Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Pilot Names a Name

Why did a Roman Catholic diocesan newspaper published in Boston encourage a smear in 1874 against a specific officer of Pennsylvania’s Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH)—a businessman, a family man, an articulate advocate for progressive reform?

How did certain letters—first appearing a week and a half before Pinkerton operative James McParlan entered Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal fields—find their way into the Catholic Pilot?


On October 18, 1873, The Pilot published a letter. This correspondence allegedly originated from Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.

Pinkerton operative McParlan, if reports can be believed, entered Pennsylvania’s hard coal region a week and a half after this letter appeared in print.

The Pilot headlined its article: “‘Molly Maguires.’ The Modocs of Pennsylvania – A Reign of Terror.”

The Pilot's editor advised: “The following letter, which we copy from the Boston Globe will be interesting to our readers.”

The letter described Pennsylvania's “Molly Maguires” as “an organized body of desperadoes, the membership ranging between 500 and 1000, the operations of which extend throughout the coal regions, from Northumberland to Luzerne County.”

Those numbers tallied with membership numbers for AOH  men in the hard coal region at that time.

“[C]itizens have been afraid to appear upon the streets,” the letter said, “so powerful and murderous were the intents of the Mollies.”

Seven months later, The Pilot printed a second letter, this one allegedly from Scranton. This named a prominent Schuylkill County Hibernian by name.

“The ‘Molly Maguires.’ A Shocking State of Affairs,” The Pilot headlined this article.

“The ‘Mollies’ number about 2000 in the Schuylkill region. The leaders are many, but the most prominent one is said to be a man by the name of Barney Dolan, who lives near Locust Gap. Citizens, business men, coal operators, and miners have either been driven from the regions or brutally assassinated on the highways.”

Bernard (Barney) Dolan, hotelkeeper and one-time Democratic candidate for prothonotary, preceded John Kehoe as AOH delegate for Schuylkill County.

A year and a half after The Pilot’s article appeared, Dolan wrote to the Miners’ Journal in Pottsville. Dolan’s letter appeared during the violence-scarred fall of 1875, in the midst of a hotly contested gubernatorial contest. In it, he described the voting habits of Schuylkill County’s AOH men.

“God gave them the faculties to reason,” Dolan said, “and discern right from wrong, and being possessed of these faculties they exercise them upon all occasions, and never more so than do they at the ballot box. They go there unprejudiced and unbiased, vote for men whose ‘character cannot be successfully assailed’—men who will devote their time to secure the welfare of the Commonwealth, and assuage the sufferings of the poor laboring class, who they consider their brothers in toil.”

Over the course of the 1870s, The Pilot came to offer more balanced coverage. At the time of AOH officer Patrick Hester’s scheduled execution as an alleged "Molly Maguire," it came strongly to Hester’s defense.

But why, initially, did this Roman Catholic diocesan newspaper published in Boston encourage this smear against Dolan, an AOH county delegate from Pennsylvania's hard coal region?

Note to readers: all quotes (including spelling discrepancies, misspellings, grammatical errors) are verbatim.

This post, first published on May 30, 2013, was the sixth in a series of six offered in support of a lecture series given by A. Flaherty through the OLLI program at UMass, Boston.
Flaherty’s next presentation, beginning September 16, 2013, will be held through the OLLI program at Penn State University, State College, PA.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Enduring Power of Prejudice


On February 6, 1875, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper published this cartoon. Leslie’s artist, Joseph Becker, traveled from New York to Pottsville, Pennsylvania, to pen a number of these drawings. Two local murders from the previous fall had left the public unsettled, an easy target for Becker’s "Molly Maguire" cartoons. Becker’s drawings appeared in print one month after the Long Strike of area mineworkers began and one month before Schuylkill’s workingmen traveled to Harrisburg as delegates to the Anti-Monopoly Convention held there.


A letter written from Pottsville Prison in spring 1878 by John Kehoe, alleged “King of the Mollies,” begins: “Thinking over the Cruelties that has Befallen me, By Bribery Perjury and Pregudise …”

In an interview given the previous June, Kehoe had told his opinion of Pinkerton operative James McParlan.

Kehoe accused McParlan of encouraging murder, of instigating murder, of condoning murder and of committing murder.

When asked why a Pinkerton operative would encourage such criminality, Kehoe said “it served his purpose to let murder go on, so that he could more readily arouse the prejudices of the community and thus break up the organization by hanging a lot of innocent men.”

