Saturday, September 24, 2016

New Essay Collection

eaders are invited to browse the collection of essays posted here.

“The Mollies Were Also School Directors,” in the essay collection above right, gives the background of five Hibernians prosecuted as “Mollies” who served in office as school directors. This piece also documents a resurgent tide of nativist feeling that manifested in the early 1870s. 

“Jug-Handled Justice,” located at the tab above, describes railroad president Franklin Gowen’s almost single-handed usurpation of Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system for the duration of the “Molly Maguire” trials. At this essay's conclusion John Elliott, the attorney who helped secure John Kehoe’s 1979 posthumous pardon, gives a summation of Gowen’s actions.

“Pennsylvania’s ‘Molly Maguires’: The Surprising Western Caseload,” describes the “Molly” caseload in three western Pennsylvania counties. This effort from 1878 to 1882 involved dozens of defendants. It failed as spectacularly as the eastern effort succeeded.

“The ‘Molly Maguires’ and the National Labor Union” describes the relationship between alleged “Molly” Patrick Hester and Richard Trevellick, president during the early 1870s of the National Labor Union, a countrywide coalition of tradesmen.

“The ‘Molly Kings’ and Greenback Labor Reform” describes the role of Hibernians charged as “Mollies” in a progressive nineteenth-century financial reform effort. In particular, this essay discusses the relationship between Kehoe and U.S. Congressman John Killinger, a vocal proponent of Greenback Labor Reform efforts in the early 1870s.

Newspapers archived through the Library of Congress “Chronicling America” website helped inform this body of work. Readers at this site are invited to inform their own views of this fantastically complex, and fascinating, slice of U.S. history.

The tab labeled “JOHN KEHOE,” located above, offers a new, comprehensive bio for Schuylkill County’s AOH delegate.

A. Flaherty

Monday, April 11, 2016

Pennsylvania's Sons of Liberty

During the 1870s, the rhetoric of Irishmen in Pennsylvania’s hard coal region rang with idealistic fervor. Their musings on history, some expressed poetically, included the American Revolution. Some of this rhetoric arose from two towns that served as homes or housed taverns owned by alleged "Molly Maguires": Mount Carmel, in Northumberland County, and Tamaqua, in Schuylkill County.
One issue in particular captured hearts and minds. Irish miners and their advocates actively resisted the influence of British capital in the anthracite coal trade. In late winter 1875 John Shanahan, Northumberland County labor union officer and miner, spoke out against the British stockholders of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. "They pay their presiding officer $25,000 per year, and that man, once poor and penniless, says [less than] $1.25 per day is too much for labor!," Shanahan said of railroad president Franklin Gowen. Of the newsmen’s ongoing hostility toward mineworkers, Shanahan said: "They forget we are men; that we are only resisting powerful corporations and a moneyed aristocracy." Shanahan wrote his correspondence, to the Irish World in New York, in advance of his attendance at the Anti-Monopoly Convention held that March in Harrisburg. Shanahan wrote from Mount Carmel, where AOH officer and alleged "Molly" Patrick Hester kept a home, and a few miles from Locust Gap, where Hester kept the Junction House, a hotel at the junction of two train tracks. Before his execution, Hester served as town supervisor, tax collector, school director, and overseer of the poor.
At the same time, thirty miles east of Mount Carmel, activist Jack O’Brien of Tamaqua wrote a poem to rouse the anti-monopolists. "You sons of liberty awake," O’Brien’s poem began. The "sons of liberty" hailed back to the American Revolution. During a debate in 1765 over the Stamp Act, British parliamentarian Isaac Barré applied the term to American colonists who opposed British rule. Barré, an Irish soldier and politician of French descent, declared that British oppression had "planted" these men in America. In Boston, the group gathered at the Green Dragon Tavern. On the night of December 16, 1773, "Sons of Liberty" under Samuel Adams’s leadership walked into the annals of history when they dumped a cargo of British tea into Boston Harbor.
A century later, Pennsylvania’s "Sons" protested "the tyrant’s" monopolization of their coal trade. Of O’Brien’s 1875 address to the Harrisburg anti-monopolists, a newsman said: "He … poured out such a strain of narration and melody that the whole house gave up its rigid tactics and exchanged business for jollity. … He pictured in language of the purest Celtic all the wiles and misdoing of monopolies, corporations and politicians."
Whether O’Brien’s poem took its inspiration from Barré’s "Sons of Liberty" is not known. It gave a nod to the American Revolution:
You sons of liberty awake,
Your hearths and altars are at stake;
Arise, arise, for freedom’s sake,
And strike against monopoly.

Your American eagle is [not] dead,
Again his giant wings are spread
To sweep upon the tyrant’s head,
And down with usurping monopoly.
What soul but scorns the coward slave;
But liberty is for the brave;
Our cry be Union or the grave,
And down with usurping monopoly.

The views of O’Brien and Shanahan at the Harrisburg convention reflected those of tens of thousands of workingmen in Pennsylvania and, per their convention, "the one hundred thousand voters whom it represents." The greatest representation of miners to the convention came from Pennsylvania’s Carbon, Columbia, Luzerne, Northumberland, and Schuylkill counties. Within the next four years, those five counties would host "Molly Maguire" executions.[i]

"Our cry be Union or the grave," O’Brien said. O’Brien penned his poem from Tamaqua, in Schuylkill County, home to alleged "Molly" and Labor Reformer James Carroll. Before his execution, Carroll owned a Tamaqua hotel he christened "Union Hotel." Less than four years after the workingmen held their Harrisburg convention, the cemetery at St. Jerome’s Roman Catholic Church in Tamaqua served as the burial site for John Kehoe, alleged "King of the Mollies." Before his execution, Kehoe served two terms as high constable for Girardville, where he kept a hotel called Hibernian House. During the attendant regional trauma of "Molly Maguire" trials and executions in five counties in four years, anti-monopoly fervor died too, along with the impassioned rhetoric that represented "one hundred thousand voters."

