Other scholarly studies
CHAPTER II, pp 51-85
My relation of the occurrences at Reading and Scranton has taken us amongst the population of the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania. No history of the time can be complete without some reference to the Molly Maguires whose activity caused a profound sensation in the coal region and attracted considerable attention from the rest of the country.
The field of that most useful of domestic fuels, anthracite coal, embraces an area of 472 square miles, all contained in the counties of Dauphin, Northumberland, Columbia, Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne, which had in 1870 a population of 436,437 and produced in 1876 more than twenty million tons of coal.(2) The operations of the Molly Maguires which I shall relate centre in Schuylkill and Carbon counties, north of Reading and south of Scranton. The name and organization of this hide-bound secret order came from Ireland: no one but an Irish Roman Catholic was eligible for membership.(3) The authorities differ as to the exact time when the real outrages of the Molly Maguires began and, during the Civil War, there is some confusion between them and
(2) Geological Survey. In 1876, 20,351,000; in 1877, 22,910,000. In 1880, the population of these counties was 545,911. (3) "The applicant must be an Irishman or the son of an Irishman." Dewees, 97.
the "Buckshots" whose main idea was resistance to the draft; but a review of the specific character of their work leaves no doubt that, from 1865 on, the Mollies were in full swing. The time and place could hardly have been more favorable. During the war there had been an enormous demand for anthracite coal at high prices and this had caused a large influx of foreigners, Irish, English, Welsh, Scotch and Germans, so that the colliery towns were under their control; and the Irish from their number and aggressiveness were the most important single factor.(1)
(1) FOREIGN POPULATION
Many of the Mollies were miners and the mode of working the mines lent itself to their peculiar policy. Miners were paid by the cubic yard, by the mine car, or by the ton, and in the driving of entries by the lineal yard. In the assignment of places which was made by the mining boss there were "soft" jobs and hard. If a Molly applied for a soft job and was refused, his anger was aroused and not infrequently in due time the offending boss was murdered. If he got employment, there was constant chance for disagreement in measuring-up the work and in estimation of the quality of the coal mined, for it was the custom to dock the miners for bad coal with too much slate and dirt, and a serious disagreement was apt to be followed by vengeance. Little wonder was it that, as the source of the outrages was well understood, mining bosses refused to employ Irishmen, but this did not insure their safety as they might then be murdered for their refusal. A good Superintendent of any colliery would, in his quality of superior officer, support an efficient mining boss and would thus fall under the ban himself. John T. Morse, Jr., who made a contemporaneous study of the Molly Maguires, wrote in his vivid account of their operations: "The superintendents and 'bosses' in the collieries could all rest assured that their days would not be long in the land. Everywhere and at all times they were attacked, beaten, and shot down, by day and by night; month after month and year after year, on the public highways and in their own homes, in solitary places and in the neighborhood of crowds these doomed men continued to fall in frightful succession beneath the hands of assassins." (1) (1) American Law Review, Jan, 1877, 233.
The murders were not committed in the heat of sudden passion for some fancied wrong: they were the result of a deliberate system. The wronged individual laid his case before a proper body demanding the death, say, of a mining boss and urging his reasons. If they were satisfying, as they usually were, the murder was decreed; but the deed was not ordered to be done by the aggrieved person or by any one in his and the victim's neighborhood. Two or more Mollies from a different part of the county or even from the adjoining county were selected to do the killing because, being unknown, they could the more easily escape detection. Refusal to carry out the dictate of the conclave was dangerous and seldom happened, although an arrangement of substitution, if properly supported, was permitted to be made. The meeting generally took place in an upper room of a hotel or saloon and, after the serious business, came the social reunion with deep libations of whiskey.
In attempting to give precise figures some writers have undoubtedly exaggerated the number of murders by this order from 1865 to 1875; but no one can go through the evidence without being convinced that a great many men were killed to satisfy the revengeful spirit of the Molly Maguires. Some of the victims were men so useful, conspicuous and so beloved in their communities that their assassination caused a profound and enduring impression, In some cases, so Dewees (who has written a very useful story) asserts, robbery was added to murder; superintendents, who were carrying the money for the monthly pay of the miners and laborers, were waylaid as they drove along some lonely road in the desolate country. While the murders were numerous, still more numerous were the threats of murder and warnings to leave the country written on a sheet of paper with a rude picture of a coffin or a pistol and sometimes both. One notice read: "Mr. John Taylor-We will give you one week to go but if you are alive on next Saturday you will die." Another, to three bosses, charged with "cheating thy men" had a picture of three pistols and a coffin and on the coffin was written, "This is your home." In other mining districts and in manufacturing localities during strikes and times of turbulence similar warnings have been common and have been laughed at by mining bosses, superintendents and proprietors; but, in the anthracite region between 1865 and 1876 the bravest of men could not forget how many of his fellows had been shot and suppress a feeling of uneasiness when he found such a missive on his doorstep or posted up on the door of his office at the mine. Many a superintendent and mining boss left his house in the morning with his hand on his revolver, wondering if he should ever see wife and children again.
The young men of the order were selected for the commission of murder; above them were older heads holding high office and, in a variety of ways, displaying executive ability. They were quick to see what a weapon to their hand was universal suffrage, and, with the aptitude for politics which the Irish have shown in our country, they developed their order into a political power to be reckoned with. Numbering in Schuylkill county only 500 or 600 out of 5000 Irishmen in a total population of 116,000,(1) the Molly Maguires controlled the common schools and the local government of the townships in the mining sections of the county. They elected at different times three county commissioners and came near electing one of their number, who had acquired twenty thousand dollars worth of property, associate Judge of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. In one borough a Molly was chief of police; another in Mahanoy township, Jack Kehoe, was High Constable.(2)
(1) Census of 1870, Gowen. The 5000 is an estimate of those of a
voting age from census data.
(2) "In Carbon county two Mollies have at different times held the office of County commissioner and a Molly also succeeded in being elected to the legislature." Dewees. 32 n.
