Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Message for December

Love Guides the Whole Design

In March 1871, Pennsylvania officers for the Irish Catholic benevolent order known as the “Ancient Order of Hibernians” (AOH) filed their order's corporate charter—complete with constitution and by-laws—with the state legislature in Harrisburg.

Like so much of this tantalizing history, the origins of the 1871 Pennsylvania AOH charter—including the question of who authored its beautiful language—remain unknown. No information regarding the drafting of this document has yet been published.

But all of the dozens of AOH men arrested for alleged “Molly Maguire” crimes—and all 21 men executed on gallows in five counties over a period of two and a half years—belonged to the AOH benevolent order. All of these Irish Catholic men received copies of the AOH constitution and by-laws on their initiation into the order.

John Kehoe, AOH delegate for Schuylkill County during the mid-1870s, oversaw the printing of these documents at the Herald newspaper office in Shenandoah. Kehoe also likely oversaw the distribution of these documents to AOH divisions throughout Pennsylvania’s hard coal region.

Most, if not all, of the men prosecuted as Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguires” had in their possession at some time a booklet that included the language given here.

Below is the preamble from the AOH constitution, chartered on March 10, 1871, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


Constitution and By-Laws of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Instituted, March 10, 1871.
Chartered, March 10, 1871.
Adopted, March 11, 1871.

Preamble. The members of this Order do declare that the intent and purpose of the Order is to promote Friendship, Unity, and True Christian Charity among its members, by raising or supporting a stock or fund of money for maintaining the aged, sick, blind, and infirm members, and for no other purpose whatever.

These laws though human,
Spring from Love Divine,
Love laid the scheme—
Love guides the whole design.

Vile is the man
Who will evade these laws,
Or taste the sweets
Without sufficient cause.

Introduction. The Motto of this Order is “Friendship, Unity, and True Christian Charity.”

Unity, in unity together for mutual support in sickness and distress.
Friendship, in assisting each other to the best of our power.
True Christian Charity, by doing to each other, and all the world, as we would wish they should do unto us.

Brethren: It is beyond all doubt that the Supreme Being has placed man in a state of dependence and need of mutual support from his fellow man. Neither can the greatest monarch on earth exist without friendship and society. Therefore, 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. So we, the members of this Order, do agree to assist each other, and conform to the following rules …


Thanks to all readers of the John Kehoe blog over the past year, and warm wishes for the coming year.

Anne Flaherty


Coming January 2 – The Extraordinary Career of District Attorney Siewers—Part 1 of 4: A Little Bacchanalian Episode

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Justice Trembling in the Balance

Part 4 of 4: All the Machinery of the Pinkerton Agency

Attorney William Foyle of Towanda used all his persuasive power in December 1878 to convince Pennsylvania Governor John Hartranft to re-open the case of John Kehoe. Against all odds—including false rumors of his death—Kehoe’s wife Mary Ann had located a witness who could testify on her husband’s behalf.

“The witness is worthy of credit,” Foyle told Hartanft of witness Patrick McHugh’s deposition.

Foyle related that McHugh identified himself as collector of taxes for Carbon County's Banks Township at the time of the Langdon killing. McHugh "went over to Audenried the night of the affair, saw Jack Kehoe at William’s Tavern at the time the killing occurred or within five minutes of the time the alarm was given, and afterwards saw him running to the scene of the murder.”


The Philadelphia Times picked up the case and questioned McHugh’s testimony. Foyle again wrote to Hartranft. The attorney’s frustration streamed through his second letter to Pennsylvania’s governor.

“I shall not doubt the integrity of witness McHugh until some reasonable proof is given that he has sworn falsely produced in some other form than newspaper ‘squibs’ for which no one claims responsibility,” Foyle told Hartranft.

“[A]s I understand it from pamphlets sent me some time since with the compliments of Franklin B Gowen containing the trial of Munly [sic] … it took the Commonwealth aided by that astute lawyer and with all the machinery of Pinkertons Detective agency about fourteen years to obtain the evidence to establish the guilt of Kehoe meager as it was … is it too much to ask that Kehoe should have at least two years to look up evidence to prove his innocence?”

The attorney concluded with a plea: “Asking your pardon for having trespassed so much upon you and with no other apology than a desire to advance the cause of justice and truth in behalf of a condemned man whose life is now trembling in the balance.”

The New York Times reported the subsequent hearing called to discuss McHugh’s testimony. Kehoe’s attorney, Samuel Garrett, made a strenuous effort. Garrett sought to convince the board, through use of a map of the murder scene, of Kehoe’s movements on the night of Langdon’s killing.

“He had expected to bring the map and accompanying documents with him from Pottsville this morning, but they were found to be missing from the court records when he went to get them,” The Times reported. But nothing prevented Garrett from telling the pardon board that from 1876 to 1877 "there was not a fair trial in Schuylkill County; that the jury wheel did not contain the names of four Irishmen.”

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Internal Affairs and pardon board member General William McCandless, a powerful Democratic state operative, summarily dismissed Garrett’s efforts. “‘If this man Kehoe is not guilty of murder in the first degree, he is guilty of nothing, and I have not changed my opinion as to his guilt,’” McCandless told Garrett. The general told a reporter: “‘We have refused to reopen the case. That’s how the matter stands. Kehoe will swing.’”


A carefully rigged Board of Pardons. A false statement regarding the death of a defense witness. Important documents placed in evidence during Kehoe’s trial for murder, gone missing from the file.

When it came to procuring a signed death warrant for John Kehoe, it seems nothing was left to chance.


Coming December 15 - A Message for December: Love Guides the Whole Design

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Justice Trembling in the Balance

Part 3 of 4: The Witness is Worthy of Credit

While John Kehoe “languished in durance vile” in Pottsville Prison for two and a half years, the witness who could prove his innocence lived 90 miles away from Kehoe’s hometown. For General Charles Albright, the Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company attorney who served as a special prosecutor during the “Molly Maguire” trials—dressed in full Civil War regalia—had circulated the false rumor that Patrick McHugh was dead.

“His brother died in 1874 & Gen’l Albright supposing it to be the witness conveyed a strong impression to the friends of Kehoe,” Towanda attorney William Foyle told Pennsylvania’s Governor John Hartranft ten days before Kehoe’s scheduled execution. “The General was acquainted with the witness and his impressions were incorrect in regard to his death.”

Albright’s incorrect “strong impression” allowed valuable time to slip by, while editors, attorneys and politicians wrangled over the signing of Kehoe’s death warrant.


“McHugh is shure [sic] Jack Kehoe was not present at the murder of Langdon. McHugh is a man of good character and I believe truthful in every respect,” Foyle told Hartranft urgently. “His affidavit is not trumped up to meet the emergency but in my judgment is entitled to great weight in the final disposition of the case. The witness can produce certificates of character without any trouble.”

Foyle stated Kehoe's case to Hartranft plainly: “I drew the affidavit at the request of Mrs. Kehoe who came into my office yesterday and have no further connection with the case and no interest in it except to see that justice is done. I know this new evidence will withstand the utmost scrutiny and will vindicate your action ... and must satisfy even the Philadelphia Times which is craving for Jack Kehoe’s blood innocent or guilty. It makes no difference to me pecuniarily or otherwise whether Jack Kehoe is hung or not, but it does make a difference to all of us and especially to you Governor as chief executive of the State whether an innocent man shall be hanged in the face of the discovered evidence establishing his innocence.”

“Kehoe’s wife left for Pottsville last night to place the affidavit in the hands of his counsel,” Foyle advised Hartranft, “and I suppose you will be furnished with a certified copy very soon of the affidavit. My object in addressing you is to assure you and the other members of the Court that this affidavit is reliable, and McHugh the witness is worthy of credit. As to myself I am well known to all the people of my county and would not attempt to misrepresent the case in any respect.”


Coming December 8 - Part 4 of 4: All the Machinery of the Pinkerton Agency

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Justice Trembling in the Balance

Part 2 of 4: Lieutenant Governor Latta Falls From a Train

An April 1878 meeting of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons, reported The New York Times months later, resulted in a unanimous decision to commute the death sentence of Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) leader John Kehoe to imprisonment for life.

The Times did not report where it received this information. When the board’s decision came down that April, it was kept well-hidden from the newspapers.

Pennsylvania’s four-man board, newly constructed in 1874, consisted of four appointees: the commonwealth’s secretary, its attorney general, its secretary of internal affairs and its lieutenant governor.

In April 1878 all four of those officers, reported The New York Times eight months later, had voted in favor of Kehoe’s request for commutation of his death sentence.

