• Echoes of Erin
  • Sundays 12:30PM - 2:00PM
  • WEDO Radio 810AM

One hundred thousand welcomes to you to my official blog of all things Irish from me, Diane Byrnes, host of the Echoes of Erin radio show on WEDO Radio 810AM.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Molly Maguires

The theme for Echoes of Erin on March 30th was The Molly Maguires. In the 1840's and 1850's thousands of Irish came to the coal fields of Pennsylvania to find a new life and freedom. They left behind hunger, intolerance, absentee landlords, land agents and the English government; or so they thought.
Unfortunately, they found the same intolerance and bigotry through the mine operators and their agents who were controlled by the same class of absentee English owners who had evicted them from their homes in Ireland.
In the anthracite fields of Pennsylvania, the name 'The Molly Maguires', was taken by a group of determined Irishmen as a means to counteract and defend against the unscrupulous mine owners and the bigots known as 'The Know Nothings".
The miners had attempted to organize and establish a union that could cope with the conditions and wages of the miners. But by the late 1850's the only organized group willing to fight the mine operators was "The Molly Maguires".
Hal Smith, a Graduate Student at the University of Pittsburgh hails from Danville, Pennsylvania. He lives in Carbon County where much of the history of The Molly Maguires takes place. Hal has done some extensive research on The Molly Maguires and will be giving a presentation on Thursday, April 24th at the Pitt Student Union at 8:00PM. If you are interested in attending and / or need further information, email Hal at has56@pitt.edu.
Hal was my guest on Echoes of Erin March 30th as we presented 'song and story' on The Molly Maguires. You can listen to that program at www.wedo810.com, click on Program Guide, click on Echoes of Erin, click on Program # 1045.
Hal has written an essay on The Molly Maguires; we used some of the material for the radio program and Hal will incorporate portions of it in his presentation on April 24th.

The Ireland Molly

130th Anniversary of the Execution of "Molly Maguires"
Patrick Hester, Peter McHugh, and Patrick Tully
Presented by Hal A. Smith

From western Allegheny County to eastern Carbon County, Pennsylvania's miners had frightful jobs in the 1800's. They worked 12 hour shifts by candlelight in mines without escape exits. Accidents killed hundreds annually. Miners earned under $2/day to pay expensive company stores and company homes, while bosses caned children sorting coal. Unions were illegal and companies blacklisted strikers, so miners formed the "Molly Maguire" gang. From 1871-1875 Mollies burned 10 coal mines at Mount Carmel and Locust Gap.

The Reading Railroad owned most of those mines thanks to Frank Gowen and Pennsylvania's Supreme Court. In 1866 as its attorney, Gowen persuaded the Court to give it a vital rail system. Then the Reading fixed shipping prices, bought competitors, and acquired 125,000 acres of coal.

In 1867 Gowen litigated "Philadelphia & Reading RR. v. Hummell” wherein a train started up against 8 homes without a warning whistle and severed a boy’s leg. Jurors favored the boy and Gowen appealed. Pennsylvania's Supreme Court decided trains had a right to presume nobody would trespass, didn’t have to whistle, and could run at full speed. (Later in "Pennsylvania RR. v. Lewis," the Court told the Reading’s competitor trains couldn’t travel at full speed disregarding likely trespassers). Gowen won, became the Reading’s president, and turned his legal skills on Mollies.

Gowen blamed Mollies' sabotage on the “Ancient Order of Hibernians." The AOH was an Irish Catholic fraternity that had its first state convention in Pittsburgh's "Emerald Hall" in 1870. On March 17, 1870 Very Reverend John Hickey, Vicar General of Pittsburgh's Diocese, welcomed the AOH to St Paul's Cathedral, granting ecclesiastical recognition. Miners, mostly Irish, favored the AOH because unlike companies it paid accident victims benefits. Locust Gap and Mount Carmel’s AOH president Patrick Hester was elected Tax Assessor- a miner now taxing companies.

In 1868, Gowen's police shot and jailed robber James Finnelly. Before dying in jail, Finnelly allegedly accused Hester and Ashland’s AOH president Tom Donahue of the Columbia County murder-robbery of mine boss Alexander Rea. Donahue was tried and acquitted. Hester was jailed past 2 court sessions and released untried.

Gowen hired Pinkerton's secret police, who investigated "Mollies" in Carbon, Columbia, Northumberland, and Schuylkill Counties from 1873, and in Westmoreland County from 1875-1878. In 1876 the Reading conducted show trials resulting in convictions of over 40 Molly Maguires.

In 1876 Pinkertons promised Manus Kull, a homeless person jailed for countless armed robberies: accuse Hester of planning Rea’s death and go free. Kull agreed, and was pardoned so he could testify.