In the elections were fraudulent voting, stuffing of the ballot-boxes and false returns; in the administration of the offices, fraud and robbery. In Mahanoy township $60,000 were drawn for the schools and eleven-twelfths of it stolen. Exorbitant road taxes were a fruitful means by which township officials robbed the taxpayers and put the money in their own pockets. In August 1875 an ex-county commissioner, a Molly, and two commissioners then in office, not actually belonging to the order but in sympathy with it, had been convicted of stealing the county funds and each had been sentenced by a full bench [September 6] to two years' imprisonment. At the fail election for governor in this year  the Molly Maguires, who were naturally Democrats, foresaw Republican success and sold their vote in Schuylkill and Luzerne counties to the Republicans for a certain amount of money in hand and an implied agreement that these convicted commissioners and other criminals who were called by a leading Molly "our men" should be pardoned.(1) It is hardly to be supposed that the Republican politicians who made this bargain were aware of the thoroughly criminal nature of the Molly Maguires, for they had astutely covered themselves with a virtuous cloak, securing from the Legislature in 1871 a charter for the Ancient Order of Hibernians whose motto was "Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity." On October 10, 1875 in a letter to the Shenandoah Herald Jack Kehoe denied with indignation that the Molly Maguires were synonymous with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which latter was "composed of men who are law abiding and seek the elevation of their members." (2) Kehoe was crafty enough to see the advantage of throwing dust in the eyes of the public and, when the outside world was bargained with, the A.O.H. was put forward, but, as matter of fact, it was the old story of ravening wolves in sheep's clothing.
(1) Elections in Pennsylvania were much closer then than now .
In 1875 Hartranft's majority for governor over Judge Pershing, Democrat, was
only 12,000 in a vote of 596,000. Although the returns show normal Democratic
majorities in Schuylkill and Luzerne counties, Dewees has no doubt that the
Molly vote was sold and delivered; what Pershing lost in the Molly strongholds
was counterbalanced by gains elsewhere. Dewees feels sure that Hartranft was
ignorant of the transaction, 222 et seq. On March 16, 1876, the three
commissioners were pardoned. Pa. Legislative docs., 1877, ii. 1252.
(2) Dewees, 380.
Despite the large number of murders by Molly Maguires from 1865 to 1875 there were few arrests, few trials and never a conviction for murder in the first degree. The defence usually relied on, an alibi, was made fairly easy to establish as the men who did the killing were unknown in the locality of it and as there were Mollies in abundance equal to any amount of false and hard swearing at the dictation of their order.
During the summer and autumn of 1874 the Molly Maguires were at the height of their power, yet, while there was nothing in sight menacing their dominion, operations against them had been commenced by Franklin B. Gowen. Shortly after coming of age, Gowen, in company with others, had worked a mine in Schuylkill county but, owing to the aftermath of the panic of 1857, his venture had not been successful. He turned to the study of law and was admitted to the Schuylkill county bar, was elected District Attorney and later, securing a large and lucrative practice, became attorney for the Philadelphia and Reading railroad, and in 1869, at the age of thirty-three, its president. He organized the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Co. which secured an immense amount of coal land and became the largest producer of anthracite coal.(1)
(1) In 1876, 3,071,000 tons; 1877, 5,183,000 tons. Pa. Report on Industrial Statistics, 1876-1877.
He knew Schuylkill county through and through and made up his mind that a regular and profitable conduct of mining operations would become impossible, should the terror of the Molly Maguires continue and grow. As the guardian of the great Reading property, he felt it his duty to break up the criminal organization and, in addition to his local knowledge and experience, he possessed peculiar qualities for the work. With restless ability and indomitable energy he combined, in a remarkable degree, both physical and moral courage. He was convinced that the Molly Maguires could be exposed only by the employment of secret detectives and, with this view, he applied to Allan Pinkerton of Chicago, "an intelligent and broad-minded Scotchman." "I will secure an agent or officer," Pinkerton said to him, "to ferret out the existence of this society. Whoever I get is to be paid so much a week, no matter if he finds out nothing. He is bound to me, never under any circumstances to take a reward for his services from anybody and, if he spends five years and obtains nothing in the way of information, he must have every month or every week exactly the same compensation as if every week he had traced a new murder and every month had discovered a new conspiracy. He is never to gain pecuniarily by the success of his undertaking; but as a man who goes into this organization as a detective takes his life in his own hands, I will send no man on this mission of yours, Mr. Gowen, unless it be agreed beforehand, and I can tell him so, that he never is to be known in connection with the enterprise." (1)
(1) Gowen's argument, The Commonwealth vs. Thomas Munley, 16.
Pinkerton chose James McParlan, a native of Ireland and a Roman Catholic, who coming to Chicago in 1867 had been a teamster, the driver of a meat wagon, a deck hand on a lake steamer, a wood-chopper in the wilds of Michigan, a private coachman in Chicago, a policeman and detective, then an employee in a wholesale liquor establishment, developing from this into the proprietor of a liquor store and a saloon. The store burned down in the great fire of 1871 and, as the saloon was no longer remunerative, he sold it out and, in April 1872, went into the employ of Allan Pinkerton. In October 1873, at the age of twenty-nine he reported to the Pinkerton agent in Philadelphia for orders, with the understanding that he was to receive twelve dollars a week as his salary and, in addition, his expenses. After some preliminary observation of his field, he took up his residence in the anthracite region, in the following December, first at Pottsville, then at Shenandoah. Under a disguise and the assumed name of James McKenna, McParlan was a "broth of a boy" who could sing a song, dance a jig, pass a rough joke, and stand treat, apparently taking his full share of whiskey which was the usual beverage. Still other qualities were needed; so he said he had killed his man in Buffalo and was a fugitive from justice. Supposedly a workman, he got a job but found this too confining and laborious and soon appreciated that it was unnecessary for his object. But he had to account for the money which he spent freely and, quickly learning that honest labor was no recommendation to the Molly Maguires, he concocted the story that he was in receipt of a pension from the United States government, fraudulently obtained, and that he was also a counterfeiter engaged in "shoving the queer." This latter proved a clever device as it explained both his ready command of money and the frequent journeys from place to place which were necessary in his work of detection, warning and prevention of crime. The tale, as McParlan told it on the witness stand(1) [and as Dewees has related it], is better than any detective story for it is based on a diary of actual happenings in the shape of regular written reports to a superior officer in Philadelphia. McParlan gained the confidence of his brother Irishmen and Catholics and, on April 14, 1874, was initiated into the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in other words became a full-fledged Molly Maguire. Loud, brawling, boastful of crimes and in education superior to most of his fellows, he was soon chosen Secretary of his division (2) the duties and privileges of which office made him a local leader, gave him an insight into the secret workings of the order and imparted to him a knowledge of their past crimes and projected murders. While he was working with zeal and discretion,. learning each week something more of their practices and plans of operation, other events were tending towards the end.
