Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> Highlights >> George Moses Horton: Slave Poet from North Carolina
George Moses Horton: Slave Poet from North Carolina

To celebrate National Poetry Month, Documenting the American South invites you to explore the work of North Carolina native George Moses Horton.

Horton was bonded to a Chatham county farmer but was well known to students at the University of North Carolina for his poetic skills. By selling love poems to students for their sweethearts, Horton earned money to help purchase his freedom. These love poems were often acrostics; a young scholar would tell Horton the name of his sweetheart and Horton, who could not yet read or write, would recite a poem in which the first letters of the lines corresponded with the letters in the beloved's name. He soon learned to read and write and several poems in his own hand are held in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A sample Horton acrostic is available on the Manuscripts Department's web page.

Horton’s fame on the campus led a professor’s wife to send one of his poems to the New England newspaper that first published his poetry. Later, Horton published several poetry collections, including The Hope of Liberty (1829) and The Poetical Works of George M. Horton, The Colored Bard of North Carolina (1845). Despite these publications, which Horton and his supporters hoped would secure his freedom, he remained enslaved until the Civil War, when he left the state with Union soldiers from Michigan. Read more about Horton's life in the autobiographical sketch he included with The Poetical Works.

For more information about poets in North Carolina and across the South, please browse the "North Carolina Experience, Beginnings to 1940" and “The Library of Southern Literature".

Jennifer L. Larson