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.

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