That ring of support unraveled before it could again rule on Kehoe’s behalf.


By September 1878 the Machiavellian legal arena that had secured the signed death warrants for 16 AOH defendants was well in place. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court had denied all requests for relief for these Irish Catholic defendants. Those too poor to have their evidence printed for that court’s review simply went to the gallows without even the appearance of effective due process of law.

By fall 1878 the issue of John Kehoe’s request for commutation had become a political football. This was an election year.

But Franklin Gowen had matters well in hand for the pardon board’s September 1878 hearing. He knew he could rely on the support of William McCandless, secretary of internal affairs. And Matthew Quay had taken a leave of absence from his office of secretary for the commonwealth. Quay’s replacement, John Linn, could also be relied upon to vote against Kehoe’s request.

That left Attorney General Lear and Lieutenant Governor Latta. Both these men showed a stubborn insistence on voting in Kehoe’s favor. But if the board deadlocked again in a two-two tie, that would favor the commonwealth, not the defendant.


The board met on September 4 to reconsider Kehoe’s case. “Several hours were consumed in deliberation,” reported a Harrisburg paper, “when the board decided to refuse to recommend the commutation of his death sentence to imprisonment for life.” As expected, both Latta and Lear voted in Kehoe’s favor.

Latta then boarded a train for his home in Greensburg.

“A rather serious accident befell Hon. John Latta, Lieut. Governor … on Wednesday night, on his return from Harrisburg, where he was attending the meeting of the Board of Pardons,” reported a Pittsburgh paper. “[I]n stepping off the train … he was thrown down with such violence as to fracture his right arm above the elbow.”

“Lieut. Gov. Latta was very seriously injured at Greensburg last night,” reported a Bloomsburg paper. “He sustained a dislocation of the shoulder and is suffering from concussion of the brain. Considerable anxiety is felt at his recovery.”

Latta’s unfortunate accident did not end his efforts on John Kehoe’s behalf. Latta did recover from his injury. And he continued to side with Kehoe in ongoing pardon board deliberations.


Coming December 1 - Part 3 of 4: The Witness is Worthy of Credit

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Justice Trembling in the Balance

Part 1 of 4: The Stacking of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons

“To hang Jack Kehoe in the light of this newly discovered evidence would be a piece of judicial murder,” attorney W. M. Foyle of Towanda wrote to Pennsylvania's governor, John Hartranft, on December 10, 1878, eight days before John Kehoe’s execution as the alleged “King of the Molly Maguires.”

“I think the death warrant ought to be revoked, and further action in the case postponed by the board of pardons till this newly discovered testimony is fully presented to the board, which should in my judgment procure a commutation of the death penalty if not a full pardon,” Foyle continued. “This would be an act of simple justice to the accused awaiting more.”

Foyle’s “newly discovered testimony” came from a newly discovered defense witness named Patrick McHugh. Less than two weeks before Kehoe’s scheduled date of execution, his wife Mary Ann traveled 90 miles from Girardville to Towanda to locate McHugh and have him deposed.

Kehoe, Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) delegate for Schuylkill County, had by this time spent two and a half years in Pottsville Prison. He stood convicted, among other crimes, for the first-degree murder of Frank Langdon, a mine foreman killed at Audenried in 1862.


The attorney Foyle’s attempt to help Kehoe came after years of political maneuvering that kept Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons well stacked against both Kehoe and against all AOH defendants awaiting execution in Pennsylvania. In December 1878 The New York Times gave some details of the actions that tainted successive pardon hearings for these Irish Catholic defendants.

Kehoe’s April 1878 hearing before Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons, reported The Times, “was unanimously in favor of commuting Kehoe’s sentence to imprisonment for life.” The Board deemed it “inexpedient, however, to take formal action then, as such a course would establish a bad precedent and affect the cases of the other Mollie Maguires.”

The Board evidently feared that a finding in Kehoe’s favor would affect the outcome of cases of other alleged “Molly Maguires.” The unanimous vote in Kehoe’s favor in spring 1878 did nothing to secure his relief.

On hearing the board’s stunning decision, Kehoe’s counsel suggested that his case be held over until other cases “had been disposed of.” By the time the board met again to consider Kehoe’s case, said The Times, “the opinion of one member of the board [had] been changed by newspaper clamor, and another member, Mr. Quay, retired by resignation of his position as Secretary of the Commonwealth, his successor, Mr. Linn, holding a different view regarding the guilt of Kehoe.”


The chess board that constituted Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons had been reordered. One member who favored Kehoe’s pardon, Matthew Quay, took a leave of absence from his office of secretary of the commonwealth to pursue the newly created position of recorder for the city of Philadelphia. And “newspaper clamor” had evidently changed the opinion of Secretary for Internal Affairs William McCandless.

John Linn took over Quay’s duties as secretary of the commonwealth. In a surprise to no one who followed the political antics of Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguire” caseload, the newly appointed four-man board consistently deadlocked on Kehoe’s request for relief. The appointment of John Linn, said The Times, “has defeated every effort since made to secure a commutation of sentence or a rehearing” on Kehoe’s behalf.

Franklin Gowen, president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and a powerful Democratic political operative, served as chief prosecutor during the "Molly Maguire" trials. Whether Gowen’s long political arm also maneuvered Quay out of—and Linn onto—Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons is not known.

Whatever chicanery took place, Linn’s presence defeated all subsequent attempts to obtain relief for Kehoe. But two pardon board appointees, Attorney General George Lear and Lieutenant Governor John Latta, remained steadfast in their support of Kehoe’s continuing requests for commutation.


Coming November 22 - Part 2 of 4: Lieutenant Governor Latta Falls From a Train

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Poem by "Graybeard"

Part 1 of 2: An Uneasy Heart

With the public hangings in Pennsylvania during the 1870s of 21 Irish Catholic alleged “Molly Maguires,” a pall settled over the surviving family members of the executed Ancient Order of Hibernian (AOH) men. Descendants of these men from various families speak of a closely held belief in their innocence—expressed over many decades in kitchens and living rooms—and of the belief that these men were railroaded to the gallows by a combination of interests.

The executions themselves, the murders that prompted them, the long imprisonment of scores of other AOH men, the pernicious and promiscuous use over the decades of the toxic “Molly Maguire” label, the withholding of much information surrounding these cases, and the reluctance of historians to investigate these events closely all led to a smothering of information regarding the true identities of the AOH defendants—and of their family members. The fact that the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad—not state government agencies—archived many of these records further complicates the investigation of this history.

The executions and the infiltration of Pennsylvania’s hard coal region by numerous Pinkerton operatives produced a lingering climate of suspicion and fear. A raid conducted in December 1875 at Wiggan’s Patch in Schuylkill County against John Kehoe’s in-laws—and the murder there of his brother-in-law and his pregnant sister-in-law—bolstered a climate of terror that kept area residents and their descendants from speaking or sharing information. Survivors suspected rightly that Pinkerton operatives had helped engineer the early morning raid. Its chilling effect was virtually complete.


After the executions, descendants on all sides of the story who remained in the coal region split down the middle—along ethnic lines—in their belief in the guilt or innocence of the AOH men hanged as “Mollies.”

In this climate of suspicion, fear, disquiet and mistrust, personal records remained scant. But a few have appeared in scattered collections.

An unmarked folder held in an archive at the Ryan Library of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, holds one such relic. Titled simply “To the memory of John Kehoe,” this five-stanza poem carries only the mysterious attribution “By graybeard.”

Sometime during the 1980s a granddaughter of John Kehoe released this poem, along with other artifacts. It contains many of the grammatical and spelling lapses common to some nineteenth century writing.


“My pencils good but my hand does shake and cannot compose my theme,” the poem begins. “For my mind is a Stray and I cannot think so good people don’t me blame.”

The unnamed author made a painstaking rendering on lined paper, drafting carefully formed letters with a fountain pen, with flourishes at the stanzas’ openings. Although nothing remains to show who authored this work, its contents suggest it may have been written by John Kehoe’s wife, Mary Ann.

Whoever authored the poem, it is heartfelt, naïve, and of a piercing intensity. Its sentiment brings a rare personal stamp to this history.

“And its no wonder for with grief I’m bound and my heart is uneasy now,” the writer mused. What remains legible of stanza one continues:

My spirits low Since that dreadful day with Sorrow on my brow
In Pottsville Jail they hung my John and caused him for to bleed
Which leaves me now his heart broken wife in Sorrow now indeed

The last two lines of the first stanza remain indecipherable, apart from the last two words. “John Kehoe,” the end of stanza one reads.