Pinkertons arrested Hester, AOH Delegate Peter McHugh, and Patrick Tully that November. Although Rea’s was the only alleged Molly murder in Hester’s Division, newspapers screamed Hester “waded in blood for years.” Judge Elwell picked a Columbia County jury with no Irish Catholics or coal town residents. All jurors knew of the case beforehand, and 2 jurors admitted they had an opinion on guilt, but claimed it wouldn't affect their judgment.

Kull testified Hester said Rea would carry $18,000 one Saturday and lent him a gun. Kull said Hester wasn’t at the murder, nor was Donahue involved. Kull said they didn’t discuss killing Rea. He said he, McHugh, and Tully drank whisky and robbed Rea. But trigger-happy Kull “couldn’t remember” if he or Tully shot Rea first. The first shot made Rea dash, so they killed him. Rea carried $60. They divided it, dealing Kull an extra share and Hester none.

Actually, Hester may not have planned it, because as tax assessor he knew Rea only delivered wages Fridays.

The Reading’s paid prosecutor, Francis Hughes, harangued 9 hours on Molly “terrorism,” calling Hester the “very devil." Judge Elwell instructed that by law planners of unintentionally deadly robberies were guilty of murder. Jurors convicted the 3 prisoners in under 2 hours. Gowen remarked: "The name of Molly Maguire being attached to a man's name is sufficient to hang him."

On October 2, 1877, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court reviewed Hester’s case in Pittsburgh’s coal-blackened Grant Street courthouse.

The Pittsburgh Courthouse on Grant's Hill in 1857.

The Court was in Pittsburgh because that July Pittsburgh's militia refused to strikebreak. Governor Hartranft sent in the National Guard, which shot 49 civilians. Crowds burned trains for 3 miles. Allegheny County’s lawyers blamed the riot on soldiers. The New York Times reported "not a stick of wood injured… up to the time the troops arrived at Pittsburgh." But in “Gibson’s Son & Co. v. Allegheny County” the Court blamed Pittsburgh: “We see no evidence of any serious attempt upon the part of the local authorities to suppress it at the time of its commencement.” The Court made Allegheny County pay railroads and merchants $2,772,350.

Gowen personally joined Hughes to argue before the Court against Hester’s appeal. Hester’s lawyers showed the “1860 Two Term Act” protected prisoners jailed and untried within 2 court sessions. In 1869 the prosecution released Hester 3 days after his second session in jail without trial. Hester’s lawyers said if the Court wouldn’t call this acquittal, theoretically “a prisoner can be re-arrested and imprisoned for the same offence” and “perpetual imprisonment could follow without trial.”

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Warren Woodward,

the presiding judge in Reading from 1861-1874, gave the court’s decision. He set legal precedent that the Two Term Act didn’t automatically protect prisoners. Woodward said Hester hadn’t asked to use it for his 1869 release, so prosecutors could re-charge him.

Next Hester's lawyers argued “At the time of this trial a strong prejudice existed in this community against the "Ancient Order of Hibernians." Molly "trials in Schuylkill county had just been concluded and it was impossible to obtain an unprejudiced jury. All that seemed necessary was to find that a prisoner was a 'Mollie Maguire' and conviction followed."
Woodward responded that Judge Elwell's "instructions upon legal questions were so intelligent and so clear as to make their apprehension and application by the jury free from the chance of mistake or doubt. In relation to the general features of the case, there is nothing, therefore, that requires remark."According to Pennsylvania Constitution Article 4: "no pardon shall be granted...except... after full hearing, upon due public notice and in open session." Hester’s lawyers said the Pardon Board announced it wouldn’t meet on the regularly scheduled hearing date when Kull announced he'd apply. Subpoenaed papers showed the Board didn’t certify any notice was given or meeting convened. Further, Kull’s pardon didn’t fully restate the penalty to be repealed, including returning stolen property. Hester’s lawyers claimed Kull’s pardon was void, so Kull couldn’t testify. Woodward decided: "Upon irregularities and omissions of form such as these, it was proposed that [County] judges... should... annul the deliberate action of the governor taken in the execution of a constitutional power expressly conferred. There was no allegation that the pardon was obtained by fraud." Phrased differently: the Constitution allowed the governor to pardon Kull, so Columbia County judges couldn’t void this unconstitutionally enacted pardon. Woodward agreed with all Gowen's points. Although the Court upheld Hester’s conviction, 2,600 petitioned for Hester's pardon because Kull’s testimony was uncorroborated. The Pardon Board was chaired by Commonwealth Secretary Matthew "Boss" Quay, for whom trains made special stops when he traveled near his Beaver County home.
During the 1877 strike, Quay ordered the National Guard to Pittsburgh while Hartranft was beyond telegraph communication in Wyoming. An Allegheny Grand Jury charged Quay with forging Hartranft's signature on the order, but Quay refused to appear. When RNC member William Kemble was convicted of bribing legislators to pay railroads $4,000,000 for strike damage, Quay called the BOP in extra session and pardoned Kemble in 20 minutes. At a legislative hearing, Kemble called bribery "common aid," and said: "I know the Constitution has got a lot of stuff in it that none of you live up to."
But Hester was a poor lobbyist. Quay denied his petition.
On March 25, 1878, 30 railroad police guarded Bloomsburg's jail. Hester comforted his wife and 4 daughters whose shrieks penetrated jail walls. Tully’s wife whispered, “I have nothing left now but me broken heart.”
At the gallows, Hester threw his chest forward, head back, and said “I did not plot the murder of Rea.” Gowen’s police strapped the 3 prisoners' legs, and a blindfolded man dropped them. But the drop was too short to break necks. Horrified spectators turned away as Hester breathed heavily, convulsing. Three hearts took 9-12 minutes to stop.

