Making Sense of the Molly Maguires

Making Sense of the Molly Maguires

Making Sense of the Molly Maguires

Making Sense of the Molly Maguires

Synopsis

Twenty Irish immigrants, suspected of belonging to a secret terrorist organization called the Molly Maguires, were executed in Pennsylvania in the 1870s for the murder of sixteen men. Ever since, there has been enormous disagreement over who the Molly Maguires were, what they did, and why they did it, as virtually everything we now know about the Molly Maguires is based on hostile descriptions of their contemporaries. Arguing that such sources are inadequate to serve as the basis for a factual narrative, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires examines the ideology behind the contemporary evidence to explain how and why a particular meaning came to be associated with the Molly Maguires in Ireland and Pennsylvania. At the same time, this book examines new archival evidence from Ireland that establishes that the American Molly Maguires were a rare transatlantic strand of the violent protest endemic in the Irish countryside. Combining social and cultural history, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires offers a new explanation of who the Molly Maguires were, as well as why people wrote and believed such curious things about them. In the process, it vividly retells one of the classic stories of American labor and immigration.

Excerpt

In the 1860s and 1870s, the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania drew national attention for their violence. After a series of assaults and killings, deep- rooted fears of a secret Irish terrorist organization hardened into certainty. Sixteen men were assassinated, most of them mine officials, and there were numerous beatings and acts of industrial sabotage. The culprits, it was believed, were members of the Molly Maguires, an oath-bound secret society imported from Ireland. Pinkerton detectives were sent into the anthracite district under cover and the hunt for the Molly Maguires culminated in a series of showcase trials. Twenty Irishmen were convicted of a range of heinous crimes and sentenced to be hanged. Their trials and executions were the spectacular climax to a singular episode in American history, one that remains shrouded in ambiguity.

Because of the uncertainties built into the subject, the Molly Maguires have been depicted in every imaginable way, from sociopaths and terrorists at one end of the spectrum to innocent victims and proletarian revolutionaries at the other. But ever since the 1870s one specific narrative has been dominant: the Molly Maguires as inherently evil Irishmen who terrorized the anthracite region for two decades before being brought to justice by the heroic exploits of James McParlan, a Pinkerton detective. This interpretation dominated the newspapers, pamphlets, and local histories of the time, as well as the first full-length books devoted to the subject, Allan Pinkerton's semifictional work, The Molly Maguires and the Detectives, and Francis P. Dewees's ostensibly factual . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.