The Molly Maguires
People of many different nationalities settled in Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines. Conflicts developed not only among people of different cultural backgrounds but also between laborers and owners of the mines. The struggle between labor and management is illustrated in the story of the Molly Maguires, an Irish group which settled in eastern Pennsylvania.
The Molly Maguires were perhaps the most gruesome chapter in the history of Pennsylvania. The violent and dramatic case of these people is a true life murder and detective story. To understand the conflict the Molly Maguires went through with mine officials for better conditions, it is necessary to go back to early-nineteenth-century Ireland, where most of the land was owned by the English. While the English prospered, the Irish reduced to the status of miserable peasants, living primarily on potatoes. In the 1840s, the potato crop was ruined by blight, and the Irish died of starvation by the thousands. Those who could came to the United States. During the 1820s, only fifty-two thousand Irish had come to the United States, but in the nine years from 1846 to 1854, 1.2 million Irish left their homeland and sought a better life in America.
The Irish, who were mostly Catholic, came to a country that was overwhelmingly Protestant. The result was a head-on collision. The Irish experienced discrimination on the job as well as in the political arena. They again found hunger and poverty. Denied the chance to work, helplessly they watched their families starve and freeze. Those who sought work in the coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania found that only the lowest-paying, unskilled jobs were open to them. The better-paying jobs were usually reserved for the Welsh and the English.
Life in the coal fields of Pennsylvania was extremely difficult. The men worked long hours for low pay, in unsafe surroundings with no compensation if they were killed or injured. The miners were forced to live in company-owned shacks and had to trade in company stores at excessive prices. Almost every miner was in debt to the company for rent and food which came out of his wages.
The English and the Welsh held the best jobs in the mines and discriminated against the Irish. In order to fight back, the Irish formed a secret organization known as the Molly Maguires. The name of the society was taken from a group of anti-landlord agitators in the 1840s led by a widow named Molly Maguire.
The Molly Maguires organized about 1860 within a respectable society, known as the Ancient Order of Hiberians, it was most likely a revival of what was known as "Ribbonism" of Ireland. This had been formed to defend the interests of peasants against the oppression of the absentee landlords. Its methods were those of terrorism.
The Molly Maguires, also known as the Buckshots, White Boys, and Sleepers , centered in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, more particularly in Cass Township. Although they...