George Moses Horton

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George Moses Horton
Born1798 (1798)
Northampton County, North Carolina
Died1867 or later
OccupationSlave
EducationNo formal education; mostly self-taught
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), "the Black bard of North Carolina", was an African-American poet from North Carolina who was enslaved. His first collection, The Hope of Liberty (1829), was intended to earn enough to purchase his freedom, but failed to do so. He did not become free until 1865, when Union troops and the Emancipation Proclamation reached North Carolina.

Horton is author of the first book of literature published in North Carolina. Except for Phillis Wheatley, who published in London after Boston publishers turned her down, and before the U.S. existed, he is the first African-American author.

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]

At age 60, which means about 1858, he described himself as "Belonging to Hal Horton living now in Chatham County".[5]: 1248 

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, according to the Emancipation Proclamation, all the enslaved in the seceding states. He made friends with the young officer with that group, William H. S. Banks. He left Chapel Hill with this man, eventually arriving in Philadelphia. Banks helped Horton get his collection Naked Genius published the same year.[6]

Now a free man, at the age of 68 Horton lived in 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,[7] he wrote Sunday school stories on behalf of friends who lived in the city.

Horton emigrated to Bexley, Liberia,[5]: 1244  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.[6] He may have returned to Philadelphia.[5]: 1244  There is no known photograph or drawing of Horton.

The Black bard of North Carolina[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, since he did not learn to write until much later. The University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, was only 8 miles (13 km) from his home, and as a young adult, Horton delivered produce to the university students and kitchens.[8]: 3  He got along well with the students and they saw his gifts: "Some how or other they discoverd a spark of genius in me".[9]: 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".[9]: 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".[9]: xv–xvi 

Horton mentions Leonidas Polk as among the many students he had contact with,[9]: 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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."[13]

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."[13] 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.[6] 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".[14]

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,[15] and advertisements for the book were printed in a Hillsborough newspaper from 1852 into 1853.[16] Horton was given direct credit for some poems published in newspapers in 1857 and 1858.[17] A newspaper article in Raleigh in August 1865 on Horton was entitled "Naked Genius", of his last book,.[18]

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.[19]

Writing[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.[20] 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".[20]

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.[21] 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.[21]

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.".[22]

In 2017 the only known essay by Horton, "Individual Influence", was published for the first time.[5]

Horton "firsts"[edit]

  • The first African American to publish a book in the United States.[23]
  • The first published North Carolina author of literature.
  • The first enslaved American to publish a book.[23]
  • The "first American slave to protest his bondage in verse; the first African American to publish a book in the South; the only slave to earn a significant income by selling his poems; the only poet of any race to produce a book of poems before he could write; and the only slave to publish two volumes of poetry while in bondage and another shortly after emancipation."[8]

Legacy[edit]

Building towards his remembrance, biographies began to appear. The first was by Kemp Plummer Battle in May 1888,[24] at that time President of the University of North Carolina. J. Donald Cameron noted Horton among notable North Carolina poets in 1890, in a speech that was reported in several newspapers.[25] Battle reprised his thoughts on Horton in his history of the university, published in 1907.[26] In 1909 UNC professor Collier Cobb wrote a paper on Horton,[27] which he published in 1925 at his own expense.[28] Horton was remembered at the University of North Carolina on the occasion of the visit of James Weldon Johnson.[29] The centennial of his first book was noted in the New York Age after it was noted in Greensboro.[30]

  • In 1927 Winston-Salem, North Carolina, opened a segregated library for blacks in a YWCA building; it was named for George Moses Horton.[31]
  • In the 1930s, A Horton School, for Black children, opened in Pittsboro, North Carolina. It later became Horton High School. After integration in the 1970s, it became Horton Middle School.[23]
  • In June 1978, North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt declared June 28 “George Moses Horton Day.”[23]
  • In the 1990s, North Carolina erected a historical marker about Horton at the intersection of U.S. 15/501 and Mount Gilead Church Road, Chatham County Road 1700 (35° 47.618′ N, 79° 5.992′ W). According to the marker, he lived about 2 miles (3.2 km) to the southeast.[32] (See photo)
  • In 1996 Horton was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.[33]
  • Also in 1996, the George Moses Horton Society for the Study of African American Poetry was founded in Chapel Hill.[33][23]
  • In 1997, Horton was named as Historic Poet Laureate of Chatham County, North Carolina.[33][23]
  • 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.[34]
  • 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.[35]

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.
  • Horton, George Moses (October 2017). Senchyne, Jonathan (ed.). "Individual Influence". PMLA. 132 (5): 1244–1250. doi:10.1632/pmla.2017.132.5.1244. S2CID 165982360.

