgrace
   In which enslaved I lie.
Dear Liberty! upon thy breast,
   I languish to respire;
And like the Swan upon her nest,
   I'd to thy smiles retire.
Oh, blest asylum--heavenly balm!
   Unto thy boughs I flee--
And in thy shades the storm shall calm,
   With songs of Liberty!

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

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
Am I sadly cast aside,
On misfortune's rugged tide?
Will the world my pains deride
Must I dwell in Slavery's night,
And all pleasure take its flight,
Far beyond my feeble sight,
Worst of all, must hope grow dim,
And withhold her cheering beam?

What summons do I hear?
The morning peal, departure's knell;
My eyes let fall a friendly tear,
And bid this place farewell.

Attending servants come,
The carriage wheels like thunders roar,
To bear the pensive seniors home,
Here to be seen no more.

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