Making Sense of the Molly Maguires

By Kevin Kenny | Go to book overview

Introduction

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

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Making Sense of the Molly Maguires
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations Used in Footnotes xi
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Whiteboys, Ribbonmen, and Molly Maguires 13
  • 2 - The World of Anthracite 45
  • 3 - Enter the Molly Maguires 73
  • 4 - The Rise of a Labor Movement 103
  • 5 - The Reading Railroad Takes Control 131
  • 6 - The Return of the Molly Maguires 157
  • 7 - Rough Justice 185
  • 8 - The Molly Maguires on Trial 213
  • Epilogue 277
  • Conclusion 285
  • Appendix 1 Biographical Data on the Molly Maguires 289
  • Appendix 2 Geographical. Analysis of the Surnames of the Molly Maguires 297
  • Appendix 3 The Donegal and North-central Irish in the Anthracite Region 303
  • Appendix 4 Coffin Notices 307
  • AppendiX 5 Two "Molly Maguire" Ballads 311
  • Bibliography 315
  • Index 329
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