Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Poem by "Graybeard"

Part 2 of 2: The Darkening Future

The poem by “Graybeard,” written on lined paper in careful nineteenth century penmanship, remains one of the most enigmatic artifacts from Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguire” history. Its author remains unknown.

The poem’s contents suggest that John Kehoe’s wife Mary Ann penned this work.

Whatever its derivation, the poem by “Graybeard” told Mary Ann’s story.


In 1877 s Philadelphia reporter called Mary Ann, the mother of five, “quite a young, comely woman.”

“She has proved herself a faithful wife, and has clung to her husband steadfastly through good and evil report,” a Pottsville newspaper said after Kehoe’s sentencing hearing. “In the darkening future she will be entitled to sympathy.”

Of Mary Ann’s strenuous efforts to secure a commutation of sentence for her husband, the same newspaper reported: “Mrs. Kehoe’s dream by night and the object of her labor by day, is to save her husband from being executed on the 18th prox. She will go to Harrisburg with by far the best prepared case of any presented by the long list of Mollies.”

The poem by “Graybeard” describes that struggle in part.

“For the last two years and over on hope I relied upon,” its second stanza reads. “But now my hope is over for my husband dear is gone.”

The poem continues, with its misspellings and grammatical errors:

Like a faithful woman I done my best and I could do no more
For him indeed I lost my rest and hardship Sore I bore
But it was my right to do for him for he was my husband dear
And I lost no chance either night nor day to let my husband clear
But it was all in vain allas for me for his enemies was not slow
For they hung my childrens Father and my husband dear my John Kehoe


“His life [they] wanted and [they] have it now for the hirelings Swore untrue,” stanza three asserts. “By perjury they hung my John but anything would do.”

The remainder of stanza three speaks of Franklin Gowen, president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad; of James Frederic Wood, archbishop of Philadelphia; and of mine supervisor Frank Langdon, who died after a beating at Audenried in 1862:

To please the prince great Franklin B. the Liars done all [they] could
And left a widow now of me to satisfy Rev. Bishop Wood
Had he been guilty I would not care, no nor ask to set him free
But by the evidence any Sensible man would know it was downright perjury
For poor Langdons blood he never shed which his Jury ought to know
But [his] life [they] wanted and [they] have it now of my husband John Kehoe


Stanza four describes Kehoe’s hanging:

Oh many a trip to Pottsville Jail for two years and one half I made
To comfort him in a dismal cell many a visit there I paid
But the eighteenth of December was the Sadest there to me
To See my husband dear upon the gallows tree
When he bid farewell forever to his children and his wife
The parting was heart rending and I thought I would lose my life
My heart was breaking to the core, for it was a dreadful blow
To part with him for ever my poor husband John Kehoe


Coming November 15 – Justice Trembling in the Balance – Part 1 of 4: The Stacking of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons

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