(1) It will be explained later how McParlan came to testify despite
the original bargain.
(2) In a County there were many divisions.
With a fatuity which organized labor has frequently shown, the Labor Union (This Union was known under different names) of Schuylkill and Carbon counties, utterly blind to the results of the panic of 1873 and to the continuance of a certain business depression, precipitated a strike in December 1874 by demanding higher wages, a demand so silly that it was abandoned in the following March. Then the operators became convinced that a reduction in the cost of mining coal was needed and in their turn asked the miners to accept lower wages, to which, so just was the demand, these workmen were willing to yield. Then, as often happens the Labor Union, in the endeavor to save something from the wreck, insisted that the composition be made with their officers, thus recognizing the Union. This Gowen and Parrish (the president of the Lehigh and Wilkesbarre Coal Co.) who led the operators refused to do and the fight continued, resulting by the beginning of June 1875 in the complete defeat of the once powerful Labor Union. It is rare if ever that a defeat of miners occurs without the destruction of property by the turbulent spirits as a measure of revenge. In February a large shaft house near Pottsville was burned. During March, April and May lawlessness reigned. Desperate miners set fire to breakers and houses. Mobs assembled, drove willing men from their work, took possession of locomotives and trains, derailed them and rioted in the destruction of other property. Goldwin Smith visited the region at this time and "found something like an industrial reign of terror" due to "foreigners, probably restless spirits, many of whom had been actually engaged in the labor wars of Europe and had carried the instinct of industrial strife and violence with them to their new country." (1)
(1) Contemporary Review, Sept. 1877, 531. Smith does not mention the year and I have assumed that his visit was in 1875 although it may have been made during the "long strike" of 1870-1871.
An occurrence at the end of the strike furnishes the opportunity to introduce a coadjutor of McParlan, R.J. Linden, the assistant superintendent of the Pinkerton agency in Chicago, who was sent to the anthracite region and became Captain of the Coal and Iron Police, his calling of detective being known only to the few whose guiding hands were in the enterprise. During the month of May it became evident that many of the miners outside of the Union were willing to go to work on the operators' terms and Gowen told these so-called "blacklegs" that, if they would go into the mines, he would give them adequate protection. As a result of this assurance a number of mines in the neighborhood of Shenandoah and Mahanoy City began working [June 1 and 2, 1875], which so exasperated the Union miners that during the night of June 2 a large mob collected bent on mischief. At six o'clock in the morning of the 3d five hundred rioters assembled at the West Shenandoah colliery determined to drive out the blacklegs. A mob of coal miners is perhaps no worse in its composition than a mob of iron workmen or stevedores but its appearance is more appalling. The miners have lived in coal and breathed its atmosphere; the grime of it is in their faces and hands; and this together with their life away from the sunlight and air give them most diabolical countenances. Their leisure hours being passed mainly in whiskey-drinking, there is nothing in their recreation to make them less brutal. It was five hundred such men, rendered desperate by the loss of their work, that Captain Linden and his twenty-four Coal and Iron Police had to face; and such a job requires the courage and steadiness of veterans. Armed with Winchester rifles, they were equal to the emergency; they stood firm; they did not fire a shot. The five hundred rioters were vociferous and threatening but finally slunk away. Later an encounter with the sheriff and his posse caused him to call upon the Governor for troops. A regiment sent to Mahanoy valley preserved the peace and work at the mines was resumed.
It would not be just to charge all the depredations during the break-up of the strike to the Molly Maguires. English, Welsh, and Scotch miners, who would shrink from systematic and cold-blooded murder, will, in the intensity of conflict, burn and destroy the property of the mine-owner with whom they are at war. The Molly had a hand however in some of the outrages and he sympathized with them all for, true to his blood, he hated the capitalist and had a profound contempt for the law.(1)
(1) The English policy toward Ireland served as "an opportunity for the Protestant to possess himself of the land and wealth he coveted .... Its effect upon the Irish was to make them slaves with the vices of slaves. They grew in jealousy, in malice and in feline methods of defence, of treachery and trickery. The Irish contempt for law is an unfortunate heritage of the many years when law was tyranny, and prejudice against themselves was not only looked upon as a virtue but paid for by the ecclesiastical and governing authorities as a professional service." England and the English, Price Collier, 284.
The unrest in the minds of the defeated miners had doubtless something to do with the recrudescence of crime in 1875, as the Molly Maguires were exasperated at the outcome of the strike; and while their attacks were on individuals for personal reasons each one was a blow at the large property interest of the anthracite region as well as at society itself.
As the result of a certain feud, a Molly, in accordance with the rule of the organization, brought his case before a convention held in a second-story room of a hotel in Mahanoy City. He maintained that he had been shot at and that it was the intention of two brothers named Major and of one "Bully Bill," otherwise William M. Thomas, a Welshman, to kill him. He therefore asked his society to put these three men out of the way. The meeting to consider this request was opened with prayer and presided over by Jack Kehoe, the county delegate of Schuylkill, the highest officer in the county organization. There were also present the County Delegate of Northumberland, three body-masters (the body-master was the chief officer of the division), three other officers and James McParlan [McKenna] our detective, as secretary of the Shenandoah division. The matter was discussed and after some consideration a motion was made that Thomas and the Major brothers be killed; it was carried. The mode of the killing caused some discussion but there seemed to be no lack of men ready and willing to do the job. In the end certain Mollies were agreed upon and selected for the murders, McParlan being one of those assigned for the despatch of Thomas. There being no further business before the meeting, it adjourned in due form. Having doubtless taken many drinks of whiskey, the Mollies dined at the tavern, when, so the account reads, other matters were sociably discussed.(1) Owing to changes of mind of different Mollies for various reasons, lack of fit opportunity to shoot the victim, and the influence of McParlan for procrastination, no assault was made on Thomas until June 28. McParlan had constantly in mind the prevention of murder and at the same time, as he never expected to testify as a witness, he aimed so to conduct things that the Mollies should be caught in some overt act. From his frequent reports to the Pinkerton office in Philadelphia and his constant communication with Linden, he hoped that arrests might be made "in the very commission and act of crime,"(2) although it was within the chances that he might himself be captured with the other Molly Maguires. It was an extremely difficult game to play and it is no wonder that it did not always succeed. At the time of the attempt to kill Thomas, he was iii and unable to give Linden the proper warning.