Of Carroll's execution, Kehoe said in 1877 from Pottsville Jail: "'I'm sorrier for Carroll than any man I ever knew. He was a decent man and was raised up to decency and ought not to have been hung on such men's evidence."

"'British gold was poured into his coffers,'" Kehoe said of Gowen's efforts to monopolize the Pennsylvania hard coal trade. Of Gowen's character, Kehoe said, "His whole course as president of the Reading road has shown him to be a man of such grasping tendencies that no obstacle, however sacred, was ever allowed to interpose between him and his end.'"

[i] AOH member Andrew Lenahan, executed on June 21, 1877, in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, is routinely omitted from lists of so-called “Molly Maguire” executions. Wilkes-Barre is named for British parliamentarians John Wilkes and Isaac Barré, noted above. Both supported the American colonists’ efforts.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Mahanoy City Miners and the Poor of the Cities

For almost a century and a half, history has largely ignored
two documents from Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguire” conflict. Both appeared in late winter 1871. One was clearly drafted by Irish Catholic men. The second almost certainly was. Both embraced the concept of universal love.

On March 11, 1871, officers from Pennsylvania’s Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), an Irish Catholic benevolent order, filed a revised charter with their state legislature. Some evidence remains to suggest that AOH officers later charged as “Mollies” helped draft this document. Its motto embraced the golden rule. A clause from its introduction read “the Supreme Being has implanted in our natures tender sympathies and most humane feeling towards our fellow creatures in distress, and all the happiness that human nature is capable of enjoying must flow and terminate in the love of God and our fellow creatures.”

The same month that AOH officers filed their revised charter, miners in Mahanoy City, a heavily Irish town in the heart of the hard coal region, published a startling resolution. Whether the revised AOH charter prompted the miners’ resolution remains a mystery.

Pinkerton reports from the mid-1870s give clues to the miners’ motivation. Reports give a count of four hundred-fifty AOH men in Schuylkill County. Four hundred, a report states, were union men—members of the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association (WBA). Mahanoy City housed Irish miners who held combined AOH lodge and WBA union membership.

Of AOH officers later charged as “Mollies,” one had strong family ties to Mahanoy City in 1871. Former coal miner John Kehoe, the father of three at that time, kept a hotel there. Kehoe’s two grown brothers, both mine laborers, lived in town with their parents. The Kehoe men were law and order men. Kehoe’s father Joseph, a mineworker, served over the years both as township supervisor for Mahanoy City and as town constable. John would hold that post in subsequent years in Girardville.

The Mahanoy City miners’ resolution issued from WBA District Five. It addressed the ongoing mineworkers’ strike and the resulting hardship in securing coal. It declared:

“That we, the miners and laborers of this district, hearing that the poor of the Cities of Philadelphia and New York are suffering for the want of coal, will give one or two days’ labor in the mines, free gratis, for the purpose of supplying coal for their pressing need, provided that the operators will give the use of their collieries, and the railroad companies will transport the same free.”

In March 1871, Pennsylvania’s newly revised AOH charter spoke to “humane feeling towards our fellow creatures in distress.” That same month, miners in Mahanoy City, a heavily Irish town and home to future AOH county delegate John Kehoe, offered to work “free gratis”—to work without pay—to supply the urban poor with coal during wage disputes. The author of the miners’ resolution remains a mystery.

The miners’ offer to supply coal to the poor depended on the matching largesse of the railroads. That winter Franklin Gowen, president of the region’s largest carrier, doubled, and then tripled, his freight rates—an act so outrageous, Governor John Geary called a legislative investigation. Gowen’s stunt helped derail the miners’ offer to the poor. Four years later, Gowen’s efforts broke the miners’ union for good.

The language of the AOH charter and its filing the same month that the miners offered their resolution suggest that both documents flowed from the same spring. In late winter 1871, Christian ideology, with its powerful and sustaining language, may have informed industrial action in Pennsylvania’s hard coal region. If fused, those two ideologies could pose a cataclysmic threat to the region’s railroad and coal interests.

Two and a half years after the AOH filed its revised charter, Gowen brought Pinkerton operative James McParlan into the coalfields. Nine murders followed within a two-year period. Those murders drove Gowen’s early “Molly Maguire” prosecutions.

As the targeting of AOH men as alleged “Mollies” heated up, a parish priest from Mahanoy City protested the repeated depiction of his town as a center of terrorism. “I have resided and officiated in this town for four years, and have yet to discover the existence of such a society, much less a single member of such an organization as the ‘Molly Maguires,’” Father Charles McFadden wrote to the New York Herald in late 1874. “On the contrary, the people are peaceable, intelligent and law-abiding. … I had charge of souls in Philadelphia and elsewhere, and I must, in justice, say that the people of Mahanoy City are as pious and good citizens as ever I met with.”

In March 1871, miners in Mahanoy City tried to help the poor “suffering for the want of coal.” Their actions accorded with the revised AOH charter filed that month in Harrisburg. The charter’s preamble contained a poem. Its first stanza read: “These laws though human, / Spring from Love Divine, / Love laid the scheme— / Love guides the whole design.”

To further explore this history, visit