See also[edit]

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 d Horton, George Moses (October 2017). Senchyne, Jonathan (ed.). "Individual Influence". PMLA. 132 (5): 1244–1250. doi:10.1632/pmla.2017.132.5.1244. S2CID 165982360.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ "An unusually intelligent contraband". The Evening Telegraph. Philadelphia, PA. 23 Aug 1866. p. 5. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018 – via newspapers.com.
  8. ^ a b Sherman, Joan R. (1997). The Black Bard of North Carolina : George Moses Horton and his poetry. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807823414.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ * "Poetry". Fayetteville Weekly Observer. Fayetteville, NC. 7 Aug 1828. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018 – via newspapers.com.
  11. ^ Brown, Sterling (1937). Negro Poetry and Drama. Washington, DC: Westphalia Press. p. 6. ISBN 1935907549.
  12. ^ Gordon, Dexter B. Black Identity: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Nineteenth-Century Black Nationalism. Southern Illinois University, 2003: 2009. ISBN 0-8093-2485-7
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ George Horton (3 Apr 1839). "From the Washington Whig,... On Transitory Pleasures". The Greensboro Patriot. Greensboro, NC. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018 – via newspapers.com.
  15. ^ * "The "Standard" this quaintly..." The Raleigh Register. Raleigh, NC. 29 Dec 1849. p. 3. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018 – via newspapers.com.
  16. ^ * "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 10 Mar 1852. p. 3. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's Poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 17 Mar 1852. p. 3. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 14 Apr 1852. p. 3. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 5 May 1852. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 12 May 1852. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 26 May 1852. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 9 Jun 1852. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 16 Jun 1852. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 23 Jun 1852. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 30 Jun 1852. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 1 Sep 1852. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. 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. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 13 Oct 1852. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 27 Oct 1852. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 17 Nov 1852. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 8 Dec 1852. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 15 Dec 1852. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 5 Jan 1853. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 12 Jan 1853. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 26 Jan 1853. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 2 Feb 1853. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 9 Feb 1853. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 16 Feb 1853. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 2 Mar 1853. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • "Horton's poems". The Hillsborough Recorder. Hillsborough, NC. 6 Apr 1853. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  17. ^ * George M. Horton (16 May 1857). "Poetry; To my lady". The Chapel Hill Gazette. Chapel Hill, NC. p. 3. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
    • George M Horton (17 Apr 1858). "Reflections". Anti-Slavery Bugle. Lisbon, OH. p. 4. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  18. ^ "Naked Genius". The Daily Progress. Raleigh, NC. 31 Aug 1865. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  19. ^ "North Carolina poets". Asheville Weekly Citizen (Asheville, North Carolina). 25 September 1890. p. 2. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved 7 July 2020 – via newspapers.com.
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ 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
  22. ^ 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
  23. ^ a b c d e f "George Moses Horton. Historic Poet Laureate of Chatham County, North Carolina, ca. 1797?-1883". Chatham Arts Council. 2020. Archived from the original on September 22, 2020. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  24. ^ Kemp Plummer Battle (May 1888). "George Horton, the slave poet". North Carolina University Magazine. 7 (5): 229–32. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  25. ^ "North Carolina Poets". Asheville Citizen-Times. Asheville, NC. 18 Sep 1890. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018 – via newspapers.com.
  26. ^ Kemp Plummer Battle (1907). "University dependents and laborers". History of the University of North Carolina. 1. Raleigh, NC. p. 603. Archived from the original on 2017-12-28. Retrieved 2018-03-24.
  27. ^ Collier Cobb (Oct 1909). "An American man of letters". University of North Carolina Magazine. Vol. 27 no. 1. p. 2532. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018.
  28. ^ * "A curious item..." The Courier-Journal. Louisville, KY. 8 Mar 1925. p. 34. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018 – via newspapers.com.
  29. ^ DDC (12 Apr 1927). "The sun rises". The Daily Tar Heel. Chapel Hill, NC. p. 2. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018 – via newspapers.com.
  30. ^ Raymond Adams (21 Dec 1929). "North Carolina's pioneer negro poet". New York Age. New York, NY. p. 7. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved Mar 23, 2018 – via newspapers.com.
  31. ^ 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
  32. ^ "George Moses Horton ca. 1798 - 1883". Historical Markers Database. Archived from the original on October 18, 2020. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  33. ^ 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
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ "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]