George Moses Horton (ca. 1797 - ca. 1883)
(Note: Primary source material relating to George Moses Horton has been indexed in the Manuscripts Department. A list of poems included in the Southern Historical Collection may be viewed at http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/h/Horton,George_Moses.html. You may also search the Library's online catalog and the Documenting the American South site at http://docsouth.unc.edu/ for published sources by and about George Moses Horton).
George Moses Horton was a slave of William Horton of Chatham County. He taught himself to read and began composing poems based on rhythms in the hymns of Charles Wesley. At the age of twenty he began visiting the University of North Carolina's campus, where he sold acrostics to students based upon the names of their sweethearts for twenty-five, fifty, or seventy-five cents. Horton bought his time from his owner through the sale of his poems and through wages he collected as a campus laborer.
Horton's literary efforts were encouraged by such individuals as novelist Caroline Lee Hentz, university presidents Joseph Caldwell and David L. Swain, and newspaperman Horace Greeley. On 8 April 1829, Horton had his first poem published-"Liberty and Slavery," the first known poem of a slave protesting his status. Later that same year Horton's The Hope of Liberty became the first book published in the South by an African American.
From David L. Swain Papers #706 (connect to finding aid).
3 September 1844. George Moses Horton to David L. Swain. Horton writes to Mr. Garrison, an editor of a Boston paper, through President David L. Swain requesting assistance in publishing his work. Horton argues that his work can answer the question "whether a negro has any genious or not." Horton says that he "never had one day's schooling in all the course of my life," although he was "early fond of hearing people read." Horton learned his letters "by heart, and by that means, learned them in the book."
11 September 1853. George Moses Horton to Horace Greeley. Horton appeals to Greeley for "some assistance to remove the burden of hard servitude" and wants his "literary labour of the night . . . circulated throughout the whole world." The second page of the letter contains a poem.
Undated. George Moses Horton to David L. Swain. Horton describes himself as having been for some time "very anxious for some Gentleman in this place to buy me." He has selected Swain because of his location near the university, which will allow Horton to attend to his "business, which chiefly lies on the Hill." Horton estimates his worth at "$200[and]50 dollars" and writes that he is willing to serve to the best of his ability. Swain, however, did not buy him.
From Pettigrew Family Papers #592 (connect to finding aid).
1836. Horton, George Moses. "The Pleasures of a College Life." Horton writes as a student lamenting the loss of college life: "With tears I leave these Academic bowers . . . and take my exit with a breast of pain."
Undated. Included are several of Horton's acrostics.