(1) Dewees, 133. This meeting was on June 1, 1875.
(2) Morse, 242.
On the morning of June 28, four Mollies from Shenandoah of the ages of nineteen to twenty-three started out to kill Thomas, expecting to shoot him as he walked towards the drift mouth of Shoemaker's colliery, a mile from Mahanoy City. Thomas was in the stable talking to the stable-boss. The hour of half past six arrived and the Mollies, becoming impatient that he did not come out, started towards the stable, and, when they reached the door, one fired at Thomas, hitting him in the breast. Thomas jumped towards the man, grasped the revolver, when a second bullet took effect; then another Molly shot him twice in the neck one wound being within a quarter of an inch of the jugular vein; the other two fired but apparently did not hit the victim; Thomas, covered with blood, fell and crawled under the horses that had not been hit; one horse was killed and another wounded. Thinking that Thomas was dead(1) the assassins fled to Shenandoah and "wet with sweat" found McParlan and reported what they had done.
(1) The wounds were not fatal and Thomas recovered. The importance of the incident comes from the subsequent arrests and convictions.
Jimmy Kerrigan, the body-master of the Tamaqua division, Schuylkill County, and his chum, Thomas Duffy, hard drinkers, reckless and quarrelsome in their cups, had been arrested and imprisoned more than once by the police; they had conceived therefore a violent hatred against Policeman Yost, who, with an associate, constituted the night watch of Tamaqua, and who on one occasion had overcome the resistance of Duffy by beating him on the head with his club. Yost was a man of good character, kindly nature and popular in the community but the Tamaqua division decided that he must die.
At the same time the Mollies of Storm Hill, Carbon county, had determined upon the murder of John P. Jones, a mining boss in the employ of the Lehigh and Wilkesbarre Coal Company, because it was supposed that he had blacklisted William Mulhall and Hugh McGehan. An exchange of "Mollie courtesies" was at once suggested and decided upon. Carbon county Mollies were to be sent over for the murder of Yost and in return Schuylkill Mollies would undertake to put Jones out of the way. Yost was to be assassinated first and the time fixed upon was the early morning of July 6 at the hour when he should extinguish the last gaslight in the town. Mulhall, who was a married man with a large family, was relieved from the work and James Boyle, being conveniently at hand, was substituted in his place.
McGehan and Boyle, the Carbon county representatives, came to Tamaqua and were guided by Kerrigan and Duffy. About midnight Duffy took the two to the cemetery and returned to the Union House, an inn kept by a prominent Molly, so that he might prove an alibi when, as was highly probable, suspicion fell upon him. Somewhat later Kerrigan took a bottle of whiskey to the cemetery but the drink was for himself and Boyle, as McGehan, who was a tall young man [about twenty-two] of powerful frame with brawny arms, never touched a drop of liquor. Kerrigan led the two to the street lamp and placed them under the shade trees near by. After a while Yost and his associate watchman appeared and went into Yost's house to get something to eat. Coming out at a little after two o'clock Yost went at once to the lamp-post, placed his ladder against it, began to climb the ladder, heard footsteps behind him, and turned round to see who was coming from under the trees. As he turned, McGehan reached up and shot him in the right side. Yost fell off the ladder, exclaiming "Oh my God! I am shot, my wife!" (1) His wife leaning out of the window saw him climbing the ladder, saw the flash of the pistol, heard that and a second report,(2) the scream of her husband, the sound of retreating footsteps, and, rushing downstairs and out, found him mortally wounded. "Give me a kiss," he said; "I am shot and have to die." Later to his brother-in-law he said, "This is the last of me; I must die; I have been so long in the army and escaped, and now I must be shot innocently." (3) He died that day but not before stating that he had seen his murderers plainly, they were both Irishmen but neither was Kerrigan nor Duffy who were the only enemies he had in the world.
Kerrigan piloted McGehan and Boyle away to a point whence they could easily return to their own county. McGehan boasted to Kerrigan of the deed. I dislike, he said, to draw Irish blood but I want no better sport than to shoot such men as Yost. When he was shot he "hollered" like a panther.(4) The murderers reached their homes without apprehension. Not until seven months afterwards were they arrested. McGehan became a hero. All the Mollies admired his "clean job," for which it was generally recognized a suitable reward should be given. A leading Molly of Carbon county, Campbell, bestirred himself in his behalf and started him in a saloon near Storm Hill.
(1) Dewees, 161.
(2) Boyle fired but missed his mark.
(3) Albright's argument, 13.
(4) Ibid., 33. I have changed the third person to the first. Yost was a Pennsylvania German sometimes spoken of as Pennsylvania Dutch.
In a little town in Schuylkill county on Saturday evening, August 14 a Molly had an altercation with Esquire Gwither, whom he abused for issuing a warrant against him. The Esquire ordered him out of his office and on his refusal to go put him out by force. The Molly ran home, obtained his shot-gun and, encountering the Esquire in the street, shot him dead, then fled from the county. The Esquire was highly esteemed and his murder caused general indignation.
This murder was committed on the spur of the moment but later on the same night, at a picnic near Shenandoah, Gomer James, a young Welshman, a watchman at a coal drift, was shot boldly and openly by a Molly Maguire, and died within a few minutes. A number of months previously his death had been determined upon by the society in the usual manner.
Thomas Sanger, an Englishman thirty-three years old, of good character and amiable disposition, a mining boss at Ravens Run colliery, had somehow incurred the ill will. of some of the Molly Maguires and he was doomed to die. On the morning of September 1, a little before seven o'clock, as he walked towards the mine to set the men to work, he was attacked by five Mollies, shot and killed, as was also William Wren, a young man who was with him and interfered in his defence. Although a hundred men and boys witnessed the assault, they were so terrified by the promiscuous firing that they made no attempt to arrest the Mollies, who escaped to the mountains. McParlan was unable to prevent this murder but soon afterwards learned from the perpetrators of it the whole particulars.
