“Heroes” to some and “Villains” to others – the Organization known as The “Molly Maguires” were an Irish Labor protection Group which existed first in England and Ireland – and then came to 19th Century American with the wave of Irish Immigration. A “Secret Society” which may have sprung from the equally secretive “Ancient Order of Hiberians, they sought to improve working condition for Irish Pennsylvania Coal Miners.
As stated, The Maquires came to American with Irish immigration in the 1840s-50s. Ireland had suffered under decades of repressive Farming Regulations regarding subsistence farming (and the switch to Cattle raising). This, coupled with several severe Crop Blights and Famines (Potato), may flocked to America, seen then as a “Land of Opportunity”. America – however, was not (at least to The Irish). Heavy anti-Irish sentiment (as was the same for any Foreigner) , limited any employment means for The Irish. Other than Crime, the best that they could hope for was service in the recently declared American Civil War. Many thousands of Irish Men served in both Union and Confederate Armies.
After The War, the same conditions still existed. However, American had turned it’s back on the horrors of the last 4 years and focused on Industrialization – rapidly. The expansion of The Railroads Westward and well as the need for Coal (used to power steam Engines) – gave The Irish basic and hard worked employment. However, no real safety regulations existed yet in The Coal Industry. Company Owners sought to deep deeper and more frequently – all the while trying to mine more and more of the “Black Gold”. Many hundreds of Irish Miners were killed (buried alive) – due to such unsafe and unregulated practices. This coupled with extremely low wages – which often were taken back by Coal Companies (Rent, Equipment, food and Oil were all charged), forced most Irish Coal Miners into indentured servitude – at best.
Formed from fellow Miners, The Molly Maguires were at best modern extremists that had turned to terrorist means to achieve their goals. They burned Company Stores, destroyed vital Mining equipment, blew up Mines etc. To combat this, many Coal Companies turned to local Law Enforcement – but they were understaffed and equipped to handle such activities. This lead to the formation of The Coal and Railway Police”. Hired by Coal Companies – these were uniformed and armed thugs at best – who exacerbated the problem. Men and Women were beaten and in some cases, killed. The Maguires began a series of “Reprisal Beatings” and likewise “Revenge Murder”. Open “warfare” was evident and Coal Production slowed.
THE COMPANY RESPONSE:
To finally counter The Maguires, Coal Companies hired the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency (Private Police). Unorthodox and controversial, it was determined to embed a “deep cover” Agent into The Maguires (a dangerous move). If caught or suspected, the Agent would obviously be killed. Picked was a resourceful Agent – James McParland (aka James McKenna). He witnessed murder, beating and destruction of Mines and equipment. He had identities and hideouts. He waited for the right moment. Working with Coal Police and State Militia, The Maguires planned to explode a major Coal and Railway Bridge in 1876 (which would have severely slowed Coal Production for months) – was thwarted by arrest.
TRIAL AND CONCLUSION:
Making National News, (10) of the 20 known Maguires were tried between 1877 and 1878, Despite attempts at defense, all (10) were convicted and executed by hanging – including Maguire Leader John Kehoe. The “brains” of The Maguires had been removed – with the Group losing steam and activity by the 1880s. But they would serve as an example for other Labor Organization Groups, then forming in Ohio and other Eastern States dedicated to improving Labor Rights.