24 January 2015

Society Saturday: Molly Maguires

The Molly Maguires was a secret predominantly Irish society known for its activities in the Coal Region of Pennsylvania. Depending on who you ask depends on the second part of the definition. They were either a group of Irish men and women who stood together fighting for the rights and safety of the coal miners and their families. Or, they were a terroristic group of Irish men who wreaked havoc in the coal regions. I suppose it depends on what side of the mine shaft you stood.

Now before I delve into this society, I should put out my disclaimer and opinion now since I am sure it will come out in my writing. My 2x great grandmother, Anna Keating Walsh (later changed to Welsh), is rumored to have been a Molly Maguire – according to my cousins (her great grandchildren). Hence, my interest is also centered around the Shenandoah area as that is where my family lived for a spell. While I would like to get to the truth regardless of which it is, I have to say that my Irish kin are very mild mannered and I could never believe any Irishman (or woman) was/is part of a terroristic group. 

For the sake of this article post:
While the Molly Maguire is said to be a woman, by that name, in Ireland who killed several landowners’ agents, this post will focus on the secret organization as it pertained to Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania 

The Molly Maguires
Local law enforcement (if one could call it that) first became aware of the Mollie Maguires during the summer of 1862. My Anna Keating would have been seven that year and, while I have not found documentation, it is believed that is when she arrived in America from Ireland. 

At least 50 murders occurred between 1 January 1863 and 30 March 1867 in Schuylkill County, according to the “Miner’s Journal.” The Molly Maguires were never charged with these or any other crimes committed, that is until the Pinkerton Agency got involved in 1873. 

James McKenna, an alias of James McParlan of Pinkerton, reported back that the Mahanoy Valley was the focal point of the Mollies and that all Mollies were also members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH). That said, not every member of the AOH was necessarily a Molly Maguire. McKenna set up headquarters the next spring in Shenandoah and, on 14 April 1874, he infiltrated the AOH becoming a member.  

Sometime before November 1874, Catholic clergy denounced the Molly Maguires. That is when, according to the Sunbury American, “new and frightful diabolism” occurred. In fact the society was actually excommunicated by the Archbishop if Philadelphia, according to a later article in the New York Times. 

One infamous Molly Maguire named Daniel Dougherty was accused of murdering Chief Burgess George Major. According to the Sunbury American, Dougherty was guilt. According to Aurand’s text, Dougherty was actually innocent. Either way this case caused much excitement. 

McKenna attended the AOH meetings and, when certain orders were made, he was able to warn the intended victims before the Mollies took action.

Six men, all believed to be Molly Maguires, were hung at Pottsville on 21 June 1877. Five of them men were accused of murdering police officer Frank B. Yost. The other allegedly killed another man. 

In 1875 McKenna took the stand against the Molly Maguires revealing himself as McParlan, shocking nearly everyone in the court. It was the first time a Molly Maguire was ever actually convicted. Several other hangings were also held. In all, 20 men were tried, convicted and hanged. This essentially put an end to the Molly Maguires. 

The AOH still exists. It is the oldest Irish Catholic fraternal organization in the States, dating back to 1836. 

Aurand, Jr., A. Monroe. Historical Account of the Mollie Maguires. Lancaster: Aurand Press. 

"Crime in the Coalfields," Sunbury American ( Sunbury, PA) , 27 November 1874, Page 1, Image 1, col. 7. Accessed online 24 January 2015. 

“Molly Maguires Excommunicated,” New York Times, 22 December 1875. 

"The Molly Maguires," The Elk County Advocate (Ridgeway, PA), 25 May 1976, Page 4, Image 4, col. 4. Accessed online 24 January 2015. 

Society Saturday is a genealogical prompt of GeneaBloggers.
© Jeanne Ruczhak-Eckman, 2015
Locations listed are located in Pennsylvania (USA), unless otherwise noted in post.