The sensation Schuylkill and Carbon counties was profound. The victims had been Welsh, Pennsylvania-German or English and the feeling of their blood-brothers towards the Irish Catholics was growing into a keen desire for vengeance. John T. Morse Jr. has graphically described the sentiment outside of Pennsylvania. "In 1875 these anthracite districts had become one vast Alsatia," he wrote. "From their dark and mysterious recesses there came forth to the outside world an appalling series of tales of murder, of arson and of every description of violent crime. It seemed that no respectable man could be safe there, for it was from the respectable classes that the victims were by preference selected; nor could any one tell from day to day whether he might not be marked for sure and sudden destruction." (1) But the day of reckoning was at hand although the Mollies, arrogant in their success, drunk with deeds of violence and thirsting for blood, little recked that the period of their dominion was drawing to an end.
(1) Amer. Law Review.
It will be remembered that in return for the murder of Yost, the Schuylkill county Mollies had promised to kill John P. Jones, a Welshman, a mining boss at Storm Hill, Carbon county. Through McParlan, he had been put on his guard and, for a number of weeks, had slept at the house of his superintendent under guard of Coal and Iron policemen. The changes of design and shifting of plans were so frequent that the detective was unable to trace them all and he hoped that this project had been abandoned when the community received another shock in the following manner.
Jimmy Kerrigan, who knew the by-paths in this difficult mountainous country, led Edward Kelly, whose selection had been by lot, and Michael J. Doyle (who had volunteered to take the place of a married man with a family) into Carbon county and they stopped all night with Campbell, in whose saloon they were well entertained. Jones, passing the first night for a long while in his own house, left it, after taking breakfast and chatting with his family, at a little after seven on the morning of September 3, to go to the mining superintendent's office near the railroad station. As the train from Tamaqua was nearly due, a hundred men, miners and railroad employes were about the place and, as Jones approached them, two strange men suddenly stepped forward and fired a number of balls into his body, killing him almost instantly; at once they fled to the mountains. Wild excitement prevailed at the station but the mining superintendent kept his head and organized a party for pursuit. Jimmy Kerrigan led his two men by unfrequented roads and by-paths and, eluding all pursuers, got them safely by Tamaqua, five miles from the scene of murder. Had he kept on, instead of stopping to show his hospitality, he could have taken them to Tuscarora, where there was a nest of Molly Maguires. Some of these could easily have conducted the assassins to Pottsville, where, merged in the crowd, detection would have been impossible. But when they had left Tamaqua behind and were near his own house Kerrigan left them in the bush and went home to get them whiskey and something to eat.
Meanwhile Beard, a young law student, who had seen the dead body of Jones immediately after the murder and was one of the first to bring the news of it to Tamaqua, happened to hear that Jimmy Kerrigan with two strange men had been seen west of the town. Going to a hill whence with a spy-glass a pretty good view of the surrounding country could be obtained he saw Kerrigan wave a handkerchief, whereupon two other men appeared and the three went to a spring on the side of the mountain. Hurrying back to town, Beard together with an eider brother mustered a force of twenty, went out to the bush, captured Kerrigan and his associates and bringing them to town had them confined in the Tamaqua lockup. They were surrendered to the Deputy-sheriff of Carbon county on his properly supported demand.
The pent-up feeling of the community now broke out; the rage of the Welsh, English and Pennsylvania Germans against the Molly Maguires was violent and it was only by the best of management that the authorities prevented an attempted lynching at Tamaqua and again later when the prisoners passed Storm Hill in the train. Finally they were safely lodged in the Mauch Chunk jail.
"The whole district," wrote Morse, "appeared to be upon the verge of a riotous outbreak." (1) Murders by Molly Maguires stopped but threats and "coffin-notices" were served by them upon men who were active in the prosecution of the prisoners; these were disregarded and counter-notices sent to the leading Mollies at which they were surprised and indignant. Amongst a number of manifestations of the intense strife that prevailed the most notable was the work of a self-constituted vigilance committee who, shortly after midnight of December 10, attacked the house of a leading Molly, near Mahanoy City, shot dead one of the murderers of Sanger and Uren, got a rope around the neck of another (who in some manner escaped) and, through an unhappy mistake killed the sister-in-law of a third. The trial of the murderers of Jones which had been fixed for October 19 was postponed on sufficient ground; and, as it was well understood that strong evidence for an alibi was being manufactured and as the Molly Maguires were at the height of their political power, fears were entertained by many that the assassins would escape the punishment which was justly their due. But these people had no conception of the impending doom of the terrible order owing to the irrefragable evidence gathered by McParlan, the energy and discretion of Gowen and Parrish and the high character of the bench and bar of Carbon and Schuylkill counties.
(1) Amer. Law Review, 234.
On January 18, 1876 the trial of the three assassins of Jones began at Mauch Chunk before Judge Dreher. Assisting the District Attorney in the prosecution were Charles Albright and F.W. Hughes, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, who had clasped hands in the determination to rout out the Molly Maguires by process of law. Five attorneys appeared for the defence, of whom two at least were able lawyers and a third was the Republican member of Congress for Schuylkill county. The prisoners demanded separate trials and the Commonwealth elected to begin with Michael J. Doyle. The testimony presented on its part was complete. The defence was a carefully manufactured alibi but as it was evident that the Commonwealth stood ready to prosecute for perjury as well as for murder, the counsel for Doyle, either too timid or too honorable to put upon the stand men who they knew would swear falsely, did not call their witnesses and let the case go to the jury on the evidence of the Commonwealth. Three arguments were made by the prosecution; two "stirring appeals to the jury" (1) on behalf of the prisoner. On February 1 the jury brought in a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree, the first conviction in the anthracite region of a Molly Maguire for a capital crime. Later the judge refused a motion for a new trial and sentenced Doyle to be hanged.