Coming November 8 – The Poem by “Graybeard” – Part 2 of 2: The Darkening Future

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Alex Campbell's Wake

Part 4 of 4: The Sun’s Editor Pleads for the “Molly Maguires”

The New York’s Sun’s June 1877 coverage of Ancient Order of Hibernian (AOH) treasurer Alex Campbell’s wake proved among the most outrageous in a decades-long campaign by newsmen to smear Pennsylvania’s AOH men as illiterate “Molly Maguires.”

Historian Kevin Kenny relied in part on the Sun’s account of Campbell’s wake to shape his views of the AOH men prosecuted as “Molly Maguires.”

But extensive research shows that John Swinton, chief of staff and editorial page writer for the Sun at the time of Campbell’s wake, strenuously disagreed with his own newspaper’s coverage. Swinton tried to rectify the tragic events that coverage helped set in motion.


On Swinton’s death in 1901, The New York Times said of the newsman: “He … assisted workingmen’s movements of every kind with money as well as with his pen and voice.”

On July 1, 1877, ten days after Pennsylvania hanged 11 so-called “Molly Maguires,” the cases of many other AOH men sentenced to death—including those of Patrick Hester, John Kehoe and Peter McHugh—lay pending before Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons. Swinton wrote a private letter from New York on that date. He addressed it “To the Board of Pardons.”

“I beseech you to save my country, and your state, from the terrible wrong & appalling disgrace of these executions,” Swinton implored the Pennsylvania board. “I beseech you to exercise clemency, which in this case I believe to be justice, toward the so-called ‘Molly Maguires,’ now under condemnation.”

The Pennsylvania board ignored Swinton’s plea. It held fast to its decision to execute the remaining AOH defendants. For two and a half more years the “Molly Maguire” juggernaut rolled on throughout Pennsylvania.


Six years after Swinton addressed his plea to Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons, he addressed a group of pressmen in New York. “There is no such thing … in America, as an independent press,” Swinton told fellow journalists. “The business of the New York journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell his race and his country for his daily bread. … We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping-jacks; they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”


Thus New York editor and workingmen’s advocate John Swinton spoke in July 1877 of the “terrible wrong and appalling disgrace” of Pennsylvania’s ongoing “Molly Maguire” executions. Swinton drafted his private letter to Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons just days after his own newspaper indulged its descriptive orgy of Campbell’s wake for regional newsstands.

If Swinton, not Allan Pinkerton, had first written Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguire” history, this defining slice of Irish American experience may have received a just interpretation.

In 1932 Anthony Bimba determined: “Although at least nineteen men died on the gallows as Mollies, there was no organization by that name. … After the label itself had been made sufficiently fatal to send a man to the gallows, the mine owners proceeded to fasten this label upon all miners’ leaders they wished to get rid of.”

In 1947 labor historian Philip Foner concurred, stating: “It is now established that there was no society in America calling itself the Molly Maguires, that this name was tagged to the Ancient Order of Hibernians by the commercial press whose purpose it was to help the coal operators crush all organization in the mining industry; that the Philadelphia and Reading Company hired the Pinkerton spy agency not to save society from a band of terrorists but to spread terror …”

Howard Zinn, in his 1980 work “A People’s History of the United States,” supported Foner’s claim. Zinn described the alleged “Mollies” as “members of a society called the Ancient Order of Hibernians … accused of acts of violence, mostly on the testimony of a detective planted among the miners.” Zinn noted in particular Foner’s use of a quote from the Irish World in New York. It described the AOH defendants as “‘intelligent men whose direction gave strength to the resistance to the miners to the inhuman reduction of their wages.’”

A decade’s research proves the truth of these claims.

By the mid-1870s, 700,000 Irish Catholic men had organized in the United States under the sheltering arm of AOH social, political, labor, financial and even religious reform. It took a widespread effort to cripple the order in Pennsylvania statewide—and to undermine it not just throughout the United States, but worldwide.

That effort needed not just Pennsylvania coal operators, their Pinkerton agents and their hired press. It needed Pennsylvania courts and Roman Catholic clergy to join in the effort. The collusion of all of these powerfully self-interested men stopped the AOH reform movement dead in its tracks.

If these organized Irishmen had been given free rein, our U.S. “Gilded Age” may have earned itself a new title. This age enriched a group of industrialists called “robber barons” at the expense of the workingmen they treated like serfs. If the reform efforts of well over a half million Irish American men had been allowed to take hold, our “gilded” age may have instead embodied the democratic principles that underlay this republic.

Those enlivening principles helped draw large numbers of passionate Irishmen to these shores. The brutal smashing of their AOH reform movement remains a great loss to history, to the Irish American identity—and to this republic.

This post was edited October 30, 2011 to include Howard Zinn's comments.


Coming November 1 – The Poem by "Graybeard" - Part 1 of 2: An Uneasy Heart

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Alex Campbell's Wake

Part 3 of 4: Campbell's Assertions of Innocence
After Pennsylvania hanged 11 so-called “Molly Maguires” on June 21, 1877, newspapers country-wide had a field day. The New York Sun kept readers well entertained with its dime-novel accounts of Alex Campbell’s Friday night wake.

In 1995 historian Kevin Kenny used the Sun’s account of Campbell’s wake to bolster this theory: that Pennsylvania’s so-called “Molly Maguires” remained outside the characteristic culture of Irish immigrants to the United States.

But research into coal region newspapers disputes Kenny’s characterization.


Just three years before Campbell’s execution as a “Molly Maguire,” an 1874 newspaper squib announced a social event hosted by the Irishman from County Donegal. “A ball will be given on Tuesday next at the house of Mr. Alexander Campbell,” a Carbon County paper reported from Summit Hill. “A fine time is anticipated.”

An account from the mid-1870s showed that Campbell, known locally as a “well-to-do Irishman,” served with two of his fellow “Molly Maguires” as a delegate to a county Democratic convention. Campbell and two fellow AOH officers who assembled in Mauch Chunk to elect their local and state representatives did not belong to the “preliterate Gaelic culture” of Kenny’s alleged “Molly Maguires.”

After their arrests as "Mollies," at least two of Campbell’s fellow prisoners in Mauch Chunk Jail, if not Campbell himself, decorated the walls of their cells with the American flag.


Campbell spoke English fluently. “‘You still assert your innocence?’” a newspaper reporter asked the AOH officer less than a month before his execution.

“‘Yes, I do,’” replied Campbell, “‘and I know that in the very bottom of my heart that the commonwealth knows the same thing. They cannot help know it as they were well aware of the perjured testimony that was given during my trial.’”

At the reading of his death warrant a day later, Campbell said: “‘It’s hard to die innocently; but I shall not be the first to die thus. God knows that I am innocent of any crime; and the people know it, and the Commonwealth know it.’”

A week before his execution Campbell's wife brought their two children, one an infant and one four years of age, to his cell for a final leave-taking. A local newspaper reported: “It was a trying moment when Campbell was compelled to finally separate from his children—he kissed and kissed them time and time again. But he bore it manfully.”

A few months before his execution, five residents of County Donegal addressed Pennsylvania’s pardon board on Campbell’s behalf. They pleaded that the defendant had “so conducted himself, while at home, dutifully, steadily and honestly; and that his parents are honest, industrious and respectable.”

Campbell’s defense attorney, Daniel Kalbfus, wrote to the same board: “I was one of the Counsel who defended Alex Campbell in his trial for the Murder of John P. Jones. The character of the material witnesses against him, was so palpably infamous, and the game they played so certainly in the interest of their own forfeited necks, that I could not agree to a verdict that would take Campbell’s life—nor can I now.”


Campbell, AOH divisional treasurer for Storm Hill, was no “archetypal ‘wild Irishman.’” Before his arrest as an alleged “Molly Maguire,” Campbell—along with his fellow AOH officers—had acculturated himself comfortably into Carbon County’s social and political scene.

Pennsylvania did not prosecute wild Irishmen as “Molly Maguires.” The commonwealth prosecuted, in some instances, prosperous members of its own middle class. Many were fathers of large families. At least one was a grandfather.

Many of Pennsylvania’s AOH officers prosecuted as “Molly Maguires” were not, in Kenny’s words, “noticeably and ominously different from the mass of Irish immigrants.” They were, in fact, political leaders—and area businessmen. They were embedded in the social life of the region.

Kenny’s 1995 description of “the closed, alien culture embodied by Molly Maguireism”—and his 1998 description of Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguires” as “archetypal ‘wild Irishmen’”—beg for revision.

