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poet

George Moses Horton

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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)

by this poet

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

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
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,