On January 21, 1868, Robert G. Fitzgerald moved to Hillsborough from Pennsylvania to work as an associate teacher at the Quaker Freedman's School in Hillsboro.
In early March 1869, Fitzgerald received a letter from his family (then living in Pennsylvania) that they were moving to Hillsboro and would be there that month. They (his father Thomas, mother Sarah, and younger sisters Mary and Agnes) arrived by train in Hillsborough April 14, 1869. They immediately began looking for a local farm to purchase.
After looking at more than 20 farms, within nine days of their arrival they purchased property about six miles east of Hillsborough and one mile south of University Station. Robert’s journal entry for April 25 states that his parents “bought the plantation called Woodside. I wrote the deed for the plantation which father has purchased from Robert J. Jeffreys containing 158 acres… . We get the plantation together with all the stock, farming utensils, household and kitchen furniture for $1200.” Robert observed of the property “What I have seen of it I like very well, though the house is quite dingy.”
According to Pauli Murray, granddaughter of Robert Fitzgerald, the property:
"...had been a beautiful place once. The two-story seven-room house stood in a grove of six huge oak trees at the top of a long slope which rolled gently down to the woods. At the bottom of the slope near the road was a little two-room cottage. It had fifty acres of heavy oak timber and another forty of smaller timber; the rest of the acreage was in farm land. There was a fair-sized orchard and when the Fitzgeralds bought it their stock consisted of a fine young mare called Fanny, a yoke of oxen, seven head of beef cattle, three cows and two calves… . It was one of the many farms in the South which had suffered from years of neglect during and after the war. The fields had not been cultivated in several years and the ground was hard and dry. There were large ditches and washed-out gullies everywhere. The house needed cleaning and repairs… the underbrush needed clearing. … [The Fitzgerald family] worked like blue blazes. Woodside Farm was transformed into a going concern in a matter of weeks under the white folks’ unbelieving eyes."
Robert moved to the farm after he finished the school year, and “turned farmer of amazing strength.” His father hired a farm hand, and he, Robert, and the hired hand “hauled wagonloads of stones and dirt to fill the ditches and gullies, cleared the fields, cut timber, hauled logs and rails, built fences and brought in a carpenter to repair the house.” They began raising corn, melons, cucumbers, peas, beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and oats. They also soon built a cellar and dug a well beneath the kitchen “so they would not have to walk to the spring for water.”
About the same time, Robert’s brothers Richard and William ("Billy") moved to Woodside Farm from Pennsylvania, and set up a brickyard at the farm. Additionally, Robert desired to return to teaching, and began building a schoolhouse (soon known as the Woodside School) on the farm, rushing to have it built by September 1869 for the new school year. There was a drought that year, and many of the Fitzgeralds’ crops failed. Financial needs compelled Cornelia to take jobs sewing for several families in Hillsborough.
to be continued...