George Moses Horton

Historic Poet Laureate of Chatham County, North Carolina
ca. 1797?-1883

A Celebration of His Life and Work

The George Moses Horton Project was founded in January 2000 as a special program of the Chatham County Arts Council, in partnership with the Horton Middle School and the Chatham County Black Historical Society. Its mission is to spark the creative spirit in Chatham students and citizens, and to honor local history, focusing on the life and work of George Moses Horton as a hero of literacy and expression.

Who Was George Moses Horton?

George Moses Horton was a black man who lived in slavery in Chatham County from 1800 to 1865. During that time he was inspired by the rural countryside, the people in his life, and his experiences as a slave to make up and perform poems to express himself. He learned to read and write when it was against the law. With the help of a professor’s wife at UNC, he published two books of poems. He sold love poems to college students at a farmers market in Chapel Hill. He hoped to save enough money to buy his freedom, and he became a symbol for people against slavery.

Horton was never able to purchase his freedom. In 1865 he left Chatham County with Union soldiers and went north to freedom. He published a third book, Naked Genius, while living in Raleigh. He ended his days in Philadelphia.

George Moses Horton was considered a genius in his time. Against great odds he gained literacy and was befriended by scholars, college students, university presidents, and the governor of North Carolina. He read the great classic literature of the time and lectured to students at UNC-Chapel Hill. His writing celebrates the rural beauty of Chatham County and laments the painful restrictions of slavery. His poems cover many subjects: from a joyful summer’s day to the sorrowful sale of a slave family; from declarations of love to cries for freedom; from praises for President Lincoln to pleas for brotherhood between the armies of the North and South.

In the 1930s Chatham County named a school for the poet: the Horton School, created to educate black children. This later became Horton High School. After integration in the 1970s, it became Horton Middle School. In the year 2000 the last main classroom building of the old Horton school was demolished and replaced with new facilities.

In June 1978, renewed interest in George Moses Horton led Governor Jim Hunt to declare June 28 “George Moses Horton Day.” Festivities in Chatham County included the premiere of a play, “A Man Named Moses,” by Mildred Bright-Peyton, at the Chatham County Fairgrounds. Actors were graduates of the Horton High School.

In 1996, George Moses Horton was inducted into North Carolina’s Literary Hall of Fame. In 1997 Chatham County Commissioners declared Horton “Historic Poet Laureate” of Chatham County. That same year a national organization was created in his name: the George Moses Horton Society for the Study of African American Poetry. For the first time Horton’s life and work were included in national college curricula, through the pages of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature. The North Carolina Writers Network also has included Horton in its Creative Writing Workbook, Words from Home, a curriculum for middle school grades.

In 1999, the NC Division of Archives and History approved placement of a historic marker, the first for an African American and for a nationally recognized artist in Chatham County. The marker will be placed on 15-501 near Mt. Gilead Church Road. It will read:

ca. 1798-1883

 Slave poet. His The Hope of
(1829) was first book
by a black author in South.
Lived on farm 2 mi. SE.

In 2000, the Chatham County Arts Council sponsored a series of educational and public events to celebrate the 200th anniversary of George Moses Horton entering Chatham County, at age three, a slave. Books and curriculum materials were donated to all public schools in Chatham County. Ongoing celebrations in 2001-2002 have included completion of a Unity Quilt Project based on a Horton poem and nomination of George Moses Horton for a U.S. Postage Stamp. Watch this site for new developments with the Arts Council’s George Moses Horton Memorial Project, the George Moses Horton Reading Series, K-12 Curriculum, and the North Carolina Literary Festival 2002.


Founded in 2000, to celebrate Horton’s 200th anniversary, the George Moses Horton Project brought arts and humanities curricula to Chatham schools and educational materials and events to the general public, culminating in a Jubilee on November 18, 2000. Artists, educators, oral historians, writers, and musicians are encouraged to learn Horton’s fascinating story and develop an ongoing legacy of honor and celebration for this extraordinary figure in Chatham’s history.

But O, the state,
The dark suspense in which poor vassals stand,
Each mind upon the spire of chance hangs,  fluctuate,
The day of separation is at hand.

–George Moses Horton, “On the Division of an Estate”


  • That Horton Middle School in Pittsboro, NC, was named for George Moses Horton?
  • That George Moses Horton was the first African American to publish a book?
  • That Horton was the only person to publish a book while living in slavery?
  • That George Moses Horton is Chatham County’s Historic Poet Laureate?
  • That George Moses Horton sold poems at a farmers market in Chapel Hill?
  • That a governor of North Carolina tried to purchase George Moses Horton’s freedom?
  • That descendants from the Horton farm still live in Chatham County?
  • That a president of UNC-Chapel Hill turned down Horton’s request to buy his freedom?
  • That one of Horton’s poems refers to summer in Chatham as “paradise”?

So teach me to regard my day,
How small a point my life appears;
One gleam to death the whole betrays,
A momentary flash of years.

–George Moses Horton,
“Reflections on the Flash of a Meteor”


Works of art and music have been inspired by George Moses Horton’s life and poetry. Here’s a list of a few recent creations.

