The Molly Maguires
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 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."
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.
Labels: The Molly Maguires 3-30-08