In the terrible fall of 1875, when eleven violent deaths within as many months had rocked Pennsylvania’s hard coal region, Kehoe wrote to the editor of the Shenandoah Herald. This editor, Thomas Foster, ascribed the region’s “Reign of Terror” to an alleged group of Irish assassins Foster called the “Molly Maguires.”

“We are thoroughly aware that lawless acts have been committed during the past few months,” Kehoe told Foster, “but does the ‘Reign of Terror’ facilitate a return to quietness and good feeling? I am deeply interested in this matter, for I am under the impression, which has been conveyed to my mind from the remarks of various journals, that with them ‘Mollie Maguireism’ is made synonymous with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which is a chartered organization, recognized by the commonwealth, and composed of men who are law-abiding and seek the elevation of their members.”

Kehoe again counseled nonviolence in a letter written that same month to the Miners’ Journal about a local rabble-rouser who called himself “Americus.” Of this “Americus,” who also called for vigilantism against all alleged “Mollies,” Kehoe advised “it would be more charitable for him or any other correspondent to encourage brotherly love instead of sowing seeds of antagonism which sooner or later lead to bloodshed.”


In the trial of Hibernians Patrick Hester, Patrick Tully and Peter McHugh for the murder of Alex Rea, defense attorney John Ryon pleaded with the jury. “[I]n spite of all our care," Ryon said, "innocent men are sometimes wrongfully convicted. One conviction of an innocent man goes far to destroy confidence in the judicial power of this county.”

“You are the guardians of human truth and human lives,” Ryon told the jury in Bloomsburg, “and upon you and in your hands are the lives of these three men.”

Attorney Daniel Kalbfus, in the defense of Michael Doyle for the murder of John P. Jones, told the jury: “He is an American citizen, and is innocent until he is found guilty.”

Kalbfus begged the jury in Mauch Chunk to set aside their prejudices. “If it was not necessary,” he said, “why do they appeal to your passions and prejudices, and why did the DA in opening the case say that he would prove to you that the prisoner belonged to an organization known as the Mollie Maguires, an organization whose deeds are too diabolical for conception, and that they require Doyle to be hung as one of that order.” 

Attorney Lin Bartholomew said in defense of Doyle: “For weeks the Coal and Iron Company has been in pursuit of the Molly Maguires … They have given time and money to ferret out the members of that dreaded organization and to crush it because it interferes with their own pecuniary interests. They have caught these men, they imagine them to be Mollies, and in order to crush them and the organization they bring over a hundred witnesses …”

By the time the attorneys addressed these juries, the “Molly Maguire” label had acquired a frightening power. Juries found all of the above-named defendants guilty. Judges condemned all four men to death. 

How did such a cartoonish label come to acquire such a frightening power—a power that for a certain length of time could automatically sentence men to death?

Note to readers: all quotes (including spelling discrepancies, misspellings, grammatical errors) are verbatim.

Coming Next: The Pilot Names a Name
This post, first published on May 15, 2013, was the fifth in a series of six offered in support of a lecture series given by A. Flaherty through the OLLI program at UMass, Boston.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Did McParlan Lie?

This illustration from Allan Pinkerton’s novel about the so-called "Molly Maguires" gives a likeness of John Kehoe and James McParlan. Kehoe, dressed in a dark suit and topcoat, holds a top hat in his hands. McParlan, standing to Kehoe’s right, wears the clothes of a workingman.


John Kehoe, alleged “King of the Mollies,” held clearly defined views on the Pinkerton operative, James McParlan, who helped hang 21 Hibernians in five Pennsylvania coal counties.

Kehoe expressed these views in an interview given from Pottsville Prison a week after the mass hanging of six Hibernians there. They hanged the Irishmen in pairs, two at a time.

Prison officials hanged one of Kehoe’s in-laws at Pottsville on June 21, 1877.  James Carroll, an Ancient Order secretary and the father of four small children, was married to Anne O’Donnell, a cousin to Kehoe’s wife Mary Ann.

Kehoe rarely gave interviews. The shock of the recent executions may have shaken his reserve. He spoke in this instance with a reporter from the Philadelphia Times. The reporter noted of Kehoe’s interview that his “closeness and cohesiveness of stating his views … would do credit to a lawyer’s brief.”

“Before McParlan came,” Kehoe said, “they tried to make the detectives keep taverns among us. But they couldn’t find out anything because there was nothing to find out. And then they sent McParlan, who was an Irishman and perhaps a Catholic, and they instructed him to join the society and encourage and commit crime, and when he should get enough into the snare he was to begin hanging them on his own evidence and that of others whom he threatened to hang, and who, to save their necks, would lie on their fellows. After he came among us there were several murders committed, some of which he encouraged, and all of which, if he had been a true man, he could have prevented.”

