George Moses Horton

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George Moses Horton
Born1798
Northampton County, North Carolina
Died1867 or later
OccupationSlave
EducationNo formal education; mostly self-taught
Home townChapel Hill, North Carolina
PeriodAntebellum
GenrePoetry
SubjectFreedom
Notable worksThe Hope of Liberty, Naked Genius
Years active1828–1867
SpouseMartha Snipes
ChildrenFree, Rhody
A marker in North Carolina commemorating the life of George Moses Horton

George Moses Horton (1798–after 1867) was an African-American poet from North Carolina, the first to be published in the Southern United States. His collection The Hope of Liberty was published in 1829; he is one of the few African Americans to have poetry published while still enslaved. He hoped to earn from his writing enough to buy his freedom, but was unsuccessful. He did not become free until the end of the Civil War in 1865, when Union troops and the Emancipation Proclamation reached North Carolina.

Biography[edit]

Horton was born into slavery on William Horton's plantation in 1798 in Northampton County, North Carolina.[1] He was the sixth of ten children; the names of his parents are lost to history.[2] His owner relocated when Horton was a very young child; in 1800, he and several family members were moved with the master to a tobacco farm in rural Chatham County. In 1814 William Horton gave the youth as property to his relative James Horton.[1] In 1819, the estate was broken up, and George Horton's family was separated. (His poem "Division of an Estate", written years later, reflected on this experience.)[2]

Horton became known as a poet and attempted unsuccessfully to earn from his poetry writing enough to purchase his freedom. Sometime in the 1830s, he "married" (legal marriages were not permitted) Martha Snipes, an enslaved woman owned by Franklin Snipes in Chatham County.[3]:146 The couple had two children, Free and Rhody. Little else is known about the family.[4]

The editorial "Explanation" that opens The Hope of Freedom speaks of Horton's desire to emigrate to the new colony of Liberia; the collection was published so as to encourage donations. A few of the abolitionist papers[which?] also suggested raising money to buy his freedom and pay for his passage, These efforts were unsuccessful and he was not freed until 1865, when Union troops arrived, liberating all the enslaved according to the Emancipation Proclamation. A young officer with that group, William H. S. Banks, collaborated with Horton on the collection Naked Genius the same year.[5]

Now a free man, at the age of 68 Horton moved to Philadelphia, where he continued to write poetry for local newspapers. His poem "Forbidden to Ride on the Street Cars" expressed his disappointment in the unjust treatment of blacks after emancipation.[4] Arriving in Philadelphia before the summer of 1866,[6] he wrote Sunday school stories on behalf of friends who lived in the city.

Horton emigrated to Liberia, arriving January 7, 1867.[3]:151–152 This is the last known reference to him; while later death dates are found in some recent publications, his death location, date, and burial are unknown.[5] There is no known photograph or drawing of Horton.

The Black bard of Chapel Hill[edit]

Horton disliked farm work, and while young, in his limited free time he taught himself to read using spelling books, the Bible, and hymnals.[2] Learning poetry and snippets of literature, Horton composed poems in his mind. As a young adult, Horton delivered produce to the nearby University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. He got along well with the students and they saw his gifts: "Some how or other they discoverd a spark of genius in me".[7]:xiv He composed and recited poems for students, some of whom transcribed his pieces. In addition, he composed poems, usually love poems, by commission for individual students at 25¢ to 75¢ each, "besides many respectable suits of clothes".[7]:xvi The students also gave him many books: he tells us of "Murray's English Grammar and its accordant branches [(Murray's studies of other languages)]; Samuel Johnson's Dictionary in miniature, and also Walker's [Rhyming Dictionary] and [Thomas] Sheridan's [A Complete Dictionary of the English Language], and parts of others. And other books of use they gave me, which I had no chance to peruse minutely, Milton's Paradise Lost, [James] Thompson's Seasons, parts of Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Ænead ( [sic]), Beauties of Shakespear, Beauties of Byron, part of Plutarch, [Jedidiah] Morse's Geography, The Columbian Orator, [Richard] Snowden's History of the [American] Revolution, [Edward] Young's Night Thoughts, and some others".[7]:xv–xvi

Horton mentions Leonidas Polk as among the many students he had contact with,[7]:xv which would indicate a date in the early 1820s.

In 1828 a number of newspapers in North Carolina and beyond discussed Horton's work.[8] In 1829, his poems were published in a collection titled The Hope of Liberty, which was intended but failed to raise enough funds to purchase his freedom.[9] The book, funded by the politically liberal journalist Joseph Gales, was published the same year as David Walker's An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World.[10] Horton is believed to be the first Southern black to publish poetry.[1] Though he knew how to read, he published the book before he had learned how to write. As he recalled, "I fell to work in my head, and composed several undigested pieces."[11]

By 1832, Horton had learned to write, helped by Caroline Lee Hentz, who was a writer and the wife of a professor; teaching Blacks to read and write was legal in North Carolina until 1836. She also helped get at least two of his poems published in a newspaper.[1] Horton had composed a poem on the death of Hentz's first child. As he recalled: "She was extremely pleased with the dirge which I wrote on the death of her much lamented primogenial infant, and for which she gave me much credit and a handsome reward. Not being able to write myself, I dictated while she wrote."[11] She sent another of Horton's poems to her hometown newspaper in Lancaster, Massachusetts, where it was published on April 8, 1828, as "Liberty and Slavery".[2]