Given the gaps in Kenny’s theory, the latest in the “Molly Maguire” accounting, given more than 130 years of severely flawed historical accounting, Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguire” story demands a new reckoning.

This post was revised on August 9, 2018.

Coming October 22 – Alex Campbell’s Wake – Part 4 of 4: The Sun’s Editor Pleads for the “Molly Maguires”Th

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Alex Campbell's Wake

Part 2 of 4: Conducted With the Greatest Decorum

In June 1877 the New York Sun reveled in wild scenes of alleged drinking, “keening” and chanting of curses during the Friday night wake of Ancient Order of Hibernian (AOH) treasurer Alex Campbell, executed as a “Molly Maguire.”

A Philadelphia Times reporter, drawn by rumors of the “expected wild time” to be had at Campbell’s Saturday night wake, attended that service. Campbell would be buried on Sunday. Reporters could hope to be kept well entertained by the mourning of wild Irishmen.

But events disappointed. The Philadelphia article described only “QUIET AND ORDERLY PROCEEDINGS.” “Plenty of Pipes and Whiskey,” its headline read, “but No Demonstrations or Threats of Violence.”


Mourners to Campbell’s funeral on Sunday gathered from all the towns, villages and mining patches surrounding the AOH order in Schuylkill and Carbon counties. Most, if not all, believed strongly in Campbell’s innocence.

The mourners gathered during the time of greatest upheaval the coal regions had ever known. The mineworkers’ union had been smashed for good two years before. Then questionable—some said appalling—“evidence” had convicted numerous AOH men, and most of the region’s AOH officers, of capital crimes.

Irish mineworkers had pledged portions of their starvation wages to secure defense counsel for the AOH men. Some of those mineworkers now went to work with empty dinner kettles.

Campbell’s funeral drew these men and their families in droves. Its procession of mourners, the largest the coal regions had ever seen, wound all the way from Campbell’s tavern at the foot of the mountain to the little church at its top.


The Philadelphia reporter called Campbell, a coal miner turned hotel keeper turned liquor distributor, “a well-to-do Irishman.” Campbell’s Saturday wake, he reported, “was conducted with the greatest decorum … notwithstanding the published rumors.”

This reporter spent several hours at Campbell’s wake hoping for the “expected wild time.” He found no incident worth reporting but “the ordinary watching of the dead by a dozen women in an inner room, and at the most fifty or sixty men who sat in an outer room smoking their pipes and conversing in low tones.”

“The yard and front of the house had a few idlers standing about in groups,” he noted, “but not even the episode of a drunken man or a weeping woman broke the monotony of the wake.”

Some local newspapers, too, stuck to the facts. One gave a description of Campbell’s tombstone. “This stone is over seven feet in height, plain finish, with Gothic cross on the top and representation of the Crucifixion,” the report stated. “The inscription is on the stone, with simply the name ‘Campbell’ in heavy raised letters on the base. The stone complete weighs about a ton.”


Of the New York Sun's reported “keening” from Campbell's Friday night wake, historian Kevin Kenny said in 1995: “Here, also, was a cultural pattern that would need careful monitoring if the ‘wilder’ Irish of west Ulster and Connacht were to be tamed.”

But the Sun’s reports of threats, of keening, of curses—of Kenny’s “archetypal ‘wild Irish’”—were a fiction concocted by a New York reporter to sell newspapers and keep ethnic hostility strongly on the boil. Such stories of supposed "Molly Maguire" activity had circulated for years, inside and outside of the coal region.

They made newspapermen a lot of money. They helped send 21 Irish Catholic men, guilty or innocent, to their deaths on the gallows.

And they have influenced historical accounts for more than a century.


Coming October 15 — Alex Campbell’s Wake – Part 3 of 4: Campbell’s Assertions of Innocence

Friday, September 30, 2011

Alex Campbell's Wake

Part 1 of 4: Sensational Dispatches to City Papers
A 1998 review for the History Book Club called Kevin Kenny's “Making Sense of the Molly Maguires” the “best book on the subject.” “It is meticulously researched, carefully argued, and well written, and it brings all of the events to life,” said this review. “The controversy over the Molly Maguires will not end with Kenny’s book. … But no one will ever again be able to think or write seriously about the 1870s violence in the anthracite coal region without reading this stunning volume.”

Since the publication of Kenny’s work in 1998, no historian has stepped forward to challenge it.

But new research suggests that Kenny’s argument is in need of revision.


“The Molly Maguires embodied a rare, transatlantic strand of a pattern of violent protest characteristic of different parts of the Irish countryside at different times between 1760 and 1850,” Kenny said in “Making Sense of the Molly Maguires.” “The type of violence in question has been aptly described as a form of ‘retributive justice.’”

Many convicted “Mollies” came from west Donegal, noted Kenny, from a “preliterate Gaelic culture.” “It was these Irish-speakers,” he said, “and not the Irish in general, who became ‘Molly Maguires’ in Pennsylvania.”

“Because of their language, culture, and customs, they were the archetypal ‘wild Irish,’ noticeably and ominously different from the mass of Irish immigrants,” Kenny determined.

In a 1995 article published in Labor History, Kenny used one example in particular— the wake of Ancient Order of Hibernian (AOH) divisional treasurer Alexander Campbell—to reinforce his theory of these “archetypal ‘wild Irish.’”

Campbell died on June 21, 1877, along with ten other AOH men executed on that day in Pottsville, Mauch Chunk and Wilkes-Barre. He was charged with the 1875 murder of mine superintendent John P. Jones.

Kenny relied on an account from the New York Sun to describe Campbell’s wake. But like much of the Sun’s reporting of the so-called “Molly Maguires,” this account was a masterpiece of hyperbole. A week after its publication, a private letter from the newspaper’s own editor to Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons challenged the truth of the Sun’s dime-novel reporting.



The Sun, noted Kenny, described “a protracted boisterous wake” held for Campbell “of precisely the type frowned upon by the Catholic Church, conducted in the Irish language, and featuring the distinctly Gaelic practice of ‘keening.’”

The Sun’s account rivaled Shakespeare’s “Double, double toil and trouble.” It beat even Allan Pinkerton’s fiction for color. In its account, Irishmen swarmed Campbell’s premises, smoking clay pipes and drinking whiskey. Forty women dressed in hooded cloaks sat in the parlor adjacent to Campbell’s laid-out body and gave their grief “free rein.”

One crone among them, “the Keener,” exceeded all others with her “lamentations and curses upon the enemies of the dead man.” Of the judges, detectives and prosecution witnesses who sent AOH men to the gallows, she intoned: “May they and their children meet with fire and hunger, and disease, and early death … and may every true friend of Aleck, the kind, good soul, who died through perjury, revenge his awful death.”

“Such outcries were hushed when the presence of strangers in another room was discovered,” the Sun reported, “and afterward only Keeners who spoke Irish were permitted to lead the lamentations.”

“Here, once again,” Kenny observed, “was some fleeting evidence of the closed, alien culture embodied by Molly Maguireism, from which outsiders were rigidly excluded.”

“The few people there who are not Mollies are in bodily fear of the others,” the Sun concluded. It bolstered that claim with reports of numerous, murderous threats of wild vengeance. If true, this was a dire account of a dangerous people.

If true.


In Pottsville, the Miners’ Journal protested the city dailies’ sensationalized accounts. No friend to the Irish, the Journal’s editor nonetheless flatly denied the claims of vengeance threatened at the Irishmen’s wakes.

“It is hardly necessary to state that the sensational dispatches to city papers have only a very little leaven of truth in them,” the Journal admonished readers. “Falsehoods, palpable to residents of the coal region, throw discredit even on what may be true in them.”

As to the disturbances reported at Campbell’s Friday night wake, the Journal openly contradicted the Sun’s account. “The reports that the crowd at Campbell’s wake were very disorderly on Friday night are false,” it said. “We have it on good authority that good order was maintained. … There was no demonstration of any kind.”

The photo at the top of this article is of Alex Campbell, AOH treasurer for Storm Hill, hanged on June 21, 1877, in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania.

This post was revised on August 9, 2018.

