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  • 6/21/2010

The Day in History:

Molly Maguires Hanged in Pennsylvania (1877)

molly maguires

The Molly Maguires were members of a secret Irish organization. Many historians believe the "Mollies" were present in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania in the United States from approximately the time of the American Civil War until a series of sensational arrests and trials in the years 1876−1878. Evidence that the Molly Maguires were responsible for coalfield crimes in the U.S. rests largely upon allegations of one powerful industrialist, and the testimony of one Pinkerton detective. Fellow prisoners also testified against the alleged Molly Maguires, but some believe these witnesses may have been coerced or bribed.

There is little doubt that some Irish miners conspired to commit crime; however, the trusts seem to have focused almost exclusively upon the Molly Maguires for criminal prosecution. This may be a consequence of Irish miners acting as the core of militant union activism during a bitter strike provoked by a twenty percent wage reduction. Violence during the period was widespread, with Irish Catholic miners who reportedly made up the secret organization also falling victim.

Some aspects of the investigations, trials, and executions are unseemly. Information passed from the Pinkerton detective, intended only for the detective agency and their client — the most powerful industrialist of the region was apparently also provided to vigilantes who ambushed and murdered miners suspected of being Molly Maguires. The vigilantes did not spare the miners’ families. The industrialist standing to gain financially from the destruction of the striking union acted as prosecutor of some of the alleged Molly Maguires at their trials.

Molly history is sometimes presented as the prosecution of an underground movement that was motivated by personal vendettas, and sometimes as a struggle between organized labor and powerful industrial forces. Whether membership in the Molly organization overlapped union membership to any appreciable extent remains open to conjecture. Much remains uncertain, for the Molly Maguires left virtually no evidence of their existence, and nearly everything that we know about them was written by biased contemporary observers.

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com


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