February 2022 marked the official launch of the Hugh Torance House and Store’s HEARTS (History, Ecology, Arts, Reunion, Trails, and Store) mission. Sharing stories connected to the historic sites and surrounding land with the community through free monthly events, the revitalized store is now open to the public most Sundays from 1:00-5:00 with specific dates on their website.
Each HEART event focuses on one real-life connection to the community through exploring a site specific and thematically-related connection from prehistoric times through modern day. Weaving history with ecology and the integration of art, music, and performances, HEARTS shares meaningful local connections with the community.
The February inaugural launch event presented the “Heartsongs of George Moses Horton” sharing the connection to Horton, the first published black poet from the South through his publishing of Hope of Liberty in 1829.
Horton’s life story was shared through the dramatic and engaging reading of the Don Tate children’s biography The Remarkable Life of George Moses Horton Poet as well as selected poems by award-winning actor, playwright, and director Michael D. Connor. The event’s history spotlight focused on 1854, when Richard Torrance, grandson to Hugh Torance who built the Store, and son to James Torrance who built Cedar Grove, completed his studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. UNC was a fledgling institution and looked quite different back then as it was an all male campus and much smaller than today with enrollment around 400.
On Sundays in the market square of Chapel Hill, George Moses Horton, an enslaved person from a farm near Chapel Hill, could be found reciting poetry while selling produce for his master. Horton was self-taught to read and write and lived during a time when enslaved persons were prohibited from doing so. He began composing his own poems and students quickly recognized Horton’s talents. Students began hiring Horton to write love poems for their sweethearts for 25-50 cents, which Horton began saving to attempt to purchase his freedom. In Horton’s biography, he wrote, "I have composed love pieces in verse for courtiers from all parts of the state and acrostics on the names of the tip-top belles of Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia."
In 1854 on two occasions, Richard hired George Moses Horton to compose flattering acrostic poems to the current girls of his dreams. Horton penned, "Inimitable Beauty" for Sophia Alexander, daughter of a wealthy Mecklenburg County planter who was not swayed by this token and married John Sample of Tennessee instead. Another acrostic was sent to Mary McClean in an unsuccessful attempt to win her affection. See below for copies of the original poems and their typed counterparts. For more information and additional resources on the life of Horton, visit the Resource page.
The event’s musical feature entitled “Cedar Groove” presented the virtuosic musical talents of the Matt Postle Trio. The captivating trio featured the amazing vocalist Kellie Williams and Mahogany Williams on stand-up bass with Dr. Matt Postle on keyboards and trumpet. Guest guitarist, Troy Conn joined their set sharing his scintillating guitar work. Dr. Postle is a music instructor at Central Piedmont Community College. The trio performs a mixture of jazz standards, originals, and pop covers. Both Kellie and Mahogany are music majors at Central Piedmont and are pursuing performance careers after graduating. Mahogany performs in the college's jazz ensemble and with other groups around Charlotte. Kellie as well sings with the college jazz ensemble and is an active vocalist singing classical, jazz, opera, popular music, and other genres.
“E” is for Ecology in HEARTS with each event featuring the history and lore of a species from our surrounding wetlands and woodlands. A sanctuary from the surrounding development, this land is home to many native and protected species. The featured ecological spotlight was on Hearts A Bustin,’ a beautiful and unique native shrub. Also known as the Strawberry Bush and other similar common names, the Latin name is Euonymus americanus (pronunciation: yoo-ON-ih-mus a-mer-ih-KAY-nus) of the Bittersweet (Celastraceae) family.
Interesting facts and lore on the plant was shared including learning the foliage and twigs are a favorite food for white-tailed deer, and the seeds contain good fat and sugar for songbirds, wild turkeys, rabbits, and other small mammals; however, it is inedible for humans. Historically, the plant was used for medicinal purposes by Native Americans and early settlers as a potent laxative, diuretic and expectorant to treat various diseases.
Found in the area’s wooded slopes and creek banks, it’s happy in a variety of soil conditions ranging from sandy to clay. The first record of this plant in cultivation stretches as far back as 1697 and is a wonderful addition to a wildlife-friendly shade garden. Spring flowers are small and non-showy but fall leaf color is a showy red, which along with its vibrant red fruit attracts wildlife.
History came alive at the Hugh Torance House and Store as the event hub offering beer, wine, refreshments, artisan goods, and tours. Check out the Store at each HEARTS event for new additions from local craftspeople currently including local honey, candles, soap, gifts, toys, books and more.
This was a free community event thanks to the dedicated volunteers, members of HEARTS Circle, Lake Norman Realty, Armin’s Catering, and community donations. All event proceeds benefit the 501C3 non-profit Hugh Torrance House and Store’s efforts to further historic preservation and ecological conservation in our region. Group tours and volunteer opportunities for stewardship, preservation, and conservation are available.
The next event on March 19 from 1:00-6:00 explores the site’s Irish Connection and is free to the community featuring Irish music, Irish dance, and historic interpretations of the Irish journey of Hugh Torance to our community in 1763, as well as the intriguing aspect of Irish African American genealogy. For more information and to RSVP, visit the Events page.