The George Moses Horton Freedom Path

    “Education Is The Path to Freedom”

    Made by the students and teachers of the (then) Horton Middle School in the year 2000, designed by artists Roxy Thomas, Janice Rieves, and Joe Kenlan, with Chatham County artists and volunteers, based on student drawings of images Horton's poem "On Summer."

    Sponsored by the Chatham County Arts Council, former Horton Middle School, Black History Society, and the George Moses Horton Project

    Installed November 2000


    By George Moses Horton

    Esteville 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.

    Pomaceous 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: https://poets.org/poem/summer-0

    The Mosaic Project

    Completed in November 2000 for the George Moses Horton Jubilee, the mosaic is based on drawings made by students in Ms. Ingram’s fifth grade art class, after reading Horton’s poem “On Summer,” which contains familiar images from everyday rural life in Chatham County in the 1800s as well as now. Lead artist Roxy Thomas picked 12 drawings and Chatham artist Janice Rieves supplied broken tiles that were cut into small pieces, called "tessera."  Volunteers placed the tiles on netting placed over the drawings, following the colors and shapes of the drawings, resulting in mosaic images of the drawings. After the tessera were glued to the netting, each mosaic was placed in a bed of mortar in the concrete base under the tree, then pressed into place. The concrete base in a spiral form had been designed and poured by Chatham artists Joe Kenlan and Janice Rieves. After the mortar dried, each mosaic was grouted with a special material that would stay waterproof outdoors. The stones were laid in a spiral because the path to freedom and education for George Moses Horton was not a straight line. He had years of struggle, and had to go inward to keep his faith and courage.

    The George Moses Horton Project funded the mosaic and provided arts and education programs celebrating Horton’s life and work during the Fall of 2000. It was founded and directed by North Carolina writer Marjorie Hudson in January 2000 as a special program of the Chatham County Arts Council, in partnership with the (then) 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.The unveiling of the mosaic took place on a Jubilee Day in November at the school, with speakers, music, dance, and art, including a student chorale performance of “The Old Carriage Horse,” a Poetry Quilt by local church women, talks by scholars and writers Doris Betts and Dr. Trudier Harris, storytelling, and African Dance performance by 

    Chuck Davis and his dancers. Alumni of the Historic Horton School were special guests at the Jubilee, and Margie Horton Ellison spoke, saying, “Don’t forget us.” 



    For groups of 12, gathered on benches at the mosaic site.


    Find the Image

    1. Each student in turn walks the mosaic path slowly, studying the steppingstones as they go.

    2. Students take turns reading a stanza of the poem “On Summer.”

    3. After each stanza, students call out images they heard.

    4. Two students explore the mosaic, trying to find the image. 

    5. The first person to find the image, calls out “George!” and stands on the mosaic. 

    6. The process continues until all the images are found and all the steppingstones are claimed.

    7. The group leader will cues students to call out their images in turn. 

    8. The group leader cues students to call out: We are the George Moses Horton Freedom Path. Education is the Path to Freedom!


    Write an Acrostic Poem Like George Moses Horton

    1. George Moses Horton wrote acrostic poems for UNC students (all male at that time) to give to their girlfriends.

    2. His acrostics started with the girlfriend’s name, then wrote the most wonderful qualities of that person in a kind of list.

    3. An acrostic poem starts with a single word or name written vertically on the left.









         Then the writer fills out the line, using the letter to start a sentence, PHRASE or a single word. 


    For example, for E: 



         For example for L: 

         Lively as a day in spring


    1. Write your own name vertically down the left side of the paper. 

    2. Then use each letter to list a wonderful quality about yourself in a single word! You can use an adjective or a noun as your word. 

    3. Example, for the name SARAH: 








    1. Celebrate yourself in this acrostic poem! Then read it out loud to the group. 

    2. Save this poem in a special place where you can read about how wonderful you are from time to time. 


    Unusual Words

    There are some words in the poem On Summer that we don’t use much today.


    Can you find some? 

    Hint: Pomaceous, Esteville, Philomela


    Can you guess what they mean? 

    If not, look them up. 


    Come back to the group with a definition and read it out loud. 


    Make up a story about what the word means!


    Write about Freedom

    1. Close your eyes and think about what freedom means to you. Does it mean running through the woods? Being with friends? Getting to do exactly what you want to do? Being done with a difficult project?

    2. Open your eyes and write down your thoughts.

    3. Go around the circle and read them out loud. 

    4. Now, close your eyes again. Think about George Moses Horton. Think about what freedom might have meant to him. Why did he want to be free? 

    5. Open your eyes. Write down what you think Freedom meant to George Moses Horton. 


    Come up with your own!


    Make up a way you could celebrate George Moses Horton! Write a poem, draw a picture, tell a story, bake a cake!



    George Moses Horton's Autobiography


    George Moses Horton wrote an autobiography. 


    Can you find it online? 


    Check for keywords: Documenting the American South, George Moses Horton Autobiography


    Read the autobiography


    Discuss: How is your life like George’s? How is it different? 


    Can you write your own autobiography? 




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

    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 an enslaved child and man 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 UNC 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. Scholars say he may have ended his days in Philadelphia, or he may have emigrated to Liberia, which was being promoted at the time as a new home for freed slaves from America.

    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.


    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”

    In the 1930s Chatham County partnered with the Rosenwald Foundation to create a school for Black children, naming it for the poet: the Horton School. This later became Horton High School. After integration in the 1970s, it became Horton Middle School. In the year 2000 the last remaining 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 was placed on 15-501 near Mt. Gilead Church Road. It reads

    ca. 1798-1883

    Slave poet. The Hope of Liberty (1829) was first book by a black author in the South.
    Lived on a 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.


    • That George Moses Horton was the first black man to publish a book in the South?

    • That Horton was the only known 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 may 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”?

    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”



    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


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

    • Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, written and illustrated by Don Tate, was published by Peachtree in 2015



    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” 

    Friendship is but the feeling sigh,
    The sympathizing 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”


    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, as GMH has not yet learned to write.
    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, hoping to raise money to buy his freedom.
    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 response1845GMH 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, leaving a manuscript of 229 pages,“The Museum,” now lost.

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