  • Almost a hundred poems by students and adults entering the Horton Poetry Contest in 2000. Winning poems: “Friendship,” by Ann Lassiter, “God’s Country, by Cynthia Anne Strange, “Pupil of the Eye,” by Sally Jamir.
  • “The Ballad of George Moses Horton” by Cynthia Crossen, Chatham County, NC. For acoustic guitar and voice. Premiere performance, with Rev. Carrie Bolton, Fall 2000.
  •  “The Old Carriage Horse,” commissioned work for middle school voices, by Scott Tilley, Creative Director, Triangle Opera Company, Durham, NC. Chorale with piano accompaniment. Premiered November 18, 2000, by the Horton Middle School Chorus, Mrs. Amelia Odell, conductor.
  • “George Moses Horton Song Cycle,” by Henry Muldrow. A 25-cycle “art song” series in the style of Clara Schuman, using Horton poetry lyrics with guitar accompaniment. The Netherlands. Work in progress.
  • “Child with Letters,” pen and ink drawing by Frances Bregman Schultzberg. Chatham County, NC. Published as notecard invitation by the George Moses Horton Project. Fall 2000.
  • “George Moses Horton Freedom Path,” by Horton Middle School Fifth Graders, Fall 2000. A public art project sited in the Horton courtyard. Stepping stones of a spiral path represent Horton’s journey toward self-education and literacy. Artists in Residence, Roxy Thomas and Janice Rieves. Fall 2000.
  • “George Moses Horton Unity Quilt,” by Chatham Quilters. Each of 12 squares is based on an image from a stanza of Horton’s poem “On Summer.” Spring 2001.
  • “An Anthem for Chatham County,” by Marjorie Hudson. Excerpts from Horton’s poem “On Summer” form the lyrics for this medley of classic Anglican hymn and gospel music chorus. Work-in-progress.
  • “George Moses Horton: Poet of Chatham,” by Daphne Hill and students. A fictional “autobiography” of Horton with illustrations based on Horton’s own words. Spring 2000. Unpublished manuscript.
  • Sidewalk Chalk Art: Images from Horton poems by Beth Goldston, Michael and Josh Brooks, and others. Horton Middle School sidewalk, Nov. 2000.

Send information about other works inspired by Horton to

On fertile borders, near the stream,
Now gaze with pleasure and delight;
See loaded vines with melons teem–
’Tis paradise to human sight.

  –George Moses Horton, “On Summer”

Friendship is but the feeling sigh,
The sympathising tear,
Constrained to flow till others dry,
Nor let the needy soul pass by,
Nor scorn to see or hear.

–George Moses Horton, “True Friendship”

Far, far above this world I soar,
And almost nature lose,
Aerial regions to explore,
With this ambitious Muse.

–George Moses Horton, “On the Poetic Muse”


Year 2000 contest winners were Ann Lassiter, for “Friendship,” Cynthia Anne Strange, for “God’s Country” and Sally Jamir for “Pupil of the Eye.”

The three winners read their poems at the Jubilee. Dancers from the African-American Dance Ensemble escorted poets to the podium.


1797 George Moses Horton is born in Northampton County, NC.
1800 GMH moves with owner William Horton to Chatham County, with mother and 5 sisters
1800-14 GMH lives on Horton Plantation: 400 acres, corn and wheat, 9 miles from Pittsboro between Haw River and New Hope Creek
GMH tries to learn to read, using pieces of spelling books, his mother’s hymnal, and the New Testament; GMH tends cows
1814 GMH is 17; slave family is broken up by estate distribution; ownership passes to William’s son James; GMH’s job: ploughman with horse
1817 GMH begins to travel to Chapel Hill farmers market, Saturday evening through Sunday. Sells fruit and poems and performs poems from memory (cannot yet read and write); makes up acrostic love poems for UNC students’ sweethearts, which they transcribe
1828 GMH is befriended by Caroline Lee Hentz, a novelist and faculty wife at UNC. She teaches him to read and write, and arranges publication of poems; GMH poems published in Lancaster Gazette, Raleigh Register, New York Freedom Journal.
Three NC benefactors, including Governor John Owen, attempt to purchase Horton from Hall, for $100 over the purchase price; Hall refuses.
1829 GMH publishes Hope of Liberty
1831 Hentz leaves Chapel Hill; puts Horton in one of her novels
1832 GMH is writing and selling about 12 poems a week, for 25 cents each; begins “hiring out” his time from James for 25 cents per week; begins living in Chapel Hill, working for UNC President Joseph Calwell
1833-43 GMH marries a slave from Franklin Snipes’ farm; has son, Free Snipes, and daughter, Rhody
1843 James Horton dies, GMH ownership passes to son Hall Horton, who raises weekly “hire out” fee to 50 cents.GMH publishes in Southern Literary Messenger
1844 GMH writes to northern abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to ask for help in purchasing his life; no response
1845 GMH publishes The Poetical Works of George Moses Horton, the Colored Bard of North Carolina; sells copies for 50 cents to raise funds for liberty
1852 GMH is 55 years old; writes to UNC President David Swain, begs him for purchase price of $250; it has become too difficult for Horton to walk the 8 miles to Chapel Hill. Swain suggests he write to Horace Greely. GMH writes to Greely, then to Swain again.
1859 GMH delivers speech to UNC students about his life, his slavery, his views, and his philosophy: “An Address: The Stream of Liberty and Science…”
1860-61 UNC students leave university for war; GMH loses market for poems
1865 Union troops enter Chapel Hill; Horton comes under protection of Capt. William H.S. Banks, 9th Michigan Cavalry Volunteers; travels with troops, writing poems about the war’s end and love poems for Union soldiers’ sweethearts.
Banks helps Horton publish Naked Genius; promotes book as a way for disabled Union veterans to make their fortunes
1866 GMH moves to Philadelphia; attempts to gain entry to literary society
1883 GMH dies, leaving no account of his final years. A manuscript of 229 pages,“The Museum,” now lost.

Source: The Black Bard, ed. by Joan R. Sherman. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1997.


