While the name Gerald O’Hara came to the book from another source (a source I have identified and will share soon enough), the character or Gerald O’Hara is found in the lineage of Margaret Mitchell herself. So this morning, in honor of yesterday’s Father’s Day Celebration let’s remember the patriarch of the real Tara and see how his story connects with the fictional tale of Mr. Gerald and his family.
Phillip Fitzgerald was born in Ireland’s County Tipperary in 1798, the year of the Irish Rebellion. His grandfather had been tortured to death by the English for his part in the uprising and his father, James Fitzgerald was (at the time of Phillip’s birth) in hiding with the rebels.
Phillip came to the United States some time before 1825 and by 1831 had settled in Fayetteville Georgia where he taught school and owned a business with his brother James. In 1837 he married Eleanor McGhan of Hamilton, Georgia (near Lagrange) and they would raise seven daughters. He gained a portion of land for his service in the Creek and Seminole Wars and used that as a spring board to purchasing adjacent properties until by 1854 he owned more than 2375 acres of land and 35 slaves. By 1861 he would be the richest man in the newly formed Clayton County (with its county seat in Jonesboro) and represent his section in the State Legislature.
“Mr. Phillip” was described by Margaret Mitchells brother Stephen as a, “short, stocky Irishman”. He was known to be a hard drinking, hard riding, hard fighting man who would climb down from his horse to take on all comers in the street if necessary. A future governor of Georgia claimed that Mr. Phillip pulled a knife to face down a group of drunks who had determined to shoot the young politician…and the drunks put their gun up when faced with Fitzgerald and his long knife. He was known to come out of the bars in Jonesboro long after closing and climb on his horse backward, at which time his fellow inebriates would yell, “Mr. Phillip your horse ain’t got no head”.
Mr. Phillip would live thru the Civil War to rebuild his lost fortunes and to instill in his granddaughter Maybelle (Margaret Mitchells mother) the love of the land and the stories of the past (just like Mr. Gerald). And he made sure that even after his death his plantation would remain so that, “any family member who found themselves without a home could come and find shelter at Rural Home”. As a community leader he was a member of the first Grand Jury that met after the war and proclaimed, “the war is over so let’s get on with it”.
Margaret left no doubt that Rural Home was her Tara and Phillip Fitzgerald and his wife Ms. Ellen were the O’Hara’s and that is why in the 1980’s when the Fitzgerald House was in need of a new home Betty Talmadge paid to have it relocated to her property. Today it is dismantled in the barn so that one day it too can be rebuilt as another piece of the true stories that fill the pages of Gone with the Wind.
So when asked, “where’s Tara” I reply that “both of them (Tara’s) are in Ms. Betty’s barn waiting for the day when a suitable structure will be found to tell the full story of the land of cavaliers and cotton fields”.