Coming October 8 — Alex Campbell’s Wake – Part 2 of 4: Conducted With the Greatest Decorum

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Politics of Schuylkill's "Molly Maguires": Part 2 of 2

Thomas Nast Enters Their Arena
Bernard Dolan’s October 1875 letter to a Pottsville editor does in one stroke what no historian has ever done for Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguire” recording. This former Ancient Order of Hibernian (AOH) delegate for Schuylkill County described Schuylkill’s AOH men not as members of the “poor laboring class,” but as voters who chose those politicians most likely to “assuage the sufferings of … their brothers in toil.”*

Dolan’s letter highlights the truth of the AOH officers of Pennsylvania’s hard coal region. Some AOH members executed as “Molly Maguires” were mineworkers. But AOH leaders executed as “Mollies” were not. These Irishmen had worked their way out of the mines and into ownership of hotels and taverns. They were no longer members of “the poor laboring class,” no longer “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”

They were, in fact, area businessmen. The 1870 U.S. Census lists AOH delegate Dolan, born in Massachusetts, as a hotel keeper. It lists Dolan’s declared value—real estate and personal—at $6400.

As a former AOH county delegate, Dolan had immediate knowledge of the voting habits of AOH men. But no historian has ever documented Dolan’s take on AOH political reform. Only Dartmouth historian Wayne G. Broehl Jr., writing in 1964, has mentioned Dolan’s letter—and then only with condescension. Broehl called Dolan’s effort “a particularly arrogant letter.”

Eighty-nine years after its publication, Broehl dismissed Dolan’s impassioned defense of his fellow AOH men as “particularly arrogant.” Vital clues into the "Molly Maguire" story have remained buried in this letter for more than a century. Dolan’s description of AOH electoral activity gives the seeds of the political contention that drove the onslaught against both Pennsylvania’s alleged “Molly Maguires”—and against the AOH order generally.


That onslaught relied heavily on the work of artists and editors.

In August 1871 the Irish Times correspondent who spoke of Irish Americans as “hewers of wood and drawers of water” warned his countrymen: “The mass of the Irish who come here to earn their bread find very little favour [sic] from the Yankees.”

One month previously, after a bloody clash in New York between parade watchers and militia during that city’s Orange Parade, Thomas Nast penned one of his most outrageous cartoons. Nast’s cartoon did nothing to help the Irish find favor with the Yankees.

Like Allan Pinkerton’s artists, Nast made no secret of his contempt for Irish Catholics—or his willingness to lend his pen to inflame campaigns of ethnic hostility. Nast’s July 1871 cartoon showed an Irish ape dressed in patched workingmen’s clothes. As in the best Irish caricatures, Nast’s beast wears boots with upturned toes. The beast’s suspender strap drops and curves down like a devil’s tail. His upraised arm wields a knife, poised to plunge it into Lady Liberty’s breast.

If nativists commissioned Nast’s effort, they got good value for their money.

Harper’s Weekly published Nast’s cartoon. Its brutish Irish ape carried not just the power to shock. It carried the power to distort, to inflame and to mobilize resistance against any number of perceived Irish threats. It carried the power to lodge itself well in the public consciousness.

The publication in New York in July 1871 of Nast’s Irish beast attacking the icon of American liberty came just four months after the AOH order legally filed identical state charters in both New York and Pennsylvania. And as Bernard Dolan eloquently stated in 1875, the AOH order sent its Irish Americans voters to the polls to vote thoughtfully—in the interest of both their states’ welfare and workingmen’s issues.


In mid-winter 1875 an unknown someone also hired Nast to make the long trip from New York to Pennsylvania's Schuylkill County. During Pennsylvania's "Long Strike" of hard coal mineworkers, a Shenandoah newspaper used Nast’s cartoons to jeer at area Irishmen in the hard coal region. The Harper’s Weekly cartoonist trained his pen on an Irish union delegate subsequently arrested as a “Molly Maguire.” The Irish union delegate emerged in Nast’s cartoon as a drunken, poorly dressed, overweight leprechaun.

Someone hired Nast to train his vitriol on Irishmen in not one, but two volatile political arenas: in New York, and in Pennsylvania’s hard coal region. In both arenas, the AOH order figured prominently. New York got an Irish beast attacking Lady Liberty. Pennsylvania got a union delegate portrayed as a dissipated leprechaun.

Who encouraged—who purchased—Nast’s coverage?


Eleven months after the appearance of Nast’s cartoon ridiculing Schuylkill’s union delegate—and just two months after Dolan’s declared manifesto that Schuylkill’s AOH men voted only for candidates “whose ‘character cannot be successfully assailed’”—a party of forty or fifty men swarmed during the early morning hours into Wiggan’s Patch, located outside Mahanoy Plane in Schuylkill County. Six or seven of their number entered the house of Margaret O’Donnell, mother-in-law of John Kehoe and one target of the night-time attack. The men murdered Kehoe’s pregnant sister-in-law as she stood at the door of her bedroom. They murdered Kehoe’s brother-in-law as he tried to flee the scene.

The attack came close on the heels of the defeat of candidate Cyrus Pershing, the pick of Pennsylvania’s Coal Combination for that year’s hotly fought gubernatorial seat. Pinkertons hired by Franklin Gowen, head of Pennsylvania’s Coal Combination, helped engineer the early morning raid.

Just how far can ethnic hostility drive politicians?

Just how badly did Know-Nothing politicians want to eliminate the AOH order, not only in Pennsylvania, but in New York and throughout the United States?

How many artists were they willing to hire? How many editors? How many “vigilantes”?

And how many Pinkerton operatives?


Coming September 30 - Alex Campbell's Wake: Part 1 of 4 - Sensational Dispatches to City Papers

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Politics of Schuylkill's "Molly Maguires": Part 1 of 2

To Assuage the Sufferings of Our Brothers in Toil

The execution in Pennsylvania of 21 Irish Catholic men as alleged “Molly Maguires” did not take place in a vacuum. These executions followed on decades of an intensive "Know-Nothing" campaign against individuals of foreign birth. Politicians known as "nativists" engineered this campaign.

Nativists believed that only native American citizens, or Americans by birth, should hold public office. Nativists disliked and distrusted Catholics, especially Irish Catholics.

Thomas Nast’s 1871 political cartoon of an Irish ape attacking Lady Liberty showed matters graphically. “Liberty” held the whip-hand—against all Irish threats.


Other unsettling beliefs informed the Know-Nothing campaign of these decades.

In August 1871 a reporter for the Irish Times described the climate well. He told fellow Irishmen: “It is a fact not known in Ireland how small American politicians think of Irishmen.”*

“The idea at your side of the Atlantic,” he told readers in Ireland, “is that there is a brotherhood of sentiment, a sort of alliance—offensive and defensive—between the native Americans and the Irish.”

“No such thing! The Americans, in the main, consider the Irish in no such light. They find them useful as hewers of wood and drawers of water. Their vote is wanted for the irrepressible politicians with which this country abounds, and they tolerate them so far; but, most assuredly, they care little for Irish politics as Irish politics, and as far as they touch them at all remind me very much of the fox who climbed out of the well on the back of the goats. They certainly reach profit and emolument by the means of the Irish, and, as far as I see, will continue to do so.”

The “irrepressible politicians” who reached “profit and emolument by the means of the Irish” included Pennsylvania’s Coal Combination, the cartel of railroad and coal interests centered in the commonwealth’s hard coal region. These industrialists clearly wanted Irishmen—and their young sons, some as young as seven years old—for their “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” But they also wanted Irish votes for the political campaigns that raged throughout the commonwealth during the 1870s.

And to the dismay of these industrialists—all heavy political operatives—an Irish Catholic benevolent association known as the “Ancient Order of Hibernians” (AOH), legally chartered in 1871 in both New York and Harrisburg, had entered the political arena.


In 1875 Bernard Dolan, a former AOH delegate from Pennsylvania's Schuylkill County, gave a local voice to the Irish reporter's assessment. Dolan preceded John Kehoe, hanged as the “King of the Molly Maguires,” as AOH county delegate. Though targeted as an alleged “Molly Maguire,” Dolan somehow escaped arrest.

In October 1875, during a chaotic election cycle, Dolan wrote a scathing letter to a Pottsville paper. From July through September that year six murders had taken place in Schuylkill County. The murders had badly shaken the region. All had been blamed on the so-called “Molly Maguires.”

Dolan’s letter landed squarely in the midst of that year’s hotly contested gubernatorial race. It challenged the unnamed “imbecile editor of an evening sheet” published locally. This editor, charged Dolan, believed “that the members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians can be bought and sold as if they were so many cows, &c.”

Dolan resisted that notion. God gave AOH men, he said, “the faculties to reason, 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.”

AOH voters, Dolan said, went to the ballot box “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 [sic] they consider their brothers in toil.”

In the pages of a Pottsville newspaper, during a violent election season, Dolan had uttered the AOH political manifesto. As former AOH county delegate, Dolan spoke authoritatively. And in Dolan’s informed opinion, AOH voters sought both to secure “the welfare of the Commonwealth” and to “assuage the sufferings of … their brothers in toil.”