The following school projects and community events were developed by the Horton Project in the Fall of 2000.

Books and Curriculum Donations to 15 Public Schools
Over 100 donated Horton biographies and poetry books and 15 curriculum guides have been delivered to Chatham County Schools for use in classrooms. Over 50 copies of Naked Genius have been distributed free to local scholars and artists to stimulate further study.
Community served: All Chatham Public Schools; artists, scholars, educators.
Community partners: Chapel Hill Historical Society, UNC Press, Chatham County Public Schools Curriculum Office.

George Moses Horton Freedom Path Mosaic
A public art project at Horton Middle School in collaboration with 100 fifth graders, 5 teachers, 2 artists in residence, and up to 50 volunteers.
Community served: year 2000 fifth grade class; community artists; future students and educators; Chatham citizens
Community Partners: Horton Middle School; Chatham County artists

Artists in Residence, African Dance and Drum
Drummer Beverly Botsford and African Dancer Sherone Price at Horton Middle School, in fifth and seventh grade classrooms. All fifth and seventh grades.
Community served: Horton Middle School 7th and 5th grades, parents and educators
Community Partners: Horton Middle School

Oral History, Horton Middle School Eighth Grade
Two 7th grade classes were trained by folklorists from UNC Chapel Hill in 12 sessions; family interviews and a field trip to the Senior Center in Pittsboro. Presentations November 18.
Community served: 42 7th graders; Seniors of Moncure, NC. State of North Carolina.
Community Partners: Black Historical Society of Chatham Co.; Chatham Co. Historical Assn.; Chatham Education Foundation; Chatham County School Board; Horton Alumni Association.

Poetry and Performance, Horton Middle School Seventh Grade
StreetSigns educator/actor Lynn Johnson and a choreographer will work with Horton students in six sessions to perform their poetry.
Community served: 37 6th graders and their teachers; 500 mixed audience
Community Partners: Horton Middle School

Chorale: Commissioned work from Opera Composer Scott Tilley
Triangle Opera composer Scott Tilley scored Horton’s poem “The Old Carriage Horse” for performance by the Horton Chorus on November 18.
Community served: Horton students and community
Community Partners: Horton Middle School Chorus; Triangle Opera Co.

Poetry Residency with Jaki Shelton Green: Writers as Activitsts
Poet in Residence Jaki Green taught fourth and seventh graders for a five day intensive residency at Moncure School about local activist writers Horton, John Hope Franklin, Pauli Murray, Paul Green, and others. Students wrote and documented their writing in large scale mural.
Community served: Moncure School, Title 1 classrooms and educators
Community Partners: Moncure School, North Carolina Writers Network

Storytelling Residency with Barbara Lott
Storyteller in Residence and local resident Barbara Lott led assemblies for K – 3 grades at Siler City Elementary and J.S. Waters school in Goldston, and presented a  new story based on Horton’s life at the Jubilee November 18.
Community served: J.S. Waters School, Siler City Elementary, Horton Middle School, and the community. Funded in part by the Wren Foundation
Community Partners: Chatham County Schools

Horton Jubilee/Unity Quilt with Glennie Beasley
County extension homemaker agent Glennie Beasley organized local quilting and crafts clubs and invited all local churches to create a “Unity Quilt” based on Horton’s poem “On Summer,” which extols the beauties of summer in Chatham. 12 panels of appliqué and 12 panels of piecework reflect the 12 stanzas of the poem. Donated African Cloth forms the borders. Quilt pieces displayed November 18 at Jubilee; final piecework complete February 20; plaque, quilting bee, and presentation to Horton Middle in March.
Community served: Churches, countywide quilting community, Horton Middle Sch..
Community Partners: St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church; Siler City Quilting Club; Chatham Agricultural Extension Service 

Community Poetry Contest
Distribution of printed educational chapbook and contest prizes. Winners announced November 18. Judges: Ralph Earle and Trudier Harris.
Community served: Chatham county students and adults
Community Partner: Chatham County Reading Association

Horton Middle School Web site Project
Students and teacher sponsor work with volunteer educator Adrienne Ehlert Bashista to produce a Web site covering the George Moses Horton Project.
Community Served: Web community, Horton Middle School, students everywhere
Community Partner: Adrienne Ehlert Bashista

African Rhyming Traditions with Glenn Hinsen
UNC folklore scholar Hinson presentation on relationship between rap music, African American slave rhymers and African culture.
Community served: J.S. Waters School and Horton Middle School.
Community Partner: Carolina Speakers

Horton Jubilee November 18
Student and scholar presentations, Oral History workshop and African Dance workshop, with keynote speaker Dr. Trudier Harris.
Community served: Horton Middle school, Horton Alumni Association, general public

Peripheral projects: 

  • Local musician Cynthia Crossen wrote and performed a new ballad inspired by this project and by the story of George Moses Horton.
  • September 15: Private fundraiser, Efrain Ramirez: $816.00
  • October 12: Ticket sales/auction at Gen. St. Cafe: $1,827.00.
  • October 28: Pittsboro Street Fair booth: $37.00
  • November 1-30: Window display, Horton reading materials, Pittsboro Memorial Library.
  • November 6: Dr. Trudier Harris spoke in Siler City as a guest of Chatham Reading Association. 6 pm, Best Foods.
  • Ongoing: Distribution of free bookmarks to schools, libraries, and shops.

Press: Feature articles in Durham Herald, Chapel Hill Herald, theIndependent, and News and Record, among others. See Press Archive for specifics.

