All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past. The place of George Moses Horton in American letters is well-established. Among the most important black poets in the antebellum era, Horton was the first African American to publish a book in the South. Born into slavery about 1798, Horton moved to Chatham County with his owner as an infant. Enduring slavery with some degree of autonomy, he secretly taught himself to read and walked on weekends to Chapel Hill where he sold fruit and recited poems for UNC students, sometimes selling them as well.
Horton made friends among the students and faculty, including UNC President Joseph Caldwell. Caroline Hentz, a faculty wife, assisted him in transcribing his poems, and in 1829 Raleigh printer Joseph Gales published his book, The Hope of Liberty. Called the “sable orator,” as he signed his works, by 1832 he had taught himself to write. Volumes of his work also appeared in 1845 and 1865. Finally free in 1866, he moved to Philadelphia, after which little is known of his life. Horton was among the fifteen inaugural inductees into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1996.