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Horton, George Moses

George Moses Horton (ca. 1797-ca. 1883) was born the property of William Horton, who owned a plantation in Northampton County, NC, but subsequently moved to Chatham County, NC. At William Horton's death in 1814, George became the property of William's son James; at James' death in 1843, James' son Hall inherited George. As a child, Horton "taught himself to read and began composing in his head a series of stanzas based on the rhythms in Wesley hymns" (Dictionary of North Carolina Biography 3:207). By the time he was twenty, he was walking to Chapel Hill on Sundays to peddle fruit. Horton composed poems for students, selling them for twenty-five to seventy-five cents and becoming well known for acrostics on the names of students' sweethearts. For several decades Horton was able to buy his time from his master with the money he earned from students and by working as a campus laborer. Students loaned him books, and Caroline Lee Hentz, novelist and wife of modern languages professor Nicholas Hentz, helped him publish his first poems in newspapers. With her encouragement Horton published in 1829 The Hope of Liberty, the first book published in the South by an African-American. Horton intended to use the proceeds to buy his freedom and move to Liberia, but when the profits were inconsiderable, Horton's own "hope of liberty" was dashed. In 1845 The Poetical Works of George M. Horton, The Colored Bard of North-Carolina, To which Is Prefixed The Life of the Author appeared. At the close of the Civil War, Horton left Chapel Hill, following a Michigan cavalry unit, and with the help of Captain Will H. S. Banks published his third book Naked Genius (1865). Horton spent the last eighteen years of his life in Philadelphia. He married a slave of Franklin Snipes and fathered a son and a daughter, both of whom retained their mother's name (Dictionary of North Carolina Biography 3:207).