Robert Fitzgerald 

Robert Fitzgerald

Robert Fitzgerald

A veteran of the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War, Fitzgerald arrived in Hillsborough in January of 1868 through the Friend’s Freedmen Association of Philadelphia to teach at a new school for black students, and would become influential in early local African American education.

Pre-Orange County

Robert George Fitzgerald was born in 1840 in Newcastle County, Del., the son of Thomas Fitzgerald (b. 1808), a freed slave. In 1859, he enrolled in Ashmun Institute, which became Lincoln University. Fitzgerald served in the union navy aboard the North Carolina, William G. Anderson, and Ohio from July 1863 until January 1864, when he enlisted in the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry. He served with the army around Richmond, Va., until he was discharged in October 1864 because of illness.

In August 1866, Fitzgerald moved to Amelia County, Va., where he conducted a school for freedmen until September 1867, when he returned to school at Lincoln University. In November of that year, he decided to return to the South and, in January 1868, moved to Hillsborough, Orange County, N.C., where he again conducted a school for freedmen.

Life in Hillsborough

Soon after arriving he partnered a tanning business with Heywood Beverly, working at the tannery after school hours.  In March of 1869 he purchased the plantation Woodside, six miles east of Hillsborough, with family members he convinced to move to Orange County.  Fitzgerald built a new freedman’s school on the property, and started a brick making business with his brother Richard, while continuing to teach at the school he founded and later at a larger, state supported school in what is now Durham County

Later, he also operated a tannery, established a brick kiln in partnership with his brother, and began farming. In both Virginia and North Carolina, Fitzgerald was active in the Union League and the Republican party.

In 1869, Robert G. Fitzgerald married Cornelia Smith (1844-1924) of Chapel Hill, N.C. He died near Durham, N.C., in 1919.

Check out the links below to find out more about Robert Fitzgerald:

UNC Library- Fitzgerald Family Papers


The Fitzgerald Family in Durham