Kerrigan decided to turn State's evidence and, before the conviction of Doyle told Albright and Hughes (who were accompanied by a stenographer) the story of the murders of Jones and Yost and disclosed the inside workings of the society of Molly Maguires. On February 4 Campbell was arrested as accessory before the fact to the murder of Jones and on the same day the two principals and three accessories to the murder of Yost were committed to the Pottsville jail. On February 10 two men (2) were arrested for the murder of Sanger and Uren at Ravens Run.
(1) Dewees, 246.
(2) It was afterwards discovered that one of these was not an active participant in the crime, see Dewees, 307.
The Molly Maguires were much alarmed. They knew that the arrests of Campbell and of the murderers of Yost were due to the disclosures of Kerrigan and they were bitterly indignant at his treachery, but they did not believe that the arrest of Sanger's assassin could be laid to his charge, as Kerrigan was in a different division and had no intimate connection with the murder. It was rumored that a detective was in their midst and suspicion fell upon McParlan. Having heard the report more than once Jack Kehoe, one of the most adroit men in the society, became convinced of its truth and sent the word around that McParlan [McKenna] was a detective and that members must beware of him. Hearing this, McParlan went to Kehoe and demanded, "Why do you spread these reports about me?" "I heard it from a conductor on the Reading railroad," was the answer. "He called me into the baggage car and said that I might be certain that you were a detective. I told him it was not the first time I had heard the charge made against you." McParlan denounced the charge as a slander and demanded a convention of the order to investigate the matter. "I will let the society try me," he said; "and if I find out the man who is lying about me, I will make him suffer. It is a terrible thing to charge a man like me with being a detective." They agreed that a county convention should be called and, as Kehoe was too nervous to write the notices, he asked McParlan to write them in his name, who therefore summoned in proper form all the body-masters of the county to convene at Shenandoah for his own trial [about March 1].
Meanwhile the report concerning McParlan gained force, helped on by the assertion of the leading attorney for the defence of Doyle that, in some unaccountable way, the attorneys for the Commonwealth got hold of the minute details of their line of defence.(1) On the day before the one fixed for the convention, McParlan, while at Pottsville, was charged with being a detective by another Molly, who further asserted that the convention at Shenandoah was a game of his to get all the body-masters and officers together and have them arrested by Captain Linden and his Coal and Iron Police. To allay this suspicion McParlan went at once to see Linden and asked him not to have the police there at all. "I believe," he said, "I can fight them right through and make them believe I am no detective." Linden reluctantly consented but told McParlan that he was running a very great risk.
(1) McParlan was aware of the various steps and his information was communicated to the attorneys for the Commonwealth.
Linden was right. Earlier in the day, McParlan had seen Kehoe and the two arranged to travel together to Shenandoah that evening, that they might be there for the convention early on the morrow. But Kehoe stole away thither on an earlier train, got together McAndrew, the body-master of the Shenandoah division, and a number of the Mollies, telling them that, beyond doubt, McParlan was a detective and that he must be killed. "For God's sake have him killed to-night!' he added, "or he will hang half the people in Schuylkill county." The men consented, McAndrew with reluctance as he was fond of McParlan. Kehoe went home but a dozen men assembled a little below the station, armed with axes, tomahawks and sledges and waited for the coming of McParlan, intending to inveigle him down there on the track and kill him, avoiding the use of fire-arms in order not to attract the policemen around the station.
Meanwhile McParlan was travelling towards Shenandoah on the evening train, his suspicions aroused from Kehoe's failure to join him as agreed, and they grew, when he was not met as usual at the station by five or six comrades to discuss the news and have a drink. He went into the saloon of a member whom he found so nervous and excited that he could hardly open the bottle of porter called for. Walking on he met another member, ordinarily friendly, who hardly spoke to him, then another, Sweeney, who was less cold but of whom he was so suspicious that as they went on together he invented some excuse to make him walk ahead lest he should receive a blow from behind. He kept his hand on his revolver ready to meet an attack. Arriving at McAndrew's he noticed two Mollies on guard and that his friend was nervous and uneasy. Sweeney went out, came back again and threw a little piece of snow at McAndrew as a signal for action to which the latter replied, "My feet are sore; I guess I will take off my boots" which was as much as to say I have abandoned the project. With truth did McAndrew tell McParlan next day, "I saved your life last night." McParlan on the alert knew something was up and after a question about the meeting said good night and started for his boarding house but not by his usual route, taking instead a by-way through a swamp. He slept little for he was constantly on his guard against an attempt at assassination.
Next morning there was no sign of a convention and McParlan made up his mind to go to Girardville and demand of Kehoe the reason. Hiring a horse and cutter, he took McAndrew with him; and two other Mollies in a similar conveyance started after them. What does this mean? asked McParlan. "Look here," was the reply, "you had better look out, for that man who is riding in that sleigh behind you calculates to take your life. Have you got your pistols?" "Yes," said McParlan. "So have I," returned McAndrew, "and I will lose my life for you. I do not know whether you are a detective or not but I do not know anything against you. I always knew you were doing right and I will stand by you.. Why don't they try you fair?" Then McAndrew told of the plot of the previous day adding, "You will find out that you are in a queer company this minute." "I do not give a cent," replied McParlan; "I am going down to Kehoe's." To Kehoe's they went. Kehoe was surprised to see McParlan still alive in company with the men who had agreed to kill him. Yet they fell to discussing the burning question when Kehoe intimated to him that he had learned his true character from Father O'Connor. On McParlan's determining to go to see the priest at Mahanoy Plane, a number of Mollies went along. The one to whom the killing of the detective was assigned got too drunk to make the attempt; but on their return to Shenandoah McAndrew would not permit McParlan to go to his boarding house for fear of assassination but insisted that he should sleep in his [McAndrew's] quarters.
Having failed to find Father O'Connor when he left Kehoe's, McParlan made a second unsuccessful attempt on the next day, but not caring to pass another night at Shenandoah he went on to Pottsville. "There," he said to Captain Linden, "I have come to the conclusion that they have had a peep at my hand and that the cards are all played." Shadowed by Linden, he went, on the following day, to Mahanoy Plane, had a long talk with Father O'Connor, learning that not only O'Connor, but two other Catholic priests as well, believed that he was a Pinkerton detective in the employ of the Reading company. Satisfied that his mission was generally known he returned to Pottsville that evening and next morning [March 5 or 6] left for Philadelphia, ending his experience of nearly two years as a Molly Maguire.(1)
(1) McParlan's testimony in the case of The Commonwealth vs. John Kehoe et al.; Dewees.
