There exists considerable controversy over the judgment of the Molly Maguires. While labor rights activists term them as labor heroes, a score of anti-terrorists have branded them with descriptions like “bloodthirsty terrorists” (Metress, 2000, p. 1). The group developed as a labor group protecting the rights of coal-mine workers who were being mistreated. It existed from mid to the late nineteenth century.
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The membership of the Molly Maguires was mainly Irish and the name was taken to be synonymous to assassins and murderers. In America, therefore, all Irish miners were known to be Molly Maguires and any person supporting labor unions was called a Molly. The name was adopted from the name of a widow who was firmly established in Catholicism and could not change her faith even after Protestants of Scottish, English and other origins attempted to alienate her from Catholicism.
In summary, the name Molly Maguire was a general name that was given to violent Irish miners who had ethno religious beliefs, killed p and crippled people without any qualms. Let us have a detailed look at how the bloodthirsty labor union started (Tonny, 1998, p. 1).
In the proximities of mid nineteen century, the Irish moved to America looking for jobs. During this time, coal mining was common in Pennsylvania and it offered ready jobs. This attracted the Irish men and women, who had agricultural backgrounds. Since they were pretty inexperienced as compared to the Welsh laborers, they were offered unskilled positions under the supervision of the Welsh. Mine owners owned everything in the mine including the homes of the laborers and the shops from which they bought goods.
They were then forced to make their purchases from the shops that were operated by the mine owner whose goods had prices that were considerably higher than the prices of the same goods in private shops. Consequently, the miners were always indebted to the owner of the mine. The Irish, despite their hard work, also faced other insurmountable problems that included religious prejudice that was directed towards their belief in Catholicism.
With the continued immigration of more Catholic Irishmen, natives started to riot and remarkably burnt two Catholic Churches in Philadelphia. Such kind of attacked were directed towards the Irish, generally, and thus it was not limited to Catholics. As a result of this mistreatment, the Catholics began to form unions meant to help new immigrants adapt to American life (Weisman, 1999, p. 1).
The societies were peaceful as demanded by the Catholic faith but with time, members of these unions were continuously prosecuted. With the stated continued prosecution of Irishmen, the unions started to retaliate violently; this was deeply rooted in Irish culture. In 1857, the term Molly Maguires first appeared in print, describing the Irish union, in a journal written by a political critic.
With the prospective of black miners being brought to replace the Irish miners, the Irish people had to be willing to fight for retention of their jobs (Moffet, 2010, p. 1). As the civil war progressed and after it ended, the Molly Maguire became a common term in political journals. It was used to refer to Irishmen and their retributory acts of violence (Bimba, 1970, p. 15).
As the financial, social and religious mistreatments of the Irishmen became worse, the Mollies started to respond with worse retaliations. They killed foremen and other coal mine dignitaries in cold blood. They even killed the coal mine owners. An example of the latter is Mr. Gorge K. Smith, who was killed in 1863, in his home with a gunshot.
The post war recession affected the mine workers extensively. There was great demand for coal but a lot of people including ex-military had joined the mining industry. This led to a drastic reduction of the wages of the miners. This was followed by an increase in violence that saw the establishment of private police forces for protection of the mines from destruction by workers.
The reputation of the Mollies started to grow when the “Miner’s Journal” (Moffet, 2010, p. 1) listed names of fifty people who had been killed between the year 1863 to the March of the year 1867. Although not all of the murders were connected to the Mollies, the ones that could be connected to the organization were categorically highlighted. The working conditions of the miners continued to worsen in the meantime and more miner strikes were seen.
The rate of murders increased and signatures of the Molly Maguires could be seen at murder scenes. They even went to the extent of giving notices of murders to victims using the “Coffin Notice” (Kenny, 1998, p. 13). When a man received a coffin notice, he would be found clubbed to death on the road or stabbed to death in secluded walkways. Mine foremen stayed indoors for fear of their lives and they were heavily guarded when they went to public places.
With the name Molly Maguire sounding like some kind of an enigma among the locals, more killings took place with members of the Molly Maguire killing people for whiskey and stabbing people to death over disagreements or personal dislike. The Mollies soon became synonymous to death such that whenever any man, great or small crossed lines with the Mollies, he was already dead. Men stayed armed with borrowed guns ready to gun down any man who was declared a target by their superiors in the Molly Maguire organization.
The frequency of killings was always on the rise obliging several organizations in the community to intervene. Despite intervention by the church and the members of the community to stop Molly Maguire killings, the killings went on and there was no viable solution to the locals of Pennsylvania until a well organized intervention was made by Mr. Gowen and Mr. Pinkerton (Moffet, 2010, p. 1).
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Mr. Gowen, who managed Philadelphia and Reading Railroad needed to exterminate the Mollies for the benefit of his organization and thus he contacted Mr. Pinkerton of the Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. After consulting Mr. Pinkerton, the agency took the job and assigned the case to James McParland.
He was recommended to work for Pinkerton’s by Mrs. Allan, Pinkerton’s wife and Captain Linden. He was then absorbed into the agency and given the Molly Maguires case to prove his expertise in detective work. He was properly suited for this role because he was Irish and also because he was highly skilled in detective work. After a couple of weeks McParland was sent to handle the Molly Maguire case under the masquerade of McKenna (Bimba, 1970, p. 22).
McKenna spent a number of weeks passing through coal mines and finally arrived in Pottsville. There he found companionship with Jennings who warned him against progressing with his adventure because the next building was a saloon that was maintained by a bloodthirsty leader of the Mollies.
