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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 Summer

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,
And starts his note in evening air;
He feels the heat his bosom swell,
Which drives away the gloom of fear.

Thou noisy insect, start thy drum;
Rise lamp-like bugs to light the train;
And bid sweet Philomela come,
And sound in front the nightly strain.

The bee begins her ceaseless hum,
And doth with sweet exertions rise;
And with delight she stores her comb,
And well her rising stock supplies.

Let sportive children well beware,
While sprightly frisking o’er the green;
And carefully avoid the snare,
Which lurks beneath the smiling scene.

The mistress bird assumes her nest,
And broods in silence on the tree,
Her note to cease, her wings at rest,
She patient waits her young to see.

The farmer hastens from the heat;
The weary plough-horse droops his head;
The cattle all at noon retreat,
And ruminate beneath the shade.

The burdened ox with dauntless rage,
Flies heedless to the liquid flood,
From which he quaffs, devoid of gauge,
Regardless of his driver's rod.

Pomaceous orchards now expand
Their laden branches o'er the lea;
And with their bounty fill the land,
While plenty smiles on every tree.

On fertile borders, near the stream,
Now gaze with pleasure and delight;
See loaded vines with melons teem—
'Tis paradise to human sight.

With rapture view the smiling fields,
Adorn the mountain and the plain,
Each, on the eve of Autumn, yields
A large supply of golden grain.

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

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.

Pass one more

poem
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
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