A word here should be said concerning the position of the Roman Catholic clergy. Father O'Connor's aversion to McParlan was not due to any love for the Molly Maguires. On the contrary he had denounced them from the pulpit and read only a short time previous, the pastoral letter of Archbishop Wood excommunicating all lawless societies and especially the Molly Maguires. But Father O'Connor looked upon McParlan as a stool pigeon egging his associates on to crime in order to enhance his own glory and profit as a detective.(2) Wood was the Archbishop of Philadelphia and had almost from the first been cognizant of and sympathetic with the means which Gowen employed to bring the Molly Maguires to justice.(3)
(3) Gowen's argument in the case of The Commonwealth vs. Thomas Munley.
The trial of Edward Kelly for the murder of Jones began. at Mauch Chunk on March 27. The counsel for the Commonwealth was the same as in the Doyle case. The lawyers for the prisoner made "eloquent appeals" invoking sympathy for him "on account of his youth" and for his "poor desolate widowed mother.''(4) On April 6, the jury brought in a verdict of murder in the first degree, the second conviction of the kind in the history of the anthracite region against a Molly Maguire. He was sentenced to be hanged. Death warrants were issued by the Governor fixing the day of execution for Doyle on May 3 and for Kelly on May 4 but before the sentences were executed the cases were taken on writs of error to the Supreme Court of the State.
(4) Dewees, 280.
Schuylkill county was the scene of the next prosecution of the Molly Maguires. On May 4 at Pottsville before a full bench of five judges in the Court of Oyer and Terminer, Judge Pershing presiding, commenced the trial of Hugh McGehan and James Boyle who had shot Policeman Yost, and of three companions,(1) accessories before the fact, all having elected to be tried together. Albright, Hughes and Gowen assisted the District attorney and able lawyers appeared for the prisoners.
(1) James Carroll, James Roarity, Thomas Duffy.
The Molly Maguires were stunned by the convictions in Carbon county yet they could not believe that their dominion of eleven years was being utterly destroyed. The eager crowd who assembled in the Court House at Pottsville had not abandoned hope when news came that Jack Kehoe, the county delegate of Schuylkill county, and seven other Mollies had been arrested. Their simulated confidence gave way to panic, then succeeded a feeling of desperation, boding danger.
The Commonwealth put upon the stand their chief witness, James McParlan. The disclosure of his mission rendered secrecy unnecessary longer; he was willing to testify, and, after Gowen, Hughes and the District attorney had heard his personal relation, they were glad to have the same story told to the jury. The Molly Maguires knew Jim McKenna, a man with bushy red hair and rough dress, a brawler and a roysterer; "the biggest Molly of us all." They saw before them in the witness-box James McParlan, a man slightly built but muscular, of fair complexion, closely cut dark chestnut hair, above a broad full forehead and gray eyes. Dressed plainly in black, wearing spectacles, with an intelligent and grave countenance and gentlemanly bearing, he resembled a college professor rather than a rowdy frequenting bar-rooms and saloons. McParlan told his wonderful story slowly, without an attempt at theatrical display and he was listened to with breathless interest by Judges, attorneys, prisoners and officers of the law. He remained upon the witness-stand for four days and, instead of being shaken by the searching cross-examination to which he was subjected, he was able to add evidence which told against the prisoners and which had been objected to on his examination-in-chief. Accurate and truthful, he excelled as witness as he had as detective and, when he finished his testimony, the case of the Commonwealth was won.
Kerrigan was put upon the witness-stand and told the truth. Two weeks after the trial had commenced when the defence had nearly closed their testimony, one of the jurors was taken ill and died five days later. This rendered a new trial necessary. In the meantime, in Carbon county, Campbell was convicted of the murder of Jones as accessory before the fact, the trial lasting from June 20 to July 1; and in Schuylkill county on June 27 Thomas Munley, brought to trial for the murder of Sanger, was on July 12 found guilty of murder in the first degree, the first verdict of that kind in Schuylkill county against a Molly Maguire. McParlan testified in both trials and Kerrigan in that of Campbell.
Before the conclusion of the trial of Munley, a jury was impanelled in the Yost case and on July 13 the second trial began, being the Commonwealth against four of the accused, Duffy having demanded a separate trial. McParlan told his damning tale for the fourth time and demonstrated that he was in every respect an unimpeachable witness. The arguments of Albright and Hughes in their trial have been printed and give one a good idea of the ability in which the prosecution was conducted and the dignity that obtained generally during the proceedings. At eleven o'clock on the night of July 22 the jury brought in a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree against all four of the defendants.
Duffy's trial and conviction took sixteen days [September 6-21]. In due time sentences of death were pronounced against the murderers of Sanger and Yost. From January 18 to September 20 in this Centennial year of American independence (which was being celebrated with great eclat in the chief city of the Commonwealth, only a few hours' travel from Mauch Chunk and Pottsville) the Molly Maguires had learned much law. The ignorant were amazed that more than one Molly should be condemned for the murder of one mining boss or one policeman--that three should hang for the killing of Jones and five for the assassination of Yost. The leaders of the organization had thought that in their meeting-rooms and saloons they could concoct the crime of murder, assigning the commission of it to the younger members while they themselves incurred no guilt. They were astounded therefore that Campbell was convicted for planning the .assassination of Jones, and Carroll, Roarity and Duffy for helping on that of Yost, when no one of the four fired a shot or assisted in the actual deed .(1)
(1) In his argument in the Yost case, 18, Albright said: "The Court will tell you that a conspiracy to commit a crime may be entered into by persons who are not present at the commission of the crime, although they may be as guilty as if actually present. Men may agree that a certain person shall be killed ...and they may agree upon the details: That A and B shah murder a man and that C and D shall remain elsewhere to aid, assist and abet them, and in the eyes of the civil and moral law C and D, who do not actually commit the crime, are as guilty as A and B who do."
