Fictional Footprint – Gerald and Ellen O’Hara

In Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, Gerald O’Hara founded the plantation Tara, located near Jonesboro, Georgia, after he won 640 acres of land from its absentee owner during an all-night poker game.  O’Hara and his brothers emigrated from Ireland to Savannah, Georgia.  O’Hara relished the thought of becoming a planter and gave his mostly wilderness and uncultivated new lands the grandiose name of Tara after the hill of Tara, once the capital of the High King of ancient Ireland.  He borrowed money from his brothers and bankers to buy slaves and turned the farm into a very successful cotton plantation.  At the age of 43, O’Hara married the 15-year-old Ellen Robillard, an aristocratic, Savannah-born girl of French descent, receiving as dowry twenty slaves (including Mammy, Ellen’s nurse, who became nurse to Ellen’s daughters and grandchildren as well).  His young bride took a very real interest in the management of the plantation, being in some ways a more hands-on manager than her husband.  With the injection of her dowry money and the rise of cotton prices, Tara grew to a plantation of more than 1,000 acres and more than 100 slaves by the dawn of the Civil War.  Unlike the homes of most of the O’Haras’ neighbors, Tara is spared the torch during the Sherman’s Scorched Earth march.  Upon the army’s withdrawal, the family and their loyal remaining slaves are left with a looted and dilapidated house, a ruined farm with no stock, work animals, or farm equipment, no food and no means to produce food. They are indigent and soon starving.  Ellen O’Hara dies soon after the Union evacuation, and her widowed oldest daughter Scarlett returns a day later.  The loss of his wife, combined with hopelessness, poverty, age, and an increasing reliance on whiskey (when it is available) is destroying Gerald O’Hara’s sanity, leaving him a demented echo of his former self.  Peace returns after the war, but not prosperity.  Scarlett manages to save Tara from being seized and the family from dispossession only by deceitfully marrying her sister Suellen’s fiance, Frank Kennedy, and using his savings to pay the $300 in taxes levied on the place.  Though Scarlett returns to Atlanta where her fortunes rise as she takes over and expands her second husband Frank’s business interests, she shares her new wealth with Tara.  Tara never achieves anything like its antebellum grandeur, but it does become self supporting as a “two horse” farm.  While far from rich, the O’Haras are at least in better condition than most of their neighbors.  O’Hara dies when he falls off his horse while chasing a carpetbagger off the property.  In the movie version, O’Hara is portrayed by Thomas MitchellThe Final Footprint – Gerald and Ellen are buried in the O’Hara Family Cemetery at their beloved Tara.

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