The Murder of the Molly Maguire’s
John William Tuohy
In the late 1870's the worst outbreak of Anti-Irish hysteria flared up in the coal mines of central Pennsylvania and resulted in the murder of the so-called Molly Maguire’s. The Irish worked under the most deplorable conditions in the mills and factory in New England and other parts of the East Coast, where flash fires and explosions were an accepted work hazard, where no Government agencies or Unions protected them, where companies owners primary interest was in the bottom line and not a few more dead or mangled workers, men, Women or Children.
The economy was, for all given purpose ruled over and run by a powerful Elite. Only 160 families controlled the nation’s textile, Railroad, Banks, insurance and shipping business, at a time when neither income nor inheritance was taxed.
For a brief period the civil war had driven the Irish in some parts of the country off of the railroads, and after the war ended large numbers of Irish men took work in the Anthracite coal fields of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Anthracite is a hard coal that burns longer and cleaner than the more plentiful soft coal called bituminous coal but is extremely difficult to remove from the ground.
"To get to the coal" Labor Standard "Miners entered a series of deep and complex tunnels in a small steel cage and then descended hundreds of feet under the ground. Once in the mines the miners crawled on their bellies through the coal dust water and smoke. They work here in this little black hole, all day and every day, trying to keep cool in the summer, trying to keep warm in the winter, picking away among the black coals, bending over until their spins are curved, never saying a word all their live long day,... the smallest boys do not get more than a dollar a day"
The crew bosses, of whom no manual work was required, exerted graft for privileges in the mines and sometimes took outward bribes so miner could keep his job. Between shake downs they also acted as spies for the owners who were reaping enormous profits from the terror that was their employee’s lives.
Mining, for all that was wrong with it offered two special attractions for the Irishman, it paid on time and in full and it better than any other type they could hope to find. Even then the wages were miserable.
In 1839 the miners were paid a dollar a day, ten years later the wage had increased to only $1.50 a day and remarkably, that dropped by eight cents in 1850.
Sometimes the miners were not paid at all when the corporations simply dissolved the company the miners had been worker for and reorganized under another name. This was such a frequent occurrence that finally a bill was passed in 1876, requiring the coal companies to pay its miner in cash once a month.
The mining camps were miles from the nearest town and the miners were forced to use the company stores for supplies and where everything was priced 15% higher than any other store in the state.
Sometimes the mine owners didn't bother with the formality of selling products from their stores they simply deducted the difference from its employees paychecks, and they deducted for everything, food from company stores, rent in company houses, and a rent charge for the tools used by the miners to dig the coal. Boys as young as eight were employed in the coal mines to join the adults who worked ten hours a day six days a week, most of the time with Sundays off.
However no child was too young to work in the mines, of the 22,000 miners working in Schuylkill County in 1870, 5,500 were children between the ages of seven and sixteen. The work was as brutal as it was dangerous and no miner could be sure that once he entered the mine that he would ever come out alive.
There were no provisions for safety or ventilation and Mine inspectors were a thing of the future. Mine owners easily crushed or bribed away any sort of protective legislation and it was not until 1870 that the mines were to have two exits in the event of a collapse, but the second exit was more theory then fact, and even that took the deaths by fire of 179 miners in the great Avondale fire of 1869.
Nowhere were such laws needed more than in Schuylkill County. In one seven year period 566 miners were killed and another 1,665 injured in work related accidents and in one year, 1871, 112 miners were killed and another 339 injured.
There was union activity in the coal mines to protest and change the working and living conditions. In 1868, 20,000 miners went on strike for four months to gain the right of an eight hour day. But the strike failed, the Mine owners held out with scab labor, and the miners went back to a 60 hour week.
In 1876, a coal miner strike almost drove the entire industry bankrupt, the miners couldn't hold out and this strike to, was broken. Other labor flare ups, and there were many, included sometimes violent demonstrations and often bloody clashes with the local police of State militia. In the labor battles that did break out the Miners used guerrilla warfare tactics. To counter those actions the Mining companies hired thugs who could operate without fear of legal retribution, to roam the coal mining towns and terrorize the miners in to submission and out of the labor movement.
As an example, in 1875, in the village of Wiggans patch a squad of company thugs kicked in the front door of minor named Charles O'Donnell who was suspected of union activities. Waiting until one in the morning, the goons blasted their way in to the house, first killing O'Donnell with 14 bullets to the head and then fired several more shots into one of O'Donnell's boarders, a Mrs. Charles McAllister.
When a group of miners wives gathered outside a company store in Tuscarora to protest prices, company official showed up and fired randomly in to the crowd, killing one and wounding several more. A few days later a mine boss named Patrick Varry fired point blank into a crowd of 300 protesting miners, killing two and injuring one. In both cases, the local law enforcement arrested both killers but released them on the grounds that the miners had threatened their lives.
