Gerald came from Ireland when he was twenty one. He had come hastily, like many an Irishman before him, with the clothes he wore, two shillings above his passage money and a price on his head that he felt was larger than his misdeed warranted. "There was no Orangeman this side of hell worth a hundred pounds to the British Government or the devil himself; but if the government felt so strongly about the death of an English absentee landlord's rent agent, it was time for Gerald O'Hara to be leaving and leaving quickly." (p. 44 in my book). Gerald had called this man a nasty name, but that did not give any man reason to insult him by whistling the opening bars of "The Boyne Water".
"The Battle of the Boyne had been fought more than a hundred years ago, but, to the O'Haras and their neighbors, it might have been yesterday when their hopes and their dreams, as well as their lands and wealth, went off in the same cloud of dust that enveloped a frightened and fleeing Stuart prince, leaving William of Orange and his hated troops with their orange cockades to cut down the Irish adherents of the Stuarts." (p. 45)
Gerald's family had been "in bad odor" with the English constabulary because they were suspected of activities against the government. Gerald was not the first O'Hara to flee Ireland. His two older brothers, James and Andrew, his two oldest brothers who he hardly remembered except as close-lipped youths who came and went mysteriously, had come before him. They came after the discovery of a small arsenal of rifles buried under their pigsty. They were now successful merchants in Savannah, and it was to them Gerald was sent.
He left home with his mother's blessing in his ears and her kiss on his cheek, and his father's parting admonition, "Remember who ye are and don't be taking nothing off no man." His brothers, five of them and all tall, standing six feet and over to his five feet four, gave him their goodbyes with admiring but slightly patronizing smiles.
Gerald knew that, at twenty one, five feet and four and a half inches would be as much as the Lord in His wisdom was going to give him. He never wasted regrets on his lack of hight, and it was his compact smallness that made him what he was, for he had learned that little people had to be hardy to survive among the large ones.
Gerald did not come with no education, but it was scant. His mother had taught him to read and write a clear hand. He was adept at ciphering. And there, his book knowledge stopped.
James and Andrew took him into their store in Savannah. They did not regret his lack of education, for his clear hand, accurate figures and ability in bargaining won their respect. They had started by hauling goods in covered wagons from Savannah to Georgia's inland towns, which had prospered into a store of their own. Gerald prospered with them.
He liked the South, and became, in his opinion, a Southerner. There was much about them that he would never understand, but he adopted their ideas and customs -- " . . . poker and horse racing, red-hot politics and the code duello, States' Rights and damnation to all Yankees, slavery and Kind Cotton, contempt for white trash and exaggerated courtesy to women. He even learned to chew tobacco. There was no need for him to acquire a good head for whiskey, he had been born with one." (p. 47)
He admired the elegance of the wealthy rice and cotton planters, who rode into town from their kingdoms on thoroughbred horses and followed by the carriages of their equally elegant ladies. Gerald could never attain elegance. Their lazy, blurred voices fell nicely on his ears, but his own brisk brogue stayed with his tongue. "He liked the casual grace with which they conducted affairs of importance, risking a fortune, a plantation or a slave on the turn of a card and writing off their losses with careless good humor and no more ado than when they scattered pennies to pickaninnies." (p. 47)
Of all the Southern customs, Gerald found poker and a steady head for whiskey the most useful. From these two skills, he acquired two of his three most prized possessions: his valet, Pork by name, dignified and trained in all the arts of elegance, who was the result of an all night poker game with a planter from St. Simons Island. His plantation came to him when he was sitting in a saloon in Savannah on a hot night in spring. The conversation of a stranger sitting near him made Gerald prick up his ears. "The stranger, a native of Savannah, had just returned after twelve years in the inland country. He had ben one of those winners in the land lottery conducted by the State to divide up the vast area in middle Georgia, ceded by the Indians the year before Gerald came to America. He had gone up there and established a plantation; but, now the house was burned down, he was tired of the 'accursed place' and would be most happy to get it off his hands." (p. 48)
Gerald's dream was to own a plantation of his own. He arranged an introduction, and started talking to the stranger. An hour later, when the conversation slowed down, Gerald suggested they play a game. As the night wore on and the drinks were passed around, there came a time when all the others in the game laid down their hands and Gerald and the stranger were left alone to battle. The stranger shoved in all of his chips and the deed to his plantation. Gerald shoved in all of his chips and his wallet. The money it contained belonged to the firm of O'Hara Brothers, but Gerald's conscience did not bother him one bit. He knew what he wanted. He laid his higher hand on the table, and won his plantation.
