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Freedom Path

Born the property of Chatham County yeoman farmer William Horton, young George Moses Horton taught himself to read using an old speller and a copy of the Methodist hymnal, although he was grown before he learned to write. Especially fascinated with poetry, he composed psalm-meter verses in his head.

His unusually sophisticated vocabulary caught the attention of the university students, who encouraged his orations, and ultimately, the recitation of his own verse. The book, the first published in the South by a black man, did not sell enough copies for Horton to purchase his freedom, nor did two subsequent collections. He finally gained his freedom after the Civil War, and moved north.

Horton spent his final years in Philadelphia, writing Sunday School stories and working for old North Carolina friends who had moved to the city. He did not enjoy the popularity there that he had known in Chapel Hill, and the details of his death are unknown.

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Horton Middle School in Pittsboro is named for him, and there are plans to place a State Highway Historical Marker in his honor pending the determination of a documented location. He has been the subject of several books, dissertations, and scholarly papers, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently purchased one of his manuscripts at auction.

Horton was the first black southern author and the first African American poet to produce a volume in more than half a century. Horton hoped to use his income to buy his freedom, but was unsuccessful despite appeals to his owner from many sources including the state Governor.

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

During the s, though, Horton was able to rent his labor from his owner, and write full-time. He learned to write in , and continued to buy his time for the next 30 years.

Many of his poems were vivid and powerful attacks on slavery. Once in the north, he never published another verse. Sign In Don't have an account?


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