A few days later Edward Coyle, a leading member of the local Hibernians, was found shot to death in side a company storage bin. By the end of 1874 the violence against the miners had grown so serve that even the ultra-conservative Miners National Association suggested that its membership in the area arm themselves.
The Irishmen were a favorite target for company officials since they had already gained a reputation for themselves as rabble rouser more apt to speak their minds, and in many cases in the Coal mines they wrongly accused the Irish of Union activities, (which at that time, was outlawed) even through it was commonly known in Pennsylvania that it was German miners who were behind the labor union forces, a tradition they had carried over from Europe with them.
The anti-Irish anti-Labor forces argued that the Irish were behind the Union activities and got around the law by using the cloak of the Ancient order of Hibernians to conduct Union business, what's more, they said, the A.O.H Irishmen didn't really care about the plight of the working man, they were simply building unions to be used later as political strong base.
However the National Organization of the A.O.H had a strict hands off policy in the matter of Labor unions (in fact the National A.O.H went out of its way at its national convention in April of 1877 to denounce the Molly Maguire’s and threatened to throw out any of its membership that was operating within the organization. Unfortunately all this did was to encourage the public’s belief that such an organization existed.
The Irish were in fact, making great strides in the political make up of most county and other local organizations, across the East Coast and especially in Pennsylvania.
And this was the real threat. In order for corrupt big business to operate effectively, it needed political machines that would cooperate with them, and at that point, all that had proven by the Irish political machines is that they would use politics to help themselves and their own kind.
If the Coal companies were abusing their Irish and other ethnic work forces, it would only be a matter of time before, the Celts would use that political power to correct those abuses.
Reading Railroad President Franklin Gowen, hired the world famous Pinkerton detective agency to uncover all and any labor Union leaders active in his coal mines and to have their activities stopped.
Allen Pinkerton, the legendary founder of the Pinkerton agency was a renowned publicity hound and self-promoter, who made it a quick public fact that he had received almost $250,0¬00.00 by the Mining company (about 2.5 million by today's standards) to uncover Union activity in the coal mines.
It was an outrageous sum of money.
The press reported every single detail of the investigation to explain to itself and the nation why Pinkerton had been paid such an outrageous sum of money and whether or not the famed sleuth and his army of undercover men even deserved such a fee.
Within two weeks of his press conference Pinkerton sent his undercover men in to the Mines. It can only be assumed that Pinkerton figured that the Irish didn't or couldn't read the newspaper that splashed the story of Pinkerton's planned undercover invasion of the Irish camps, and within days of their arrival almost all of Pinkerton's operatives were uncovered and tossed out of the camp.
All except one, a man named James McParlan. McParlan not only breached the camps security he also claimed to have reached the inner most circles of the Mine workers Union, which he said was operated out of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in a an organization called the Molly Maguire’s.
At best, McParlan was a suspect character. It was reported in the press that he had killed a man in Ireland and that he had once shot and killed a Policeman in upper state New York and that he was already mired in several suspicious investigations for the Pinkerton's in other parts of the country.
It will never be completely clear as to whether or not McParlan uncovered even a shred of real evidence in the coal mines, or whether the he simply fabricated what he later told the courts.
Even the extremely biased Judge at the kangaroo court that tried the Irish miners, found it amazing that, according to McParlan's testimony that he was taken in to the confidence of the Molly Maguire organization after living in the mining camp for less than two weeks.
The fact was, that the Pinkertons had been paid a tremendous amount of money to uncover something and to date they had come up with nothing. What was at stake was the very existence of the Pinkerton Company. What is also a fact, is that once the Pinkerton's entered the coal mining camps the number of assault on companies official doubled as did acts of sabotage against company owned property.
Several weeks after entering the coal mines under the name McKenna, Pinkerton agent McParlan arose from the mines and reported in to his handlers back in Chicago.
Within days a series of arrests were made across the entire coal region. The first tried were miner Michael J. Doyle, Edward J. Kelly and John Kerrigan, all three were accused of the shot gun slaying of mine supervisor John P. Jones.
Shortly after the trail started McParlan assisted in the fourth arrest in the case, that of Alexander Campbell an important member of the local Hibernians. During almost each of the trials McParlan took the stand to say that he had not only uncovered the existence of a secret organization called the Molly Maguire’s, but that he had been allowed in to its membership and knew first hand of each of the planned murders that the Molly's had plotted out.
There may have been a secretive organization called the Molly Maguire’s back in Ireland made up of Irish peasants who rose up by night against their English landlords.
Another story has it that in order to protect their identity, the group dressed as women when it made its midnight attacks against the gentry, and some say the group was led by a women named Molly Maguire, which would seem odd that she would let her name be known after being involved with activities punishable by death.