AOH voters throughout the United States—in Pennsylvania, north to New York, west to Illinois and California—were reform voters. Their numbers—and their power—increased with every election cycle.


In all the streams of opinion that have issued in the “Molly Maguire” canon, no historian has ever brought forward Dolan’s political assessment. Nor has any contemporary historian suggested that Pennsylvania’s Irishmen, assembled under the AOH banner, had become a political power. Very few authors—from the 19th, 20th or 21st centuries—have considered the possibility that these Irishmen took their order’s motto of “Friendship, Unity and True Christian Charity” into the voting booth with them.

But Dolan’s 1875 letter asserts that AOH men, moving at the time of Dolan’s writing under the influence of AOH delegate John Kehoe, voted thoughtfully, deliberately, carefully—and in the interests of the “poor laboring class.” In a region torn with labor strife, the AOH electoral block constituted political power.

Dolan’s letter on AOH political heft appeared in October 1875. Two years later Francis Dewees, a local author, said of Schuylkill County’s AOH: “In October 1875, it was feared and courted by both political parties.”

Munsell’s 1881 History of Schuylkill County, Pa., said of AOH political power: “The Ancient Order of Hibernians … was sufficiently strong here to hold the balance of power between opposing political parties.”

Just how powerful had these AOH leaders in Pennsylvania become—these Irish Catholic men who combined their vote with that of fellow AOH members “to secure the welfare of the Commonwealth, and assuage the sufferings of … their brothers in toil?”

Just how large an electoral threat did the AOH order pose to the men of Pennsylvania’s Coal Combination?


Coming September 15, 2011 – The Politics of Schuylkill’s “Molly Maguires” – Part 2 of 2: Thomas Nast Enters Their Arena

Monday, August 15, 2011

Pinkerton's Baltimore Plot Against Lincoln

Part 2 of 2: Dorothy Lamon Edits Her Father's Account

Ward Hill Lamon died in 1893. Two years after his death, Lamon’s daughter, Dorothy Lamon, published a heavily edited version of Lamon’s “The Life of President Lincoln.” In this new volume the chapter on the Baltimore Plot was carefully scrubbed of all of Lamon’s earlier, derisive references to Pinkerton. Nothing of Lamon’s heated indictment of the detective remained in the newly edited version.

Two years after Lamon’s death, when he could no longer debate the facts, this new edition of his original work carried the following language regarding the alleged Baltimore Plot:

“Neither [Lincoln] nor the country generally then understood the true facts concerning the dangers to his life. It is now an acknowledged fact that there never was a moment from the day he crossed the Maryland line, up to the time of his assassination, that he was not in danger of death by violence, and that his life was spared until the night of the 14th of April, 1865, only through the ceaseless and watchful care of the guards thrown around him.”


Fifty-six years passed with little light shed on the wide discrepancies contained in the two published editions of Lamon’s work.

In 1949 librarian Norma Cuthbert edited a volume published from the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Titled “Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot,” this third version contained documents given in 1914 to Henry Huntington, founder of the San Marino library.

In her acknowledgements Cuthbert offered thanks in particular to “Messrs. Robert A. Pinkerton and Ralph Dudley who have been so very generous in making available every resource of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, even to the extent of shipping to California valuable archives of the firm.” Robert Pinkerton II, Allan’s great-grandson, assisted Cuthbert with her 1949 effort.

In her 1949 work, Cuthbert transformed Allan Pinkerton from Lamon’s spy in pursuit of a base vocation to “Allan Pinkerton, pioneer detective and founder of the famous organization which in its century of growth has so remarkably kept pace with the development and expansion of the nation.”

Cuthbert challenged Lamon’s 1872 characterization of the Baltimore Plot. She accused Lamon of profiteering, saying: “The minute Lamon heard about Herndon’s records, he had visions of a fortune to be made out of them.” Pinkerton himself, Cuthbert observed, had characterized Lincoln’s friend and confidante, Lamon, as “a ‘brainless egotistical fool.’”

As editor of the 1949 volume, Cuthbert brought forward William Herndon’s notes on Lincoln, supplied to Huntington in 1914. According to Herndon’s account, Lincoln had confidence in Pinkerton as “a gentleman, and a man of sagacity.” Seventy-seven years after the fact, the Pinkertons had finally found a challenge to Lamon’s scathing 1872 portrait of Pinkerton.

Most notably, Cuthbert made this statement about the two versions of Lamon’s description of Lincoln’s night ride through Baltimore. She declared Lamon, who accompanied Lincoln “through every step of the entire journey,” “in a better position to judge than any other of Lincoln’s biographers.” And, in Cuthbert’s words, Lamon “dissented” in his 1872 “Life of Abraham Lincoln,” and “later concurred” in his 1895 “Recollections of Abraham Lincoln.” According to Cuthbert, Lamon had provided the public with two vastly differing versions of the same event.

Cuthbert made no reference to Lamon’s death in 1893. She made no reference to his inability to refute the new, edited version of events published posthumously by his daughter in the 1895 volume. But, she noted, “biographers relying on Lamon perforce have fallen into two camps.”


Thus is history written—and rewritten. From Allan Pinkerton himself; from Lincoln’s friend, Lamon; from Lamon's daughter, Dorothy; from Lincoln’s former law partner, Herndon; and, finally, from a staff librarian at Huntington Library, assisted by Robert Pinkerton II; come dramatically differing views of one event.

Of one thing, observers of history can be sure. Where Pinkertons marked the trail, controversy—and violent death—often followed.

And there were many Pinkerton trails over the decades—from the Baltimore Plot against Lincoln to Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguires” to the Haymarket trials in Chicago to the Homestead debacle in western Pennsylvania to the Idaho trial of “Big Bill” Haywood, president of the Western Federation of Miners.

So many trails. So much obfuscation. And so much controversy. Those noted above are just one part of the legacy that Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency left to U. S. history.

References to Allan Pinkerton inform even the current political debate. In a blog published in February 2011 in The New York Times “Opinionator,” Howard Holzer entered the discussion. Holzer titled this post on the Baltimore Plot “Like a Thief in the Night." It described Pinkerton in fairly mild terms.

This contemporary historian said of Pinkerton: “Today he is best remembered not as a lifesaver but a chronic worry wart and exaggerator; his wildly inflated estimates of Confederate troop strength in 1862 scared Union General George B. McClellan into virtual paralysis.”

But more than a century after the Haymarket trials in Chicago, an American president who hails from that city’s political arena referred more darkly to Pinkerton’s legacy.

In “Dreams From My Father,” written nine years before his campaign for the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama said of a Chicago housing project’s myriad troubles: “Who was responsible … I found myself asking. There were no cigar-chomping crackers like Bull Connor out there, no club-wielding Pinkerton thugs. Just a small band … characterized less by malice or calculation than by fear and small greeds.”

Thus the concept of “Pinkerton thugs” remains a symbol even in today’s political consciousness.

And the debate over Allan Pinkerton's character—and motives—continues into the 21st century.


Coming September 1, 2011 - The Politics of Schuylkill's "Molly Maguires": To Assuage the Sufferings of Our Brothers in Toil

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pinkerton's Baltimore Plot Against Lincoln

Part 1 of 2: "Hireling Spies and Paid Informers"

“With the rich and mighty,” the saying goes, “always a little patience.”

And with Allan Pinkerton, made rich and mighty by his detective agency, often a heated controversy.

Pinkerton, founder of his namesake Pinkerton National Detective Agency, remains one of the most divisive figures in U.S. history. Where Pinkerton’s operatives advanced, controversy followed. These men—and women—left in their wake a froth of historians arguing events from all sides.

One event, more than any other, helped establish Pinkerton’s fledging agency. It came to be known as the “Baltimore Plot.” The plot centered on allegations made by Pinkerton to Abraham Lincoln of a supposed assassination attempt planned against the president-elect. Threatened less than two weeks before the scheduled 1861 inauguration, this supposed attempt would take place on the last leg of Lincoln’s whistle-stop tour from Springfield, Illinois, to the nation’s capital.

For a century and a half historians have argued differing versions of this event.


Lincoln’s friend and former law partner Ward Hill Lamon provided one of the earliest published accounts of the Baltimore Plot in his 1872 work "The Life of Abraham Lincoln." Basing his observations on reports which surfaced after Lincoln's assassination, Lamon scrutinized Pinkerton's accounts “with an earnest and conscientious desire to discover the truth, if, perchance, any trace of truth might be in them.”

