George Moses Horton

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For other people named George Horton, see George Horton (disambiguation).
A plaque in North Carolina commemorating the life of George Moses Horton.

George Moses Horton (1798–1884) was an African-American poet and the first African American poet to be published in the Southern United States. His book was published in 1828 while he was still a slave; he remained a slave until he was emancipated late in the Civil War.

Biography[edit]

Horton was born into slavery on William Horton's plantation in Northampton County, North Carolina.[1] As a very young child, he and several family members were moved to a tobacco farm in rural Chatham County, when his owner relocated, and he was given as property to William's relative James Horton.[1]

Learning poetry and snippets of literature through clandestine means as a teen, Horton composed poems in his mind. As a young adult, Horton delivered produce to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he composed and recited poems for students, some of whom transcribed his compositions. Horton also composed poems, usually love poems, by commission for the students at 25 or 50 cents each.[1]

In 1829, his poems were published in a collection titled The Hope of Liberty, which was intended to raise funds for his release from slavery.[2] The book was funded by the politically-liberal journalist, Joseph Gales. He is believed to be the first Southern black to publish poetry.[1]

By 1832, he had learned to write for himself, having learned with the aid of Caroline Lee Hentz, who was the wife of a professor and a writer herself. She also assisted in publishing at least two of his poems in a newspaper.[1] Horton's first book was republished under the title Poems by a Slave in 1837 and compiled with a biography and poetry by Phillis Wheatley a year later in a book called Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and Slave: Also Poems by a Slave.[3]

In 1845, he released another book of poetry, The Poetical Works of George M. Horton, The Colored Bard of North-Carolina, To Which Is Prefixed The Life of the Author, Written by Himself. The moniker, "Colored Bard of North-Carolina", was coined by his new publisher.

Horton gained the admiration of North Carolina Governor John Owen, influential newspapermen Horace Greeley and William Lloyd Garrison, along with numerous Northern abolitionists.

Horton had written about his interest in the new nation of Liberia, and a few of the abolitionist papers made calls to raise enough money so that Horton could see his dream of life in Liberia come true. Despite these efforts, Horton would never live to see Liberia. He was not emancipated until 1865, when he met the Ninth Calvary from Michigan. A young officer with that group, William H. S. Banks, collaborated with Horton on the collection Naked Genius the same year.[3] At the age of 68, Horton moved to Pennsylvania as a freeman where he continued to write poetry for local newspapers. In Philadelphia, he wrote Sunday school stories on behalf of friends who lived in the city. His exact death location and date are unknown.[3]

Poetry[edit]

George Moses Horton's signature

Horton's poetic style was typical of contemporary European poetry. He wrote both sonnets and ballads, and his earlier works focused on his life in servitude. His first collection was focused heavily on the issue of slavery and bondage. Likely because sales from that book were not enough for him to purchase his freedom, his second book mentions slavery only twice.[4] His later works, especially those made after his emancipation, were more rural and pastoral. Like other early black American writers like Jupiter Hammon and Phillis Wheatley, Horton was also heavily influenced by the Bible.[4]

The earliest known critical commentary on Horton's writing is from 1909 by UNC professor Collier Cobb, who dismissed Horton's antislavery themes: "George never really cared for more liberty than he had, but was fond of playing to the grandstand.".[5]

Legacy[edit]

In 2006, UNC Chapel Hill named a newly built dorm for George Moses Horton; it was constructed on the site of Hinton James North.

Published works[edit]

  • The Hope of Liberty (1829)
  • Poems by a Slave (1837)
  • The Poetical Works of George M. Horton (1845)
  • Naked Genius (1865, with William H. S. Banks)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Johnson, Lonnell E. "George Moses Horton" in African American Authors, 1745-1945: Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook (Emmanuel S. Nelson, editor). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000: 239. ISBN 0-313-30910-8
  2. ^ Brown, Sterling (1937). Negro Poetry and Drama. Washington, DC: Westphalia Press. p. 6. ISBN 1935907549. 
  3. ^ a b c Johnson, Lonnell E. "George Moses Horton" in African American Authors, 1745-1945: Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook (Emmanuel S. Nelson, editor). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000: 240. ISBN 0-313-30910-8
  4. ^ a b Johnson, Lonnell E. "George Moses Horton" in African American Authors, 1745-1945: Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook (Emmanuel S. Nelson, editor). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000: 241. ISBN 0-313-30910-8
  5. ^ Johnson, Lonnell E. "George Moses Horton" in African American Authors, 1745-1945: Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook (Emmanuel S. Nelson, editor). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000: 242. ISBN 0-313-30910-8

External links[edit]