Gowen, hiding behind the trial's metaphorical blindfold, delivered Hester's body on a special train to a funeral attended by 2,500 miners. His brother Owen left the area and settled in McKeesport. Owen's great-nephew John Hester became a Superior Court judge and sought Hester's posthumous pardon like that of accused "Molly" Jack Kehoe. "At weddings and wakes, where all the relatives got together, they'd talk about Uncle Paddy," Judge Hester recalled in his Pittsburgh office. None of them doubted that Hester hadn't plotted the robbery.
Pittsburgh’s courthouse burned and was demolished in 1882. Ten years later Homestead strikers fought off 300 attacking Pinkertons. Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, including judges who denied Hester's appeal, indicted the strikers for treason. It carried the death penalty, but an Allegheny County jury acquitted them.
In 2005 and 2006, Pennsylvania’s House and Senate unanimously resolved that the Reading monopoly and pro-railroad judges deprived Mollies of Due Process, and requested Governor Rendell's acknowledgement. Pittsburgh's State Representatives DeLuca, Frankel, Readshaw, and Walko, and Westmoreland Representative Petrarca are sponsoring House Resolution 629 to remind Rendell of the violation of Due Process. Hester, McHugh, and Tully are still awaiting the governor's acknowledgement.



At 10:37 PM, Blogger Rakovsky said...

The PA Supreme Court case is entitled "Hester et al. v. Commonwealth, 85 Pa. 139 (1877)."

In 1869 Bloomsburg's Court released Hester 3 days after his second session in jail without trial. Before Hester was released on the third day, prosecutors had entered a “nol pros” motion not to prosecute Hester. Hester’s lawyers appealed that if Pennsylvania's Supreme Court wouldn’t equate this to an acquittal, theoretically “a prisoner can be re-arrested and imprisoned for the same offence” and “perpetual imprisonment could follow without trial.”

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Warren Woodward, the presiding judge in Reading from 1861-1874, gave the court’s decision. Woodward said he needn't decide if the Two Term Act barred re-arrest on the same offense (Pennsylvania Courts were divided on the question until 1943). Instead, Woodward made an unprecedented interpretation: prosecutors entered a “nol pros” motion before Bloomsburg’s court had released Hester; so the court had released him on the “nol pros” motion instead of the Two Term rule. Woodward added that Bloomsburg's court records didn't exclude an exception to the Two Term Act: a term doesn't count toward the "Two Terms" if a prisoner's trial is impractible in that term. On the other hand, Woodward didn't say that the exception applied, either. His decision was simply chronological: the nol pros motion came before Hester's discharge, so the discharge was based on the nol pros motion, regardless of the expiration of two terms.

(Gowen also argued that prisoners must explicitly invoke the Two Term rule for it to apply to them. Gowen cited a case as justification Commonwealth v. Brown, 2 W. N. C. 153, but the case didn't mention this proposal at all. Nor did Woodward mention this in his decision.)

According to an October 4 1877 Pittsburgh Post article: Defense lawyer John Freeze complained that in Columbia County's trial, prosecutors blamed the AOH “with every crime that was committed, whether it be an Englishman, an Irishman, or a Welshman. He claimed that at the time this murder was committed there was no such organization as the Mollie Maguires, though the Independent Order of Hibernians did exist.”

I suspect Hester's brother Owen was the brother who settled in Mckeesport and is the grandfather of Judge John hester, but am not certain.


Post a Comment

<< Home