For ten years, Lamon said, he had “implicitly believed in the reality of the atrocious plot which these spies were supposed to have detected and thwarted.” But after reading Pinkerton’s self-serving reports in their original, a “weak and contradictory account of his own case,” Lamon was now convinced that Pinkerton’s alleged plot was simply—and wholly—contrived.

Pinkerton had warned that the attack would take place in Baltimore, while Lincoln’s railroad car, drawn by horses between two Baltimore rail stations, made its last stop before traveling to Washington.

Lamon gave an eye-witness account of events. He had traveled with Lincoln on every mile of the journey from Springfield to Washington. Lamon's account revealed no such attempt—or sign of an attempt—at Baltimore.

After Lincoln's assassination Pinkerton provided his hand-written reports to Lincoln's former law partner William Herndon. The “detective,” Lamon said dryly after reading these first-hand reports, “went about his business with the zeal which necessarily marks his peculiar profession.”

Lamon ascribed dubious motives to Pinkerton: “Being intensely ambitious to shine in the professional way, and something of a politician besides, it struck him that it would be a particularly fine thing to discover a dreadful plot to assassinate the President elect; and he discovered it accordingly.” The reports of Pinkerton’s operatives, Lamon concluded, proved little “but the baseness of the vocation which gave them existence.”

Of Pinkerton’s own account of the alleged conspiracy against Lincoln, Lamon said, “there is literally nothing to sustain the accusation, and much to rebut it. It is perfectly manifest that there was no conspiracy,- no conspiracy of a hundred, of fifty, of twenty, or of three; no definite purpose in the heart of even one man to murder Mr. Lincoln at Baltimore.”


During that pivotal month of February 1861, the state of Maryland seethed with political division. Politicians fought vigorously over the issue of secession. “It would seem like an easy thing,” said Lamon, “to beguile a few individuals of this angry and excited multitude into the expression of some criminal desire; and the opportunity was not wholly lost, although the limited success of the detective under such favorable circumstances is absolutely wonderful.”

These early Pinkerton reports were prototypes of those that would figure prominently in the agency’s doings for decades to come. Of these early reports, Lamon observed: “The reports are all in the form of personal narratives, and for the most relate when the spies went to bed, when they rose, where they ate, what saloons and brothels they visited, and what blackguards they met and ‘drinked’ with.”

Pinkerton’s operatives shadowed numerous dubious characters “These wretches ‘drinked’ and talked a great deal, hung about bars, haunted disreputable houses, were constantly half-drunk,” said Lamon, “and easily excited to use big and threatening words by the faithless protestations and cunning management of the spies.”

Two of these characters, named Luckett and Hilliard, hinted to operatives of a “Brutus” who aimed to kill Lincoln. In their dramatic reveal, they settled on a barber named Ferrandina as the assassin. In Pinkerton’s heavily biased observation, Ferrandina “shows the Italian in, I think, a very marked degree.” His eyes, the detective reported, “fairly glared and glistened.”

Eleven years after Ferrandina’s supposed plot to assassinate the president-elect, Lamon noted wryly “his place of business [is] beneath Barnum’s Hotel, where the sign of the bloodthirsty villain still invites the unsuspecting public to come in for a shave.”

Lamon ultimately dismissed Pinkerton’s reports as “a secret communication between hireling spies and paid informers [where] ferocious sentiments are attributed to the poor knight of the soap-pot.” Lamon declared: “No disinterested person would believe the story upon such evidence.” He concluded: “It is probably a mere fiction. If it had any foundation in fact, we are inclined to believe that the sprightly and eloquent barber would have dangled at a rope’s end long since. He would hardly have been left to shave and plot in peace, while the members of the Legislature, the police-marshal, and numerous private gentlemen, were locked up in Federal prisons.”

Of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Lamon said: “When Mr. Lincoln was actually slain, four years later, and the cupidity of the detectives was excited by enormous rewards, Ferrandina was totally unmolested. But even if Ferrandina really said all that is here imputed to him, he did no more than many others around him were doing at the same time. He drank and talked, and made swelling speeches; but he never took, nor seriously thought of taking, the first step toward the frightful tragedy he is said to have contemplated.”

This, in Lamon’s informed opinion, was the sum total of Allan Pinkerton’s “Baltimore Plot” against Abraham Lincoln.


An additional message had come through regarding unrest in Baltimore during that tumultuous week in 1861. And this came from a source Lincoln trusted: from William Seward, the president-elect’s future secretary of state. Thousands of men, stated Seward’s message, hand-delivered by his son, were massing in Baltimore to prevent Lincoln’s passage to the national capital.

“Here was a plot big enough to swallow up the little one,” said Lamon, “which we are to regard as the peculiar property of [the] detective. Hilliard, Ferrandina, and Luckett disappear among the ‘fifteen thousand’ and their maudlin and impotent twaddle about the ‘absolute tyrant’ looks very insignificant beside the bloody massacre, conflagration, and explosion now foreshadowed.”

Seward’s information came by way of a New York detective named Stone. Carl Sandburg documents Lincoln’s conversation with Seward’s son: “‘Did you hear any names mentioned?’ Lincoln pressed. ‘Did you, for instance, ever hear anything said about such a name as Pinkerton?’ No, Seward had heard no such name.”

After hearing Seward’s argument, Lincoln acquiesced to the plan of the late night ride from Harrisburg to Baltimore. Disguised—famously—in a cap and shawl, the president-elect traveled as “an invalid” with Pinkerton, Pinkerton’s “female spy” and Lamon as attendants.

The party passed through Baltimore safely and arrived at the depot in Washington at 6:00 a.m. on February 23. Lamon reported: “The detective went to the telegraph-office, and loaded the wires with despatches [sic], containing the pleasing intelligence that ‘Plums’ had brought ‘Nuts’ through in safety. In the spy’s cipher the President elect was reduced to the undignified title of ‘Nuts.’”

“Mr. Lincoln soon learned to regret the midnight ride,” Lamon concluded. “His friends reproached him, his enemies taunted him. He was convinced that he had committed a grave mistake in yielding to the solicitations of a professional spy and of friends too easily alarmed.”


Fact or fiction, the Baltimore Plot served Pinkerton well. In May 1861 he signed on for secret service work with the Union army, where his operatives supplied General George McClellan with inflated claims of Confederate troop estimates. In November 1862 Lincoln removed McClellan from command.

Pinkerton’s year and a half with the army’s Secret Service burnished his reputation. A photo of Pinkerton with Lincoln in the Union camp at Antietam, the president tall and distinguished in his top hat, eventually appeared on the walls of Pinkerton agency offices throughout the country.

In 1915 former Pinkerton operative Charles Siringo asked in a self-published expose: “How can a judge doubt the purity of this monster agency when shown an enlarged photograph of Allan Pinkerton and our beloved President, Abe Lincoln, standing side by side near the bloody field of battle? These photographs are hung in conspicuous places in all the agency offices as emblems of purity.”


Coming August 15 – Part 2 of Pinkerton’s Baltimore Plot Against Lincoln: Dorothy Lamon Edits Her Father's Account

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"The Stories Were All Lies"

Pinkerton, McParlan and Sherlock Holmes Tell a Tale of the "Molly Maguires"

In the telling of Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguire” history, fact and fiction collide brutally. A centuries-long trail of innuendo, half-truths, fiction and outright lies fogs the telling of this history.

Pivotal to this telling is the credibility of Pinkerton operative James McParlan. McParlan’s trial testimony helped execute 21 men—and sent scores more to prison. So much depended on the truth of McParlan’s statements.

Just how credible were those statements?

This post gives two versions of one significant issue.

The question at issue is this: How did McParlan first cultivate the Irish Catholic men he later helped execute as “Molly Maguires”? Did he seduce them with tales of murder, as he testified in court?

Or did he use another strategy?


Both Allan Pinkerton and Arthur Conan Doyle spun McParlan’s trial testimony into lucrative fictional tales. McParlan first met Pennsylvania’s alleged “Molly Maguires” while working undercover as “James McKenna.” In reports from January 1874 filed with his supervisors, McParlan provided one version of his cultivation of numerous county officers of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH).

Less than three years later, during trial testimony, McParlan gave a second version of his cultivation of these men. McParlan’s May 1876 testimony, given under oath, left out telling information from reports made to his supervisors two and a half years before.

Allan Pinkerton’s fictional 1877 work described McParlan's exploits in detail. It further clouded the trail.

