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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)

The Slave's Complaint

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

Something still my heart surveys,
Groping through this dreary maze;
Is it Hope?--they burn and blaze
               Forever!
			   
Leave me not a wretch confined,
Altogether lame and blind--
Unto gross despair consigned,
               Forever!
			   
Heaven! in whom can I confide?
Canst thou not for all provide?
Condescend to be my guide
               Forever:
			   
And when this transient life shall end,
Oh, may some kind, eternal friend
Bid me from servitude ascend,
               Forever! 

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
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
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