The “Sable Orator” and Poet, George Moses Horton

The cover of The Hope of Liberty. Image from UNC LibrariesOn July 2, 1829, Raleigh printer Joseph Gales published George Moses Horton’s The Hope of Liberty, the first book by an African American in the South. Horton’s life story, and how he became a published poet while enslaved, is compelling.

Horton was an infant when his owner William Horton moved from Northampton County to Chatham County. By all accounts, and given the fact that he could travel freely, George endured a relatively mild bondage.

Horton walked on weekends to Chapel Hill where he sold fruit and was prodded into reciting poems for UNC students. Over time he came known as the “sable orator,” as he signed his works and made friends.  Among those friends was UNC President Joseph Caldwell, and it was Caldwell’s wife who helped Horton first get published.

Other volumes of his work appeared in 1845 and 1865 under the title Naked Genius.  In 1866, he moved to Philadelphia, after which little is known about his life.

Interest in Horton’s work has increased in recent years, earning him the honor of being among the 15 inaugural inductees into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1996.

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