Horton Project 2000 Partners
Chatham County Arts Council, Dona Dowling, Director
Horton Middle School, Sonja Leathers, Principal
Black Historical Society, Marjorie Hudson, Board Member

A Public Event Celebrating Chatham’s Historic Poet Laureate

Saturday, November 18, 2000
2 – 5 p.m.
Horton Middle School
Pittsboro, North Carolina

Chuck Davis poses
with a friend at
Horton Jubilee
Barbara Lott, storyteller at Jubilee
Barbara Lott,
at Jubilee
African American Dance Ensemble drummer leads workshop
African American Dance
Ensemble drummer
leads workshop
Children's African American Dance Workshop with the Chuck Davis Ensemble
Children’s African American Dance
Workshop w/Chuck Davis Ensemble
Adult's African American Dance Workshop with the Chuck Davis Ensemble
Adult’s African American Dance Workshop
with the Chuck Davis Ensemble
Horton Middle School Chorus
Horton Middle School Chorus
Unity Quilt Squares
Unity Quilt Squares
Student Art
Student Art
Sidewalk Paintings
Sidewalk Paintings
Sidewalk Paintings
Sidewalk Paintings
Artist Beth Goldston's Sidewalk Painting
Artist Beth Goldston’s
Sidewalk Painting
Beth Goldston's sidewalk drawing with lines from Horton poem
Beth Goldston’s sidewalk drawing
with lines from Horton poem

The Jubilee Program:

The Jubilee incuded several workshops, an art reception, and a public gathering.

African-American Dance Ensemble Workshop
Celebrating the African Traditional Dances and Rhythms with master Chuck Davis. Free and open to the public. 

Oral History Demonstration and Training
Discussion and demonstration interviews with Oral Historians  Michelle McCullers and Joy Salyers and student trainees.

Viewing of Horton Freedom Path, Project Displays and Northwood Jazz Ensemble Reception

Jubilee Gathering

The George Moses Horton Jubilee
November 18, 2000
For more pictures from the Jubilee, click HERE.

1. Opening Remarks

  • Principal Sonja Leathers

  • Ms. Dona Dowling, Chatham County Arts Council

  • Mrs. Geraldine DeGraffenreidt, President, Chatham Black Historical Society

  • Rev. Larnie Horton

2. StreetSigns/Student Poetry Performance 
Ms. Lynn Johnson, Mrs. Carver and Mrs. Strange’s Seventh Grade Class

3. Remarks by Mrs. Doris Betts

4. Storytelling by Ms. Barbara Lott

5. Remarks from Horton High School Alumni

  • Mrs. Margie Horton Ellison

  • Mrs. Fayedean Richardson 

6. Horton Chorus Presentation

  • Remarks by Mr. Scott Tilley, Composer

  • Premiere Performance: “The Old Carriage Horse.”

7. Keynote Speaker: Dr. Trudier Harris, “The Legacy of George Moses Horton”

8. Remarks by Mrs. Marjorie Hudson

9. Poetry Awards: Presented by Mrs. Anne Sadler, Chatham County Reading Association, and Rev. Susan Knight Brooks

10. African American Dance Ensemble

Ms. Sonja Leathers has been principal of Horton Middle School since fall 1999. She has been an active leader in the Project

Ms. Dona Dowling is Executive Director of the Chatham County Arts Council. She is an art teacher and painter, and technical adviser for the Project.

Mrs. Geraldine DeGraffenreidt is President and Founder of the Chatham County Black Historical Society, now in its fifth year, and an adviser for the Project. She is also Director of We Care, an award-winning service organization in Chatham County.

Rev. Larnie Horton is a Chatham native and minister of St. Paul’s AME Zion Church.

Mrs. Doris Betts is author of 9 novels and story collections, most recently The Sharp Teeth of Love and Souls Raised from the Dead. She is a longtime resident of Chatham County, professor of English at UNC Chapel Hill, and an adviser for the Project.  

Ms. Barbara Lott is an actress/director with StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, a community-oriented arts organization based in Chatham.

Mrs. Margie Horton Ellison is a native of Chatham County and Alumnus of Horton High School.

Mrs. Fayedean Richardson is a Horton High School Alumnus.

Mrs. Anne Sadler is coordinator of the Community Poetry Competition for the Chatham County Reading Association, and a teacher at Moncure School.

 Mr. Scott Tilley is a classical composer who works with Triangle Opera Company. He was commissioned to create “The Old Carriage Horse” for the Horton School Chorus.

Mrs. Amelia O’Dell is Music Teacher for Horton Middle School and director of the Horton Middle School Chorus.

Dr. Trudier Harris is Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English at UNC-Chapel Hill and founder and Director of the George Moses Horton Society for the Study of African American Poetry. She is author of 6 books. 

Mrs. Marjorie Hudson is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. She is coordinator of the George Moses Horton Project. 

The African American Dance Ensemble, Inc. is supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council. Program support is made possible in part through gifts to the Durham Arts Council’s United Arts Fund and a grant from the grassroots Arts Program of the North Carolina Arts Council, a state agency. 

The Jubilee is made possible by grants from the North Carolina Humanities Council, the Friends of the Pittsboro Memorial Library, The George Moses Horton Society, and other funders. It is sponsored by the Chatham County Arts Council, in partnership with the Horton Middle School and the Black Historical Society. 

Thanks to the volunteers, teachers, parents, and students who made this event possible. Special thanks to the Horton Middle School PTA for providing reception materials.


An excerpt from THE POETICAL WORKS of GEORGE M. HORTON, The Colored Bard of North-Carolina, to which is prefixed The Life Of The Author, Written by Himself. HILLSBOROUGH: PRINTED BY D. HEARTT, 1845.