And in 1915, incredibly, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mystery “The Valley of Fear” gave yet another fictionalized account of the “Molly Maguire” drama. In Sherlock Holmes’ case, McParlan appeared undercover as “Jack McMurdo,” aka “Birdy Edwards.” And AOH delegate John Kehoe, weighted down with diamonds and gold chains, was known both as “Councillor McGinty” and as “Black Jack McGinty,” the feared head of a “murder society.”*


During the Yost murder trial in May 1876 McParlan testified in detail of his supposed cultivation of Schuylkill County’s alleged “Molly Maguires.”

“I … told them different tales,” McParlan testified. “Sometimes I told them I shot a man; sometimes I told them I counterfeited money … the stories were all lies.”

Pinkerton’s 1877 fiction reinforced McParlan’s claim. Titled “The Mollie Maguires and the Detectives,” it appeared less than a year after McParlan’s sworn testimony in the Yost trial.

Franklin Gowen, president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and head of the regional “Coal Combination,” likely commissioned this fictional work. Robert Linden, Pinkerton superintendent of Gowen’s private police force, distributed Pinkerton's new book to regional editors.

Published while “Molly Maguire” trials remained ongoing, it skewed justice for cases that lay pending before Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court and its Board of Pardons. Pinkerton’s book painted the alleged “Molly Maguires” as violent thugs. Its descriptions of drunken Irish depravity reinforced the vicious “Molly Maguire” label. It helped secure fast verdicts of “guilty” in ongoing trials. And it dovetailed closely with McParlan’s trial testimony.


“The Detective Sings, Fights, and Dances Himself Into Popularity,” Pinkerton titled Chapter 8 of his “Molly Maguire” story. Studded with puerile Irish American dialect, it described McParlan’s introduction in late January 1874 to a Pottsville hotel called the Sheridan House, run by a former AOH man named Dormer.

“Dormer had given a hint … that the stranger [McParlan] was a hard case generally, and engaged in concealing himself from certain officials in Western New York, who were in search of him for having killed a man in Buffalo a year or so before,” Pinkerton’s narrative related breathlessly. “It was more than probable that [McParlan’s] reputation as a dealer in counterfeit money had also been discussed by the same worthies.”

Singing. Fighting. Jigging. Tales of counterfeiting, and of a murder committed in Buffalo. And, of course, drinking. According to Pinkerton, this was McParlan’s supposed tale of introduction—in January 1874—to the AOH men he hoped to cultivate.


In 1915 Arthur Conan Doyle went Pinkerton's work one better. While the coal region struggled to recover from the historic trauma of 21 public executions and the killings that generated them, area residents reviewed the latest in a long line of works that painted McParlan as heroic.

Conan Doyle’s work clanged with negative stereotyping. Kehoe’s character “McGinty” was a “black-maned giant, bearded to the cheek-bones, and with a shock of raven hair which fell to his collar.” His eyes were “of a strange dead black,” his complexion “as swarthy as an Italian.” He had an “enormous hand, which was hairy as a gorilla's.”

In Sherlock Holmes’ Pennsylvania case, the Irishmen under “McGinty’s” command committed murder at his will. They swaggered and drank and fought. They beat an elderly newspaperman until his “white hair was dabbled with patches of blood.” And they swapped murders—and rewarded young men with a few dollars for committing their murders for them. In other words, Conan Doyle trotted out McParlan’s trial testimony almost verbatim.

These Irishmen invited McParlan’s character “McMurdo” to join them in their murderous society. They burned his arm with their society’s brand. And, as in Pinkerton’s work, “McMurdo” confided his criminal past to these savage Irishmen.

In Conan Doyle’s version “McMurdo” tells “McGinty” he has killed a man in Chicago, a man who helped him “shove the queer” [pass counterfeit bills]. “I just killed him and lighted out for the coal country,” McParlan’s character tells Kehoe’s character. Forty years after Schuylkill County’s first “Molly Maguire” arrests, the character of Schuylkill’s AOH men was again under direct assault—this time in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction.

But McParlan's lurid statements of murder and counterfeiting—given in person during trial testimony and glamorized by writers of fiction—had helped send 21 Irish Catholic men to the gallows. Those statements inflamed the ethnic hostility that allowed scores of “Molly Maguire” prosecutions to move forward.

Was McParlan’s trial testimony the truth, or was it fiction?


Per Pinkerton’s fictional account, McParlan seduced Schuylkill County’s AOH men in January 1874 with sordid tales of counterfeiting and murder. Decades later, after meeting Pinkerton’s son William on a cross-Atlantic voyage, Conan Doyle seasoned Pinkerton’s tale even more highly—this time for international consumption, in a Sherlock Holmes tale.

But McParlan himself had given his Pinkerton supervisors another version of how he contrived to influence many of the AOH officers from Pennsylvania’s hard coal region. This did not take place in saloons. It did not take place on trains, or at the bottom of mine shafts. And it did not take place while “shoving the queer.”

According to McParlan’s own reports from January 1874, he gained the trust of many of the region’s AOH men in a week-long church mission in Pottsville.

And it was Schuylkill County AOH treasurer Christopher Donnelly, imprisoned later for alleged “Molly Maguire” crimes, who invited McParlan to attend these church services.

“In the evening,” McParlan’s report told supervisors, “the operative attended the mission at the church – being a sort of revival – attended by all from Pottsville & all parts from the County [of Schuylkill] and Cumberland & Luzerne Co. The operative intends attending this mission closely as he will meet with all the M.M.’s and the fact of his attendance will gain for him more friends and confidence than all else.” The mission, said McParlan, “will last until the middle of next week.”

McParlan returned to church services on Wednesday, and again on Thursday. On Friday he attended the mission “in all devoutness morning & evening & made some new acquaintances.” On Saturday, and on Sunday, despite stormy weather, McParlan “attended church faithfully.”

In McParlan’s own words, “the fact of his attendance” at these church services—not jigging, brawling, drinking, counterfeiting or murdering—would “gain for him more friends and confidence than all else.”

On his entry into the hard coal region as an undercover Pinkerton operative, McParlan attended church services for one week “in all devoutness morning & evening” to gain the confidence of Pennsylvania’s AOH hierarchy.


No authoritative history of the “Molly Maguires,” no fictional account, no semi-fictional account, has ever described McParlan's use of his church attendance to cultivate regional AOH men. McParlan’s attendance at church services to secure the trust of these Irishmen accords with their membership in an Irish Catholic benevolent society that chose for its motto “Friendship, Unity and True Christian Charity.”

Two years later McParlan testified in court that he gained the confidence of regional AOH men with tales of murder and counterfeiting, in “stories that were all lies.”

Which version of McParlan’s story is the true version?

An unnamed correspondent to the Boston Pilot in 1876 stated matters succinctly. “Paid swearers will swear for pay, especially perjured ones, such as McParlan,” this writer said. “I would not hang a fly on his oath.”

In his defense of AOH treasurer Alex Campbell, attorney Daniel Kalbfus said to the jury of McParlan: “His testimony all writers admit, is of the most dangerous character. … If they would not accuse me on the other side of being a blackguard I would call him a liar. Coward! He abetted, he planned, he connived the killing of John P. Jones, and you know it.”


Pinkerton’s 1877 “Molly Maguire” dime novel was one in a series he published during this time. It fit in with earlier works titled “The Detective and the Somnambulist” and “The Murderer and the Fortune Teller.” Like these tales, Pinkerton’s “Molly Maguire” story reads as lurid fiction. But so did McParlan’s trial testimony.

Eighty-seven years after Pinkerton’s book appeared, Wayne G. Broehl Jr. published his scholarly work titled “The Molly Maguires.” Broehl relied, in part, on Pinkerton’s fictional account for his telling of this history. This defining slice of the Irish American historical experience can trace its scholarly treatment to an 1877 dime novel version of events published by Allan Pinkerton, the head of a private detective agency with a commercial interest in the caseload—and in procuring verdicts of “guilty” in ongoing "Molly Maguire" trials.

If McParlan’s “Molly Maguire” trial testimony, like his sensationalized tales, was simply “stories that were all lies,” then the history that flowed from that testimony is fatally compromised.

What is the truth of McParlan’s trial testimony—of his character, his credibility?

What is the truth of Pennsylvania’s AOH men fingered by McParlan as “Molly Maguires?”

*Note: Materials offered in this blog are documented in the full-length work "Waking the Dead: The Myth of the "'Molly Maguires,'" pending publication.

This article has been revised.


Coming August 15: “Hireling Spies and Paid Informers”: Pinkerton’s Baltimore Plot Against Lincoln (Part 1)