The muddy Flint River wrapped like an arm around Gerald's new land on two sides. He cleared the fields and planted cotton. He borrowed money from his two unenthusiastic brothers and a neat sum from the mortgaging the land. He bought his first field hands and lived in the four-room overseer's house.
He borrowed more money to buy more slaves from James and Andrew. The O'Haras were a clannish tribe, so they did not refuse him. Later, his plantation house was built. It was a clumsy, sprawling building built by slave labor.
Gerald admired other people's houses, and how nicely they were run. His own servants did not do as nice a job as other's did. Tara was crying out for a mistress.
Ellen Robillard, of French descent, caught Gerald's eye at fifteen. She was taller than him, and he was old enough to be her father. But that didn't matter. Ellen had a dark and mysterious past in Savannah, and Gerald was a way out. She married him and turned her back on Savannah, never to see it again.
The next year, their first child was born. She was named after Gerald's mother, Katie Scarlett O'Hara. Gerald had wanted a son, so he was disappointed, but was pleased enough over his small black-haired daughter to serve rum to every slave at Tara and to get happily drunk himself.
Their second child came within a year. She was named Susan Elinor, but always called Suellen. And, in due time came their third girl, Caroline Irene called Careen. After that came three little boys, each of whom had died before learning to walk. They were buried under the inscription of "Gerald O'Hara, Jr."
When the war came, Gerald was not allowed to go and fight as the other men did, because of his knee (he had broken it a while before). So, he stayed home with Ellen and his two younger girls, for by this time Scarlett had been married, widowed, and became a mother. She was living in Atlanta.
Ellen caught typhoid when nursing Emmie Slattery, who was considered "white trash". Suellen and Carreen soon came down with it as well. While they were still ill, the Yankees came to burn Tara. Brave Gerald met them at the door of Tara:
"They said for me to leave, that they would be burning the place. And I said that they would be burning it over my head. We could not leave--the girls--your mother were --"
"And then?" Must he revert to Ellen always?
"I told them there was sickness in the house, the typhoid, and it was death to move them. They could burn the roof over us. I did not want to leave anyway -- leave Tara --"
His voice trailed off into silence as he looked absently about the walls and Scarlett understood. There were too many Irish ancestors crowding behind Gerald's shoulders, rather than leave the homes where they had lived, plowed, love, begotten sons.
"I said that they would be burning the house over the heads of three dying women. But we would not leave. The young officer was--was a gentleman."
"A Yankee a gentleman? Why, Pa!"
"A gentleman. He galloped away and soon he was back with a captain, a surgeon, and he looked at the girls--and your mother."
"You let a damned Yankee into their room?"
"He had opium. We had none. He saved your sisters. Suellen was hemorrhaging. He was as kind as he knew how. And when he reported that they were--ill--they did not burn the house. They moved in, some general, his staff, crowding in. They filled all the rooms except the sick room. And the soldiers--"
He paused again, as if too tired to go on. His stubbly chin sank heavily in loose folds of flesh on his chest. With an effort he spoke again.
"They camped all round the house, everywhere, in the cotton, in the corn. The pasture was blue with them. That night there were a thousand campfires. They tore down the fences and burned them to cook with and the barns and the stables and the smokehouse. They killed the cows and the hogs and the chickens--even my turkeys." -Gerald talking to Scarlett when she comes home to Tara, p. 404
Gerald had a horrible time of it. Everything he had worked for, everything he had dreamed of was gone. His plantation was in shambles. And, worst of all, his beloved wife Ellen was dead.
He lost his mind. He lived in his own little world, where Ellen was still with him. Where the world he loved was still there. Where the Yankees hadn't destroyed all he had worked for. Finally, when Suellen tried to make him sign a paper that said he had been loyal to the Yankees through the whole ordeal, he thought straight. He would not sign, swore terribly, and, like the Gerald we knew and loved, got on a horse and jumped a fence. The horse shied, and Gerald fell. He was buried next to his wife.
"...we hopped up, scared to death, and then he yelled: 'Look Ellen! Watch me take this one!' But the horse stopped right on his haunches at the fence and wouldn't take the jump and your pa went right over his head. He didn't suffer none. He was dead time we got to him. I guess it broke his neck." -Will Benteen, p. 695