I was born in Northampton county, N C., near the line of Virginia, and within four miles of the Roanoke River; the property of William Horton, senior, who also owned my mother, and the whole stock of her children, which were five before me, all girls, but not of one father. I am the oldest child that my mother had by her second husband, and she had four younger than myself, one boy and three girls. But to account for my age is beyond the reach of my power.

I was early fond of music, with an extraordinary appetite for singing lively times, for which I was a little remarkable. In the course of a few years after my birth, from the sterility of his land, my old master assumed the notion to move into Chatham, a more fertile and fresh part of country recently settled, and whose waters were far more healthy and agreeable. I here become a cow-boy, which I followed for perhaps ten years in succession, or more.

In the course of this disagreeable occupation, I became fond of hearing people read; but being nothing but a poor cow-boy, I had but little or no thought of ever being able to read or spell one word or sentence in any book whatever. My mother discovered my anxiety for books, and strove to encourage my plan; but she, having left her husband behind, was so hard run to make a little shift for herself, that she could give me no assistance in that case. At length I took resolution to learn the alphabet at all events; and lighting by chance at times with some opportunities of being in the presence of school children, I learnt the letters by heart; and fortunately afterwards got hold of some old parts of spelling books abounding with these elements, which I learnt with but little difficulty.

And by this time, my brother was deeply excited by the assiduity which he discovered in me, to learn himself; and some of his partial friends strove to put him before me, and I in a stump now, and a sorry instrument to work with at that. But still my brother never could keep time with me. He was indeed an ostentatious youth, and of a far more attractive person than myself, more forward in manly show and early became fond of popularity to an astonishing degree for one of his age and capacity. He strove hard on the wing of ambition to soar above me, and could write a respectable fist before I could form the first letter with a pen, or barely knew the use of a goose-quill. . . .But to return to the earlier spring of my progress.

Though blundering, I became a far better reader than he; but we were indeed both remarkable for boys of color, and hard raising. On well nigh every Sabbath during the year, did I retire away in the summer season to some shady and lonely recess, when I could stammer over the dim and promiscuous syllables in my old black and tattered spelling book, sometimes a piece of one, and then of another; nor would I scarcely spare the time to return to my ordinary meals, being so truly engaged with my book. . . . I had to sit sweating and smoking over my incompetent bark or brush light, almost exhausted by the heat of the fire, and almost suffocated with smoke; consequently from Monday morning I anticipated with joy the approach of the next Sabbath, that I might again retire to the pleasant umbrage of the woods, whither I was used to dwell or spend the most of the day with ceaseless investigation over my book . . .Read the rest of the story at:


Throughout our rambles much we find;
The bee trees burst with honey;
Wild birds we tame of every kind,
At once they seem to be resign’d;
I know but one that lags behind,
There’s nothing lags but money.

The woods afford us much supply,
The opossum, coon, and coney;
They all are tame and venture nigh,
Regardless of the public eye,
I know but one among them shy,
There’s nothing shy but money.

And she lies in the bankrupt shade;
The cunning fox is funny;
When thus the public debts are paid,
Deceitful cash is not afraid,
Where funds are hid for private trade,
There’s nothing paid but money.

Then let us roam the woods along,
And drive the coon and coney;
Our lead is good, our powder strong,
To shoot the pigeons as they throng,
But sing no more the idle song,
Nor prowl the chase for money.


Psalm xc. 12.
So teach me to regard my day,
How small a point my life appears;
One gleam to death the whole betrays,
A momentary flash of years.

One moment smiles, the scene is past,
Life’s gaudy bloom at once we shed,
And thinly beneath affliction’s blast,
Or drop as soon among the dead.

Short is the chain wound up at morn,
Which oft runs down and stops at noon;
Thus in a moment man is born,
And, lo! the creature dies as soon.

Life’s little torch how soon forgot,
Dim burning on its dreary shore;
Just like that star which downwards shot,
It glimmers and is seen no more.

Teach me to draw this transient breath,
With conscious awe my end to prove,
Early to make my peace with death,
As thus in haste from time we move.

O heaven, through this murky vale,
Direct me with a burning pen;
Thus shall I on a tuneful gale
Fleet out my threescore years and ten.

Text scanned (OCR) by Teresa Church.
Text encoded by Jordan Davis and Natalia Smith.
First edition, 1997.
ca. 300K
Academic Affairs Library, UNC-CH
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1997.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.


Friendship, thou balm for ev’ry ill,
I must aspire to thee;
Whose breezes bid the heart be still,
And render sweet the patient’s pill,
And set the pris’ner free.
. . . .

When the lone stranger, forced to roam,
Comes shiv’ring to her door,
At once he finds a welcome home,
The torch of grace dispels his gloom,
And bids him grope no more.
. . . .

Friendship is but the feeling sigh,
The sympathizing tear,
Constrain’d to flow till others dry,
Nor lets the needy soul pass by,
Nor scorns to see or hear.


Esteville fire begins to burn;
The auburn fields of harvest rise;
The torrid flames again return,
And thunders roll along the skies.

Perspiring Cancer lifts his head,
And roars terrific from on high;
Whose voice the timid creatures dread,
From which they strive with awe to fly.

The night-hawk ventures from his cell,
And starts his note in evening air;
He feels the heat his bosom swell,
Which drives away the gloom of fear.

Thou noisy insect, start thy drum;
Rise lamp-like bugs to light the train;
And bid sweet Philomela come,
And sound in front the nightly strain.

