Skip to main content

The Hangings of the Molly Maguires

Secret Society of the Molly Maguires

Legend tells us that the name of the secret order of the Molly Maguires was named after an elderly Irish woman named Molly Maguire, who had been turned out of her rental home by an unfriendly landlord and was left struggling to survive with no shelter and no means of support.

For years, the British landlords had no empathy for the Irish. This, along with the Great Famine as part of the potato blight, led to thousands of Irish fleeing to America for a better life.

The immigrants flooded the coal mines of Pennsylvania, seeking to leave the harassment and poverty behind. But, unfortunately, the coal mines were almost worse than what they had left behind. The secret society of the "Mollies", as they became known, continued across the ocean.

For years, the coal mines used and abused the workers with low wages, safety violations, and corrupt officials looking the other way to help the owners of coal mines and railroads. The workers attempted to start unions to band together to remedy the working conditions.

The purpose of the Mollies was to create chaos, rob, burn, and kill even those who weren't involved. The owners were paying thousands of dollars to apprehend these criminals and stop the unions.

Franklin Gowen (1836-1889) was a braggart, malicious, and a conniving businessman and former district attorney. Eventually, he became the president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. He was determined to keep the bottom line profitable, and also refused to have emergency exits in place, declined to have equipment in place, and refused to provide ventilation or pumping systems.

Young breaker boys, as young as six years old, working with no ventilation and breathing coal dust with every breath, were hunching over and getting sicker. The families lived in company housing, forced to buy only from company stores at high prices. To the workers, it was like the wild west. The harsh conditions, strife, and stress would lead to changes.

Hiring the Pinkerton Agency

In 1873, Gowen hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency, paying them $100,000 to arrange for spies to infiltrate and join the Workingman's Benevolent Agency (WBA). Gowen needed to get information to force the workers into submission and break their backs to eliminate opposition.

They recruited James McFarland to go undercover. McFarland was able to gain information and his orders were "to remain in the field until every cut-throat has paid with his life for the lives cruelly taken." In the meantime, the Pinkerton Agency paid vigilantes who murdered miners who were suspected of belonging to the Molly Maguires.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Soapboxie

Trial of the Molly Maguires

Twenty suspected members of the Mollies were charged and convicted of murder and other crimes and executed in 1877 and 1879, based solely on the allegations of Franklin Gorman, McFarland, and the Pinkerton Agency.

The trial was set with Gorman as the prosecutor and police hired by the coal and railroad owners. A jury was selected, but no Irish Catholics were allowed, and the German jurors could not even understand English.

Some historians and others believe this was an unbalanced and unfair trial held under "adverse conditions." Newspapers of the day were calling the Mollies "scum" and "lawless wretches." So, on June 21, 1877, ten of the Mollies were hanged at the Old Mauch Chuck Jail. (Today, it is called Jim Thorpe).

On a wall leading to the gallows is a handprint made by one of the Mollies as he said the words, "This is proof of my words, that this mark will never be wiped out." To this day, cleaning does not erase it and is still visible. This day is remembered as "The Day of the Rope." Others were hanged in March 1878 and January 1879.

The Molly Maguires were pioneers and martyrs in the struggle of coal miners fighting for worker's rights. Others blame Gowen as a man so blatantly taken with the power of sovereignty.

Handprint of a Molly Maguire

Handprint of a Molly Maguire

The Molly Maguires Movie

The Molly Maguires movie featured Richard Harris and Sean Connery. Connery was quoted as saying, "unless you give a man something, aside from malnutrition, you're going to get retaliation, terrorism. I know what it is like, as members of my family worked the mines in Scotland."

Perhaps they seemed to be terrorists, but the Mollies did contribute to the beginnings of change for the coal miners and significant changes in the labor movement.

Gorman never returned to working for the railroad, and on December 13, 1889, he locked himself in a hotel room and committed suicide. Was it guilt for the way he may have framed union members? Maybe. But some believe it could have been a "hit" by someone unknown. . .

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Related Articles