Horton's first book was republished under the title Poems by a Slave in 1837. It was reprinted with a biography and poetry by Phillis Wheatley a year later.[5] This book was published by Boston-based publisher and abolitionist Isaac Knapp. Newspapers again took note of Horton, calling him "the colored bard of Chapel Hill".[12]

In 1845, Horton published 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. Newspapers took notice again in December–January 1849–1850,[13] and advertisements for the book were printed in a Hillsborough newspaper from 1852 into 1853.[14] Horton was given direct credit for some poems published in newspapers in 1857 and 1858.[15] A newspaper article in Raleigh in August 1865 on Horton was entitled "Naked Genius", of his last book,.[16]

Horton gained the admiration of North Carolina Governor John Owen, influential newspapermen Horace Greeley and William Lloyd Garrison, and numerous other Northern abolitionists. He was said to be an admirer of Byron, whose poetry he used as a model.[17]

Poetry[edit]

George Moses Horton's signature

After Horton's first poem was published in the Lancaster, Massachusetts, Gazette, his works were published in other newspapers, such as the Register in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Freedom's Journal in New York City.[2] Horton's poetic style was typical of contemporary European poetry and was similar to poems written by free white contemporaries, likely a reflection of his reading and his work for commission.[18] He wrote both sonnets and ballads. His earlier works focused on his life in slavery. Such topics, however, were more generalized and not necessarily based on his personal experience. He referred to his life on "vile accursed earth" and the "drudg'ry, pain, and toil" of life, as well as his oppression "because my skin is black".[18]

His first collection was focused on the issues of slavery and bondage. He did not gain enough in sales from that book to purchase his freedom; in his second book, he mentions slavery only twice.[19] The change in theme is also likely due to the more restrictive climate in the South in the years leading up to the Civil War.[4]

His later works, especially those written after his emancipation, expressed rural and pastoral themes. Like other early black American writers such as Jupiter Hammon and Phillis Wheatley, Horton was deeply influenced by the Bible and African-American religion.[19]

The earliest known critical commentary on Horton's writing is from 1909 by University of North Carolina professor Collier Cobb. He dismissed Horton's antislavery themes, saying: "George never really cared for more liberty than he had, but was fond of playing to the grandstand.".[20]

Legacy[edit]

Building towards his remembrance, biographies began to appear. The first was by Kemp Plummer Battle in May 1888,[21] then President of the University of North Carolina. J. Donald Cameron noted Horton among notable North Carolina poets in 1890; a speech that was reported several times in some newspapers.[22] Battle reprised his thoughts on Horton in his history of the university, published in 1907.[23] In 1909 UNC professor Collier Cobb wrote a paper on Horton,[24] which he published in 1925 at his own expense.[25] Horton was remembered at the University of North Carolina on the occasion of the visit of James Weldon Johnson.[26] The centennial of his first book was noted in the New York Age after it was noted in Greensboro.[27]

  • In 1927 Winston-Salem, North Carolina, opened a segregated library for blacks in a YWCA building; it was named for George Moses Horton.[28]
  • In the 1990s, North Carolina erected a historical marker about Horton near where he had lived.[where?] (See photo)
  • In 1996 Horton was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.[29]
  • Also in 1996, the George Moses Horton Society for the Study of African American Poetry was founded.[29]
  • In 1997, Horton was named as Historic Poet Laureate of Chatham County, North Carolina.[29]
  • In 2006, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill named a dormitory for George Moses Horton; it is believed to be the first university dormitory in the country to be named for a slave.[30]
  • In 2015 author/illustrator Don Tate published Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, an illustrated biography for children. The Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina hosted the national launch of the book on September 3, 2015.[31]

Published works[edit]