The bee begins her ceaseless hum,
And doth with sweet exertions rise;
And with delight she stores her comb,
And well her rising stock supplies.

Let sportive children well beware,
While sprightly frisking o’er the green;
And carefully avoid the snare,
Which lurks beneath the smiling scene.

The mistress bird assumes her nest,
And broods in silence on the tree,
Her note to cease, her wings at rest,
She patient waits her young to see.

The farmer hastens from the heat;
The weary plough-horse droops his head;
The cattle all at noon retreat,
And ruminate beneath the shade.

The burdened ox with dauntless rage,
Flies heedless to the liquid flood,
From which he quaffs, devoid of gauge,
Regardless of his driver’s rod.

Pomeaceous orchards now expand
Their laden branches o’er the lea;
And with their bounty fill the land,
While plenty smiles on every tree.

On fertile borders, near the stream,
Now gaze with pleasure and delight;
See loaded vines with melons teem–
’Tis paradise to human sight.

With rapture view the smiling fields,
Adorn the mountain and the plain,
Each, on the eve of Autumn, yields
A large supply of golden grain.

Source: The Black Bard, ed. by Joan R. Sherman. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1997.

Excerpts from the Bookmark Project

So teach me to regard my day,
How small a point my life appears;
One gleam to death the whole betrays,
A momentary flash of years.

–George Moses Horton,
“Reflections on the Flash of a Meteor”

On fertile borders, near the stream,
Now gaze with pleasure and delight;
See loaded vines with melons teem–
’Tis paradise to human sight.

          –George Moses Horton, “On Summer”

Friendship is but the feeling sigh,
The sympathising tear,
Constrained to flow till others dry,
Nor let the needy soul pass by,
Nor scorn to see or hear.

       –George Moses Horton, “True Friendship”

Far, far above this world I soar,
And almost nature lose,
Aerial regions to explore,
With this ambitious Muse.

 –George Moses Horton, “On the Poetic Muse”



“Monuments to a Forgotten Past,” by Mirinda J. Kossoff. Spectator, Mirinda Writes: Wed. September 13, 2000.

Cover story, Independent Weekly:

Jubilee wrap up, Durham Herald Sun:

Historic Marker News:

Horton Middle School celebration:

Efrain Ramirez fundraiser:

Horton Project:

Village Voices, Friday, June 16, 2000
“Of statuary, symbolism, and Sam”

For want of something more constructive to fight about, our community may soon be embroiled in a dispute about whether “Silent Sam,” the Confederate memorial statue on the UNC campus, should or should not be hauled down. This is one of those quarrels that cannot possibly be decided on artistic merits, for the reason that nobody is really concerned with the actual statue itself, but only what it symbolizes.

Those who want it removed view it as a left-over emblem of the defense of slavery. Those who would retain Silent Sam — or some of them, anyway — insist that states’ rights, not slavery, was why the Southern states fought the Civil War, that a majority of white North Carolinians didn’t even own slaves, and so on.

Let me say at once that I am in favor of leaving Silent Sam where he is — but not for the reasons cited above, which are totally specious. In the first place, while states’ rights were why the South sought to secede from the Union, the rights in question were meant to protect the ownership and employment of slave labor. I have long relished the story of what Gen. Jubal Early reportedly said to Gen. John C. Breckinridge following the defeat of Early’s Confederate army at Winchester. Breckinridge had been the Southern Democratic candidate for president in 1860; Early had strongly opposed secession. Now, four years later, as the two men retreated southward through the rain with what was left of their thoroughly whipped forces, Early remarked, “Well, general, what do you think of the ‘rights of the South’ in the Territories now?”

Secondly, it is true that most white North Carolinians did not own slaves. But those who did own them controlled the politics in the state, and the vote to secede in 1861 was an early example of what for generations was the guiding maxim of Southern politics; this is, that if you can make a sufficiently lurid appeal to people’s racial prejudices, you can always get them to vote against their own economic and social interests. The issue that got all this started, in its latest incarnation at least, was the dispute over the presence of the Confederate battle flag atop the capitol of my native state of South Carolina. The flag had not been placed there by those who had fought for it, but instead a century later to serve as a conscious rallying symbol of white opposition to the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling that racial segregation in school was unconstitutional. The statue of Silent Sam, however, is another matter, as are the multi-hundreds of similar statues of Confederate soldiers on courthouse lawns and other public places through the Southern states.

Sam is the product of another and different time, when thousands of white-bearded old men wearing gray uniforms were looking forward to their approaching oblivion. They wanted their place in time to be marked. The distinction is crucial. People do learn and grow. Just as we no longer drown witches, burn heretics or bar women from voting, so most of us have also learned a few things about civil rights, human dignity, and equal opportunity for all. Silent Sam and the other Confederate monuments were erected by the survivors of the war and by their children and grandchildren to commemorate the war they had fought and lost when young. Another such monument, to my mind far more moving, are the tablets in Memorial Hall on the UNC campus with the names of more than 300 students and former students at the university who died in that war.

If the right to own human beings as slaves lay behind the secession of the South in 1860-61, it does not follow that the principal motivation of most of those North Carolinians who enlisted in the Confederate Army was to support the institution of slavery. It was far more basic and visceral than that. Their state was under attack. That was why they went to war — and one of every four Confederate soldiers killed in battle was a North Carolinian. Yet we ought not to confuse the gallantry of the fight that the North Carolina boys put up with what all of us now agree was the underlying evil of owning human beings as slaves.

