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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.

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.


frances rooks on September 02, 2020:

Tony, thanks for reading, I do appreciate it. And, for your comment, I will check that out. Thanks again.

frances rooks on September 02, 2020:

Ejb369, thanks so much for reading. I totally agree with your comments. It was a tragic time and yes, Irish stick together!.

Ejb369 on September 02, 2020:

Living in the area were the Mollies worked, the modern day Isn’t much better. We have corrupt politics still, the little man is looked down upon and is left fighting for the crumbs of the hierarchy. One thing is for sure, the Irish is still a bunch that stick together. Coal mining of the old days is few and far between, now it is done above ground in strip mining.

Tony Brophy on September 02, 2020:

Your account is very good. If you want the truth about the Molly Maguires you should contact Joseph Wayne in Girardville Pa. He is the Great grand son of Jack Kehoe. He now ownes the AOH building that Jack Kehoe owned. It is a very nice trip through history.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 21, 2020:

Nell, thanks so much for reading! Agree with your comment. And, I loved your piece about Arabs and white slavery.

Nell Rose from England on August 21, 2020:

Wow! How fascinating! And another piece of History that I didn't know about! It seems going to America wasn't necessarily the best thing to do. People are cruel all over the world. Interesting stuff!

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 21, 2020:

MG, thanks so much for reading. The movie is really good and so true. Always about greed, forgetting the little man.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 21, 2020:

A fascinating account of an event that I knew nothing about. I will get hold of the book and the movie available on the net and try and have a look. Such articles Kindle great interest.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 21, 2020:

Alan, thanks so much for reading. I appreciated your comments. Gorman reminds me of a few politicians in the news.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on August 20, 2020:

Saw the fllm 'The Molly Maguires' several times. Very credible. Interestingly all the police force was Welsh in origin including the chief. Most Welsh mineworkers from Pennsylvania I gather migrated to Patagonia in Argentina in order to escape having to speak English.

English miners, and for that matter most working class English folk were as badly off. Pilfering was widespread, as was poaching in country areas. Trade Unions here became almost secret societies, such as print unions who called themselves 'chapels' (shop floor organisation), the shop stewards were either 'fathers' or 'mothers of the chapel'.

I'd say Franklin Gowen was as obsessed as many British employers in the pursuit of making the lives of his workforce a misery. Pathological hatred fosters insanity, and the only way is a downward spiral.

Well written Fran, very informative..

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 20, 2020:

Thanks, Fran!

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 20, 2020:

Patty, thanks for reading. I' not sure if there were more hangings after the first 20. I will check that out. yes, I am aware of the Dakota Native Americans which was another atrocity. I remember reading about it.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 20, 2020:

I am wondering how many people know that on December 26, 1862, President Lincoln ordered and accomplished the hanging of 38 Dakota Native Americans in Mankato, Minnesota. Were additional Molly Maguires hanged after the first groups totaling 20? Thanks for the information.

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