  • Horton, George M. (1829). The Hope of Liberty, containing a number of poetical pieces. Contains "Explanation" from the publisher. Reprinted by Kraus Reprint, 1973. Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Horton, George M. (1837). Poems by a slave. According to a "Preface to the Second Edition" signed by "L. C. G.", who did not know the author, only one copy of the first edition has ever been seen, that copy belonging to Joshua Coffin. The editor says it is reproduced unchanged except for the change of title. (2nd ed.). Philadelphia.
  • Wheatley, Phillis; Horton, George M. (1838). Memoir and poems of Phillis Wheatley, a native African and a slave : also, Poems by a slave (3rd ed.). Boston: Isaac Knapp.
  • Horton, George M. (1845). 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. Hillsborough, North Carolina.
  • Horton, George M (1865). Naked Genius. Revised and compiled By William H. S. Banks. Raleigh, North Carolina: Southern Field and Fireside Book Publishing House.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d 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. ^ a b c d e Page, Amanda. "George Moses Horton" in The North Carolina Roots of African American Literature: An Anthology (William L. Andrews, editor). The University of North Carolina Press, 2006: 45. ISBN 0-8078-2994-3
  3. ^ a b Pitts, Reginald H. (Autumn 1995). "'Let us Desert this Friendless Place': George Moses Horton in Philadelphia—1866". Journal of Negro History. 80 (4). pp. 145–156. JSTOR 2717439.
  4. ^ a b c Page, Amanda. "George Moses Horton" in The North Carolina Roots of African American Literature: An Anthology (William L. Andrews, editor). The University of North Carolina Press, 2006: 46. ISBN 0-8078-2994-3
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ "An unusually intelligent contraband". The Evening Telegraph. Philadelphia, PA. 23 Aug 1866. p. 5. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d Horton, George M. (1845). 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. Hillsborough, North Carolina.
  8. ^ * "Poetry". Fayetteville Weekly Observer. Fayetteville, NC. 7 Aug 1828. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  9. ^ Brown, Sterling (1937). Negro Poetry and Drama. Washington, DC: Westphalia Press. p. 6. ISBN 1935907549.
  10. ^ Gordon, Dexter B. Black Identity: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Nineteenth-Century Black Nationalism. Southern Illinois University, 2003: 2009. ISBN 0-8093-2485-7
  11. ^ a b Hager, Christopher. Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013: 69. ISBN 978-0-674-05986-3
  12. ^ George Horton (3 Apr 1839). "From the Washington Whig,... On Transitory Pleasures". The Greensboro Patriot. Greensboro, NC. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  13. ^ * "The "Standard" this quaintly..." The Raleigh Register. Raleigh, NC. 29 Dec 1849. p. 3. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  14. ^ * "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 10 Mar 1852. p. 3. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's Poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 17 Mar 1852. p. 3. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 14 Apr 1852. p. 3. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 5 May 1852. p. 1. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 12 May 1852. p. 1. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 26 May 1852. p. 1. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 9 Jun 1852. p. 1. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 16 Jun 1852. p. 1. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 23 Jun 1852. p. 1. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 30 Jun 1852. p. 1. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 1 Sep 1852. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 22 Sep 1852. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 6 Oct 1852. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 13 Oct 1852. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 27 Oct 1852. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 17 Nov 1852. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 8 Dec 1852. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 15 Dec 1852. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 5 Jan 1853. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 12 Jan 1853. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 26 Jan 1853. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 2 Feb 1853. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 9 Feb 1853. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 16 Feb 1853. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 2 Mar 1853. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 6 Apr 1853. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  15. ^ * George M. Horton (16 May 1857). "Poetry; To my lady". The Chapel Hill Gazette. Chapel Hill, NC. p. 3. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • George M Horton (17 Apr 1858). "Reflections". Anti-Slavery Bugle. Lisbon, OH. p. 4. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  16. ^ "Naked Genius". The Daily Progress. Raleigh, NC. 31 Aug 1865. p. 1. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  17. ^ "North Carolina poets". Asheville Weekly Citizen (Asheville, North Carolina). 25 September 1890. p. 2.
  18. ^ a b O'Brien, Michael. Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860. The University of North Carolina Press, 2010: 181. ISBN 978-0-8078-3400-8
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ Kemp Plummer Battle (May 1888). "George Horton, the slave poet". North Carolina University Magazine. 7 (5): 229–32. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  22. ^ "North Carolina Poets". Asheville Citizen-Times. Asheville, NC. 18 Sep 1890. p. 1. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  23. ^ Kemp Plummer Battle (1907). "University dependents and laborers". History of the University of North Carolina. 1 (Electronic ed.). Raleigh, NC: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company. p. 603. Archived from the original on 2017-12-28. Retrieved 2018-03-24.
  24. ^ "Prof. Collier Cobb's ..." The Charlotte Observer. Charlotte, NC. 20 Dec 1909. p. 3. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • Collier Cobb (Oct 1909). "An American man of letters". University of North Carolina Magazine. Vol. 27 no. 1. p. 2532. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  25. ^ * "A curious item..." The Courier-Journal. Louisville, KY. 8 Mar 1925. p. 34. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "A curious item ..." Austin American-Statesman. Austin, Texas. 8 Mar 1925. p. 16. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  26. ^ DDC (12 Apr 1927). "The sun rises". The Daily Tar Heel. Chapel Hill, NC. p. 2. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  27. ^ Raymond Adams (21 Dec 1929). "North Carolina's pioneer negro poet". The New York Age. New York, NY. p. 7. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  28. ^ Rawls, Molly Grogan. Winston-Salem: From the Collection of Frank B. Jones Jr. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006: 62. ISBN 978-0-7385-4324-6
  29. ^ a b c Sherman, Joan R. "Horton, George Moses" in African American Lives (Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, editors). New York: Oxford University Press, 2004: 415. ISBN 0-19-516024-X
  30. ^ Baker, Elizabeth (September 2, 2015). "Former slave poet honored in book". The Daily Tar Heel. Archived from the original on 3 October 2015. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  31. ^ "Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton Book Launch Sept. 3 at Wilson Library". UNC Library News and Events. August 12, 2015. Archived from the original on 28 August 2015. Retrieved 22 October 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]