People, most of them ordinary decent people, fought hard and well in a cause that was morally flawed, and that they would have been economically, politically and morally better off not having been maneuvered into supporting. Because they did support it, the life of their state was blighted for a century to come. Now what could possibly be gained by trying to rub their descendants’ noses in it 135 years afterward? I have a great-uncle who was severely wounded while fighting for that cause, and an uncle who was badly shot up during the Meuse-Argonne campaign 53 years later. Both were South Carolinians. The flag that the one was fighting against was the same that his nephew was fighting for. Had their situations been reversed, I feel sure that each would have fought on the side that the other chose. Both were creatures of their time and place. So are we all.

To return to the matter of Silent Sam, I would leave him exactly where he now stands. But I would also commission and erect another statue. It would be of that most remarkable of all 19th-century North Carolinians, the slave poetGeorge Moses Horton, who was in and about our town at the same time that the young white college students of Sam’s generation were. I would placeGeorge Moses Horton’s statue on the front campus, not far away from Sam’s, both in clear view for all to see. I daresay that present and future passers-by would get the point.

Louis D. Rubin Jr. is professor emeritus of English at UNC-Chapel Hill and founder of Algonquin Books. Messages for him can be sent  or left at the newspaper at 932-2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 15, 2000
Contact: CCAC, 542-0394


Pittsboro–Under the name of a single project, the Chatham County Arts Council is bringing a wealth of programs to the schools and community this fall. “This project has something for everyone,” said Dona Dowling, Chatham County Arts Council director.

In the first few weeks of September, the Project has started up a “Countywide Jubilee Quilt,” inviting churches and quilter groups to create squares based on images from a Horton poem. It has made a presentation of 95 books and 15 curriculum guides to Chatham County Schools Media personnel. It has published a “chapbook” of poems in partnership with the Chatham County Reading Association, inviting students and citizens to submit to a countywide poetry contest.

“Things are happening now, but they will really start to gear up in October,” Dowling says, “when we bring artists and scholars to the schools.”  At Horton Middle School alone, the Project has worked to create and fund projects for students to work with artists, performing artists, musicians, and scholars:

  • A fifth grade art project to create a “Horton Freedom Path” in mosaic,
  • A sixth-seventh-eighth grade chorus project, to sing an original score based on a Horton poem
  • A seventh grade poetry and performance project with StreetSigns
  • An eighth grade oral history project.

“We’re hoping to fund some storytelling and African dance and drum projects in other schools around the county,” said Dowling, “and we hope this is just the beginning of an annual celebration of Horton as HISTORIC POET LAUREATE.”

George Moses Horton is HISTORIC POET LAUREATE OF CHATHAM COUNTY by declaration of the County Commissioners in April 1997.  And in 1999 the NC Division of Archives and History approved a marker to honor him, to be placed on 15-501. Still, Hudson maintains, many people do not know his story, and some do not know the Horton Middle School was named for him.

George Moses Horton was a slave living in Chatham from the age of three to the age of 68. He invented poems and rhymes and attempted to learn to read from a very young age. His work took him to Chapel Hill to sell vegetables at the farmers market, where UNC students discovered his talents as a poet. Soon, Horton became a cause with North Carolina governors, newspapers, and other supporters. He published two books of his poems, with the help of a mentor, in an attempt to make money to buy his freedom. All his efforts were frustrated, however, until Union troops came to Chapel Hill.

“It is an amazing thing to read the autobiography of this man who struggled so hard to be educated and literate. It’s like a voice straight from the nineteenth century to our time,” said Marjorie Hudson, a writer and educator who is coordinating this project.  “It haunts me, just the way the land’s beauty and his lack of freedom haunted him. I encourage everyone to read his story.”

Horton’s story is available in books that have been donated by UNC Press and the Chapel Hill Historical Society and distributed to Chatham schools.

For information about the quilt project, call Glennie Beasley, 542-8202.

For information about the Poetry Competition, contact the Chatham Reading Association, at

For more information about the Horton Project, check the Chatham County Arts Council Web site, at

Contact: Stacye Leanza, 542-5960


PITTSBORO–The General Store Cafe’s recent fund-raiser for the George Moses Horton Project gave a glimpse of how Horton’s life and poetry can inspire Chatham citizens.

Storyteller Barbara Lott performed a new work she created in recent months based on the slave poet’s life. Cynthia Crossen and Rev. Carrie Bolton performed a moving new ballad by Crossen interspersed with excerpts of Horton poems.

“It was great to see people so inspired by Horton,” said Project Coordinator Marjorie Hudson. “In him, we have a real hero of education and artistic expression. His struggle to be free speaks to all people.”

Beverly MacLean, a soloist from the Alston Chapel Choir, entranced everyone with powerful gospel hymns. The audience sang and swayed along with her as she sang. Dave Smith and Susan Strozier paid tribute to George Moses Horton with a medley of songs, and local favorites Tommy Edwards and Snuffy Smith played bluegrass.

An art auction led by Pam Smith featured the “historic” first cash register from the Pittsboro General Store and a beautifully decorated walking stick by White Buffalo Spirit (Michael McCormick). Other hot items included a massage by Karen Ladd, and  artwork by Shannon Bueker, Lynn Morrow, Celia Gray, John Amero, and Maggie Wilson.  The General Store Cafe, in addition to hosting this event and providing chef  Doug Lorie’s Famous Lasagne, contributed Dinner for Two.

“The General Store Cafe did a great job of making this happen, as did all the performers and artists who donated their talent and art,” said Stacye Leanza, who organized the fund-raiser along with Becket Royce, one of the owners. “Becket was extremely generous with her time and resources.”

“We thoroughly enjoyed hosting this event,” said Becket. “The generosity and energy of our guests was inspiring.”