Kehoe went on at length. As to McParlan’s purpose, the Hibernian said: “it served [McParlan’s] purpose to let murder go on, so that he could more readily arouse the prejudices of the community and thus break up the organization by hanging a lot of innocent men.”

By “the organization,” Kehoe meant the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Kehoe blamed McParlan for the region’s so-called “Reign of Terror.” “I could fill your paper five times over,” he said, “telling of the actual participation of this man in the crimes for which he now condemns others. He even went through the county in carriages looking for men to go and shoot other men. This I have from those who were in the carriages with him.”

The reporter evidently questioned Kehoe about McParlan’s motive. Kehoe’s response? “His motive must have been pride in his ability to ferret out crime and the well-greased purse-strings of Franklin B. Gowen.”

AOH defense attorney Martin L'Velle echoed Kehoe's convictions about Allan Pinkerton's star operative. During the "Molly Maguire" trials, L'Velle told a jury: "from 1865 to 1873 there was no such thing as a murder case in Schuylkill County, not until the emissary of death, James McParlan, made his advent into this county, and crime since then has been in the ascendant."

Note to readers: all quotes (including spelling discrepancies, misspellings, grammatical errors) are verbatim.

Coming Next: The Enduring Power of Prejudice

This post, first published on May 8, 2013, was the fourth in a series of six offered in support of a lecture series given by A. Flaherty through the OLLI program at UMass, Boston.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Who Should Tell Our History?

By A. Flaherty

John Kehoe’s granddaughters first brought me to the “Molly Maguire” research. Before I began this work in earnest, other events fanned my interest.

Decades ago, before came into being, a neighbor picked up a book at a yard sale for a dollar.

A small, thick book bound in dull, red cloth. So old, the cloth had worn thin.

Published in “MDCCCLXXXVII.”


"The Molly Maguires and The Detectives,” its title page read. “By Allan Pinkerton, author of ‘The Expressman and the Detectives,’ ‘The Model Town and the Detectives,’ ‘The Spiritualists and the Detectives,’ Etc., Etc. New and Enlarged Edition.” 

Family members looked over this book with the proprietary air of a mother cat with a kitten. But interest in Allan Pinkerton’s “penny dreadful” quickly turned to disgust.

What was this? This was nothing but a dime novel. Its lurid descriptions of gangs of drunken, illiterate Irish thugs rampaging across the countryside to commit “murder and rapine” bore no resemblance whatever to the conversations held late at night by Kehoe’s descendants—individuals close to the source of this conflict.

We knew that Wayne Broehl Jr., an academic historian, had used Pinkerton’s novel to fill in gaps in his authoritative history. Broehl had relied on Pinkerton reports for the balance of his telling.

We realized that history—our country’s history, and Ireland's—was being told, in this instance, through the lens of a dime novel commissioned by Franklin Gowen, the railroad magnate whose Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company had helped fund the “Molly Maguire” prosecutions.

Pinkerton supplied Gowen with numerous operatives to aid in these prosecutions. The year after Gowen hired Pinkerton to oversee the “Molly Maguire” case, Pinkerton, president of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, went into the publishing business. His specialty was dime novels.

The year after Gowen hired Pinkerton, Pinkerton officially hired a staff of writers and artists—and went into the business of writing fiction.

Broehl told the “Molly Maguire” story as Pinkerton portrayed it, in both his novel and his detectives’ reports. Both Broehl and Pinkerton discussed prosecutions in four counties: Carbon, Columbia, Northumberland, and Schuylkill.

If Broehl had tracked the newspaper coverage, he would have discovered a widely ranging campaign against dozens more Irish Catholic men—a campaign that flowed north to Luzerne County and westward to the counties of Allegheny, Fayette, and Westmoreland.

Wherever the benevolent order called the “Ancient Order of Hibernians” had strength in Pennsylvania, the Pinkertons conducted their so-called “Molly Maguire” campaign.

Pinkerton’s dime novel—and Broehl’s retelling of these events—both dramatically undersold the true scope of the Pinkerton Agency’s efforts against the Hibernians.

Both Pinkerton’s dime novel and Broehl’s authoritative history relied heavily for their telling on the reports of Pinkerton operative James McParlan. The credibility of the prosecution’s entire caseload—and the subsequent telling of the “Molly Maguire” history—rested heavily on one remarkably fragile support: the credibility of McParlan’s reports.

Coming Next: Did McParlan Lie?

This post, first published on May 1, 2013, was the third in a series of six offered in support of a lecture series given by A. Flaherty through the OLLI program at UMass, Boston.