By 1876, newspaper around the country claimed that any labor strike or violence was led by a local chapter of the Molly's. The first trail was nothing less than a mockery of justice. The court house was surrounded by heavily armed Coal and Iron police who were employed by the Mining company and the States Prosecutor who was later revealed to be on the Mining companies payroll, wore his retired US Army Generals uniform during the length of the trail.
More than 120 witnesses were brought before the court, most of them saying little more then what amounted to the fact that the three miners, Doyle, Kelly and Kerrigan, had been in the region for a while and had been looking for work.
One witness testified that there was nothing unusual about young men roaming the mining towns looking for work since so many of them had been blacklisted by the Mine company for their memberships in the Hibernians.
Aside from Pinkerton Agent McParlan, the prosecution’s chief witness to the shooting swore that he had seen one of the miners hiding behind a row of bushes near the murder scene, yet the killing took place in an open field.
The case was going so well for the miners that their lawyers told the court that they would not present any of their own witnesses since the State seemed to be winning their case for them.
The jury however, returned a guilty verdict against all four men who were sentenced to death by hanging.
Next came the trail of miner James Carroll, also a high ranking Hibernian. Carroll was accused of the shooting murder of Policeman James Yost. Other indicted and tried for the same murder were miners Thomas Duffey, known labor militant who was supposed to have put up the $10.00 bounty for the Policeman shooting.
James Roarity was arrested on the grounds that he provided the weapon used in the shooting and finally Hugh McGeehan and James Boyle both black listed Hibernians who were said to have fired the actual shots that killed the Policeman.
Again the state seemed to have to no actual case against the accused accept that they were known members of Hibernians, however the state did have a star witness (aside from Pinkertons agent McParlan) in the form of John Kerrigan who had already been sentenced to death for the shooting of the Mining supervisor.
It was clear, and almost understandable, that Kerrigan had decided to turn states witness when faced with the grim reality that he was otherwise going to hang for a murder he didn't commit.
An alcoholic, Kerrigan's entire body shook as he testified at the trail of the accused killers of the Policeman. Kerrigan said that he was present when the Hibernians (the accused) planned the Mining Supervisors and the Policeman's killing. It was all the jury needed to hear. A few days later miners James Boyle, Alexander Campbell, James Carroll, Thomas Duffy, Hugh McGeehan, Michael Doyle and Edward Kelly were hung by the neck. In the case of Alexander Campbell, his crime consisted chiefly of owning the boarding house where the murders were supposedly planned out.
Now spurred on by their success in the last two trails the mining companies threw out their net for more suspected labor agitators. Over the next two years, with all opposition to them on the run, the companies cut wages, (from $18.20 in 1869 to $9.80 by 1877) increased hours and laid off hundreds of workers from the mines.
Next came the trials of known labor leaders Thomas Munley, and Charles McAllister for the murder of mine foreman Thomas Sanger and a friend, Robert Urn. Then came the trial of Hibernian Joe Kehoe (again with McParlan as the chief witness) for the murder of a company man named William Thomas. Then came the trial of Patrick Hester, Peter McHugh and Patrick Tully for murder and they went on and on until 1877.
The official record shows that 19 miners were hung by the neck, they were Irishmen one in all, Thomas Munley, James Carroll, James Roarity, Hugh McGeehan, James Boyle, Thomas Duffy, Michael J. Doyle, Edward J. Kelly, Alexander Campbell, John Donahue, Thomas P. Fisher, John Kehoe, Patrick Hester, Patrick Tully, Peter McHugh, Peter McManus, Andrew Lanahan. In the case of two others, Charles Sharpe and James McDonald, both men were hanged right after the State’s Governor had officially pardoned them.
The pardon was thought to be a comprise against the rising tide of public disgust over the butchery and the mine owners desire for complete silence of all its trouble makers. To this day, not a single authentic document exists which proves that an organization called the Molly Maguire’s existed in the coal mines of Schuylkill County, the fact remains that the Molly Maguire’s had to be invented by the Mine owners if for no other reason than to frighten the country and draw its attention to the side of the mine owners.
There were Irishmen in the coal mines who were actively organizing labor unions, most of the Irishmen were also members of, and in some cases, officer in, the Ancient Order of Hibernians
To keep itself out of trouble the Catholic Church in America openly aligned itself with the Mine owners, which even further widen the belief that the Molly’s existed. In 1889, Franklin Gowen, the President of Reading Railroad committed suicide. In 1907 McParlan was accused of manufacturing evidence in a trail and dismissed from the Pinkerton service.
Despite that he did achieve a sort of celebrity status. Several dime novel books were written about him and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a renowned Irish hater, used McParland character in several of his books. However McParlan fame was fleeting. He disappeared completely after 1910 and is thought to have been killed by Irish nationalist in the forests of Washington state. In 1970 the Governor of the State of Pennsylvania reopened the case of the Molly Maguire’s and granted all of the condemned men full pardons on the ground that they were innocent in the first place.