George Moses Horton was a Chatham slave who published three books of poems, hoping to raise money to purchase his freedom. In 1997 County Commissioners declared him Historic Poet Laureate of Chatham County. The George Moses Horton Project is celebrating his life and work this fall through a series of arts and educational events in the schools and the community.

The fund-raiser brought in $1,295.00, part of which will go toward the Horton Jubilee, a public celebration planned for Saturday, November 18 at Horton Middle School. The Project is a special program of the Chatham County Arts Council in partnership with Horton Middle School and the Black Historical Society.

Contact: Stacye Leanza, 542-5960


PITTSBORO–Two UNC scholars have come to Pittsboro in search of young minds. Ms. Michelle McCullers and Ms. Joy Salyers of the UNC Folklore Curriculum begin work this week in the eighth grade classes of Mrs. Dawn Streets at Horton Middle School to train and certify the students in Oral History techniques. Student historians will interview their own family elders and seniors in the community, preserving their words and stories on tape and film.

“We are so excited to be able to work with these young people,” said Ms. McCullers. “It is our dream to make local history come alive to students.”

Salyers and McCullers came in contact with the George Moses Horton Project last spring at a presentation of the George Moses Horton Society conference on the UNC  campus.  The Project worked with Mrs. Streets and the scholars over the summer to develop a six-week curriculum and to help find funding.

Local funders were also excited by the idea. The Chatham Education Foundation in Pittsboro and the Cross of Nails Project in Chapel Hill, a ministry of the Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church, both considered the project worthy of funding.  Small grants from the Western Chatham NAACP and the Chatham Black Historical Society will help provide some of the tape recorders for the students to use. After the Project is complete, the Black Historical Society will  use the recorders to continue to document living history in the community.

In addition, the Chatham County School Board has provided a one-time fund of $1,000 for disposable cameras and developing, in hopes of helping to preserve important school history. “The Board recognizes that one of our schools is named for George Moses Horton and wants to see the history of the school preserved,” said Superintendent Larry Mabe. The young scholars will have the opportunity to interview some of the graduates of the Old Horton School, which educated African Americans from 1937 until the 1970s. The last major structure of the school was demolished this summer, to make room for modern new facilities.

The Oral History Project is a component of the George Moses Horton Project, in partnership with the Chatham County Arts Council and the Black Historical Society.  Its mission is to bring arts and educational programs to Chatham County to celebrate the legacy of George Moses Horton, the Historic Poet Laureate of Chatham County.

Contact: Stacye Leanza, 542-5960

Horton Jubilee Features Chuck Davis

PITTSBORO — Chuck Davis and his African American Dance Ensemble are coming to Chatham County for a free public workshop on Saturday November 18 at Horton Middle School. The workshop is part of the George Moses Horton Jubilee, an arts and humanities celebration of the life and work of Chatham’s Historic Poet Laureate, who was the only person in American history to publish books of poems while living in slavery.

“This celebration is the culmination of a year’s work and incredible local support,” said Dona Dowling, Director of the Chatham County Arts Council. “Horton’s legacy will not be forgotten–he is inspiring artists, musicians, writers, students, and citizens, to be creative and to see the deep links between education, local history, and the arts.”

Free workshops will be held at the school from  2 to 3 p.m. in Oral History and in African Dance.  The Oral History workshop will be particularly useful to teachers and others looking for training in conducting oral history interviews. From 3 to 3:30 p.m. there will be a Northwood Jazz Ensemble Reception, with student art on display, local history displays, and book sales. From 3:30 to 5 p.m. the Jubilee features Storytelling with Barbara Lott, brief talks by author Doris Betts and Horton Alumni, Poetry Performances, the Horton Chorus, the African American Dance Ensemble, and Keynote Speaker Dr. Trudier Harris.

All events are free and open to the public, but call-in registration for workshops is required. Call  919-542-5960. For more information about George Moses Horton, check the Web site at

The Jubilee is a special program of the Chatham County Arts Council in partnership with the Black Historical Society and the Horton Middle School. The event is funded in part by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council.

Contact: Maggie Zwilling, Chatham County Arts Council 919-542-0394


PITTSBORO–George Moses Horton, Historic Poet Laureate of Chatham County, was voted 19th out of 205 nominations for a U.S. Postage stamp this year. With 92 votes, Horton placed just after Chilean Nobel Prize-winner Pablo Neruda and before W.H. Auden, considered the greatest English poet of the twentieth century.

“It’s terrific that he had that much support,” says Chatham poet Marjorie Hudson, who nominated Horton for the stamp. “I think his story and his poetry have affected many people.”

From March 1 until April 30, 2001, the American Academy of Poets accepted nominations and votes for poets for a U.S. Postage stamp series. Through its Web site and write-in votes, citizens and students could nominate and vote for the poet of their choice. Hudson asked teachers in Chatham County schools to let their students know of the opportunity to vote on line. “I think it was a great teaching tool,” Hudson says. “As a bonus, students got access to information about the best poetry written in the English language.”

The winner of this year’s competition was African American poet Langston Hughes, who was part of the Harlem Renaissance. He won 23 percent of the vote, the largest percentage by far. Sylvia Plath, E.E. Cummings, Wallace Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop were runners up, with between 6 and 3.4 percent of the votes. To learn more about the voting process, poetry, or poets on the list, check the following Web site:  To learn more about George Moses Horton, check the Chatham County Arts Council Web site:  The Chatham County Arts Council is considering proposals for ways to celebrate Horton’s life and work in the schools and community. Call for more information.