The name of this man was Pat Dormer. After a serious consideration of the words of his companion, McKenna went into the saloon to find men drinking and dancing. After some hours, McKenna won the attention of the Mollies by buying drinks and dancing impressively. He then was called upon to play cards with the Mollies. Pat Dormer was his playmate against Hurley and Frazer. The latter player was known for his cruelty in beating up all Molly recruits.
The result of this was a fight between McKenna and Frazer (Dugas, 2002, p. 1). McKenna won the fight to the approval of the Molly congregation. He thus became a Molly Maguire hero overnight and gained the favor of the leader of the group in Pottsville, Pat Dormer. He later approached the leader, Pat Dormer and informed him that he wanted to look for a better job.
From this he got a letter ensuring a warm reception by the Molly Maguire leader in the coal mine north of Pats territory. This mine had close to ten thousand men. McKenna was accepted by Mollies in this region and they regarded him as having the required qualities to become a Molly Maguire. He was then initiated in the local saloon and after buying rounds of whiskey, he was pronounced an accomplished Molly Maguire (Campbell, 1992, p. 31).
McKenna used his rare aptitude to become the secretary of Shenadoah and after some time, his reputation continued to grow when he captured an armed enemy of the Molly Maguire who tried to kill Lawler and McKenna. McKenna captured him and locked him downstairs until he was taken to jail. The saving of Lawler’s life and his own, and the winning of the fight with Frazer therefore made McKenna a hero among the Molly Maguires in Shenadoah and made him be regarded as being among the most dangerous Mollies.
To make the Mollies confident in him, he accounted to them several false criminal accomplishments and also went ahead to lie that his financial welfare was as a result of the counterfeiting of money. He had to create such stories in order for the Molly Maguire to trust him since he could have been killed if they knew his real identity (Tonny, 1998, p. 1).
After getting this reputation, McKenna proceeded and wandered several counties in the region, getting acquainted to the worst Mollies of each area and learning new things every day about the Molly Maguire organization. He communicated with Pinkerton frequently and disclosed this information to him.
He found that the Molly Maguire organization was bureaucratically organized and that leaders of counties gave out passwords and signs to trusted members. He also found out that murder orders originated from the leaders of the counties, called body masters, whose main reason for ordering the murder of a superintendent was the refusal to hire a man favored by the Mollies (Campbell, 1992, p. 17).
Commendable in the assignment of McKenna is the fact that as a Molly Maguire leader in Shenadoah and other counties, McKenna saved a lot of lives. Apart from saving the lives of Molly Maguire members like Lawler, he always procrastinated or feigned illness whenever he was given a target for issuance of murder orders.
He also helped to unravel the mysteries behind the murders of men who were killed by the Molly Maguires. An example of such men is a man named Alexander Rae, who was killed in 1868 by clubbing. He was a mine superintended at the mine near Hester’s saloon. He discovered that there was a secret shared by Manus Coll and Hester and conducted a serious investigation that took him several months.
He would buy “Kelly the Bun” (Dugas, 2002, p. 23) also known as Manus Coll whiskey and try to talk to him about the secret they shared with Hester. After some tricks by Captain Linden, McKenna and Mr. Pinkerton Coll gave out a confession that he, Pat and two other Mollies named McHugh and Dooley had killed the man. After his confession, his accomplices were hanged for the murder.
By the time his role in the Molly Maguire case ended, McKenna had identified the most notorious members of the Molly Maguire. He had also investigated the deaths of a number of victims killed by the Molly Maguires and found their killers and he had learnt the entire organization of the Molly Moguires. The latter was to be used in planning strategies for the extermination of the group (Weisman, 1999, p. 1).
Despite his prowess in hiding his identity, some members of the Molly Maguire organization began to doubt his faithfulness to the group. This made a number of members of the organization to suspect that he was a detective. The effect of this was that a number of Molly Moguires sought him to kill him.
He escaped a number of poisoning attempts by getting word from good members of the group and by instinct. He returned to Philadelphia by train and was welcome like a hero in the Molly Maguire case. He gave his testimony which was followed by the hanging of nineteen members of the Molly Maguires and the extermination of the group. The extermination of the group was thus credited to his exceptional skills in detective work (Bimba, 1970, p. 15).
The Molly Maguire nightmare was very important to the United States. It helped the U.S. to realize the dangers brought about by uncontrolled immigration. This has been very instrumental in the fight against domestic terrorism because the U.S. has been very strict on immigration policies.
This is because immigration poses a very serious threat to the local population if the rate of immigration of a given group/race is uncontrolled. The Molly Maguires also started the quest for labor unions that defended mistreated workers. This has helped substantially in blocking one of the channels that can, possibly, bring about domestic terrorism. With the extensive network that the Molly Maguires had established in the United States, Americans learnt a lesson about the effects and dangers of vigilantism.
We should thus be grateful that the group ever existed because it gave us a glimpse of how hard it is to completely exterminate a vigilante group and its effects on the society. Since the late nineteenth century when the Molly Maguire organization was exterminated, America has been commendably watchful on the development of vigilante groups. By so doing, the U.S. has been able to keep domestic terrorism at bay.
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Kenny, K. (1998). Making sense of the Molly Maguires. New York. Oxford University Press.
Metress, Seamus. (2000). The Molly Maguire and the early struggle of labor. Web.
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