More surprises were in store as the inexorable prosecutors for the Commonwealth, armed with the weapons which the law put into their hands, pursued their undeviating course. In the Court of Quarter Sessions, Schuylkill county, Jack Kehoe and a number of other Molly Maguires were convicted for aggravated assault and battery, with intent to kill William M. Thomas, and, in a trial immediately thereafter, for conspiracy to murder the Majors.(2) A number of the Mollies turned State's evidence. Other convictions followed, among them those of two men and two women for perjury; these had sworn falsely to an alibi in the Yost and Sanger cases. The Molly Maguire organization was shattered. Having for the defence of their members charged with murder some of the best lawyers in the region, their money was exhausted. In a number of instances during the September term, counsel was assigned by the Schuylkill county Court. On May 6 when McParlan went on the witness-stand, he was guarded by a strong body of police; in September he could walk the streets of Pottsville unguarded. Next to McParlan (3) the anger of the Molly Maguires was most bitterly aroused against Gowen and he, in his argument in the Munley trial, defied them to assassinate him.
(2) See the story of the County Convention at Mahanoy City, ante.
(3) Excepting of course Kerrigan and others who turned State's evidence.
On October 16 the majesty of the law had a triumph in the court-room of Schuylkill county. Nineteen convicted Molly Maguires, handcuffed and fastened together by a chain, were brought in for sentence. Jack Kehoe, the able and cruel county delegate, who has played a prominent part in this story, got fourteen years of imprisonment at hard labor. Three other Mollies received the same. The sentences of the others were for shorter terms, from seven years to one. Four were sent to the penitentiary for perjury.(1)
(1) The sentences of five were postponed, three at least of whom had turned State's evidence,
Carbon county followed with an impressive case. "Yellow Jack" Donahue after a trial of five days [October 19-24] was convicted of the murder of Morgan Powell, a mining boss, whom he had killed in December 1871. So low were the fortunes of the organization that Donahue, an old member and body-master of the Tuscarora division, could hire no counsel and was defended by four lawyers appointed by the Court.
The four murder trials in Carbon county took respectively fourteen, ten, eleven and five days; the three in Schuylkill county respectively fifteen, eleven and fourteen--an admirable result worthy of imitation as we consider the interminable length to which our trials for capital crime now drag along, and worthy of being compared (I think) to the best English practice. And had there been no appeal, execution would have followed conviction about as swiftly as in England. But these men had a chance for life which they would not then have had in the older country: their cases were taken up to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on writs of error. Two appeals were heard and these seem to have served as test cases for the others. In that of the four murderers of Yost who were tried and convicted together, a full bench of the Supreme Court declared their opinion through the medium of the Chief Justice: "The sentence of the Court of Oyer and Terminer is affirmed and the record is ordered to be remitted for execution of the sentence according to law." On the same day, May 7, 1877, the judgment of the Court in the case of Campbell vs. Commonwealth [Carbon county] was likewise affirmed, six justices sitting, and an associate reading the opinion.(1) "They dare not hang so many," said Edward Kelly after his conviction for murder; "if they let any one go free, then they must let all free." (2) "I don't think the old man at Harrisburg will go back on us," were the words of Jack Kehoe to the warden of the Schuylkill county jail. "The old man" was the Governor: he issued neither pardons nor commutations: on the contrary he issued death warrants fixing the day of execution for the ten murderers.
(1) Penn. State reports, Norris, iii. 126, 200. (2) Dewees, 351.
On June 21, 1877 at Mauch Chunk four Molly Maguires were hanged, three for the murder of Jones, one for the murder of Powell in 1871. At Pottsville six were hanged, five for the murder of Yost and one for the murder of Sanger.(1) Never did the Society reappear in the anthracite region. The weapon of coolly devised and violent assassination was never afterwards employed on the part of Labor. The region did not again suffer from the lawlessness which had prevailed there from 1865 to 1875.(2) That this result was accomplished, not by vigilance committees and lynchings but by the regular, patient and considerate process of law was due to Gowen, McParlan, Parrish, the bench of Carbon, Schuylkill, Columbia and Northumberland counties and the lawyers who acted for the Commonwealth. To these must be added the Roman Catholic church which, though in a difficult situation (for the Molly Maguires were Catholics and there were many Catholic sympathizers with them outside of the organization), was, as has always been the case in the United States (I believe), on the side of law and order.
(1) New York Tribune, June 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, July 7, 1877.
(2) Written in 1909.
The racial characteristics shown in this story are worth a passing note. All the Molly Maguires were Irish.(3) McParlan who exposed them and served his employer with stanch fidelity was Irish and Gowen, to whom the greatest credit is due for the destruction of the society, was the son of an Irishman.
(3) But not all were born in Ireland.
A peculiar feature stands out, differentiating the Molly Maguires from any criminal organization (so far as I know) of any other peoples of the Indo-European family. We read of strong drink and carousing, of robbery and murder but nowhere, during the orgies of whiskey, of dissolute women. We read of wives and families, of marriage and the giving in marriage, of childbirth but nowhere of the appearance of the harlot. The Irishman, steeped in crime, remained true to the sexual purity of his race.
The characteristic failings of the Celts, as the ancient Romans knew them, were intensified in their Irish descendants by the seven centuries of misgovernment of Ireland by England. Subject to tyranny at home the Irishman, when he came to America, too often translated liberty into license and, so ingrained was his habit of looking upon government as an enemy, that, when he became the ruler of cities and stole the public funds, he was, from his point of view, only despoiling the old adversary. With his traditional hostility to government, it was easy for him to become a Molly Maguire, while the English, Scotch and Welsh immigrant shrank from such a society with horror.
My [Rhodes] authorities are The Molly Maguires, by F. P.
Dewees; arguments of Albright and Hughes in Yost case; argument of Gowen in
Sanger case; report of the case of The Commonwealth vs. J. Kehoe et al,, with
the testimony and arguments of Counsel in full, stenographically reported; "The
Molly Maguires Trials" by John T. Morse Jr., American Law Review, Jan,
1877; ,New York Tribune, Aug. 14, Oct. 17, 1876; Cleveland
Moffett in ,McClure's Magazine, Dec. 1894; ,MacMillan's
Magazine, Dec. 1896.
I [Rhodes] have used freely my paper on the Molly Maguires read at the first public meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in Washington, Dec. 14, 1909 and reprinted in the American Historical Review for April 1910. [it is available in most college libraries]