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25 review for The Molly Maguires

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bill FromPA

    The short version of the Molly Maguire story is that Franklin Gowen, president of the Reading Railroad and representative of a consortium buying mining lands and distressed mines, concerned about increasing violence in the Pennsylvania coal fields, hired the Pinkerton agency to bring the perpetrators to justice. Most of the violence (beatings, arson, sabotage, and murder) was attributed to a secret organization called the Molly Maguires, an inner circle of the Eastern Pennsylvania chapters of th The short version of the Molly Maguire story is that Franklin Gowen, president of the Reading Railroad and representative of a consortium buying mining lands and distressed mines, concerned about increasing violence in the Pennsylvania coal fields, hired the Pinkerton agency to bring the perpetrators to justice. Most of the violence (beatings, arson, sabotage, and murder) was attributed to a secret organization called the Molly Maguires, an inner circle of the Eastern Pennsylvania chapters of the Irish-American fraternal organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH). Pinkerton agent James McParlan went undercover as “James McKenna”, became a member of the AOH, and was accepted into the Molly Maguires. After being a member of the Mollies for almost two years, McParlan ended his infiltration and testified as a prosecution witness in several murder and attempted murder trials. Eventually 20 Molly Maguires were executed by hanging, at least half of them due primarily or partially to McParland’s testimony. Though Broehl treats the story of the Mollies as an episode in the history of the labor movement, his book makes it clear that the Molly Maguires worked more on the level of exacting personal vengeance on individuals or businesses who crossed members of the organization, sometimes, but hardly exclusively, on employment-related matters. At the time the Mollies were active, an actual labor union, the Workmen’s Benevolent Association (WBA), was organizing in the coal fields in an attempt to negotiate wages and terms of employment with the mine owners. This union was essentially rendered ineffective after losing a lengthy strike in 1875, during the same period McParlan was working undercover in the Molly Maguires. The book opens with a lengthy section on early 19th century Ireland, telling about the lives of tenant farm workers, many of whom became the immigrants that made up the community from which the Mollies emerged. The case is made that secret societies were a common feature in the lives of Irish tenants, one which they reflexively adopted when dealing with discrimination and exploitation in the US. Once he comes to McParlan and his undercover work, Broehl tells the familiar story with great care. He deals wherever possible with primary source material and, when forced to rely on secondary documents, closely examines their potential for misrepresentation or omissions. The author seems to have let no relevant fact escape his notice, even when they seemingly contradict the general consensus of how events transpired, or when they stand isolated and unresolved, due to his inability to unearth further information and follow up the possible consequences. This gives the reader a sense of the potential but unrealized outcomes contained in the events as they unfolded and the uncertainty of ever knowing in many instances exactly what happened and why it happened. Among the details Broehl includes which I found fascinating to contemplate: More than one secret society Even before being initiated into the AOH, McParlan learned that a Molly had been killed in a nearby town and that the presumed murderers were members of yet another clandestine Irish organization, known as the “Chain Gang” or “Iron Clads”. More than one Pinkerton agent In addition to McParlan, Gowen hired other undercover Pinkerton agents who had infiltrated branches of the WBA, the miners’ union. It seems these other agents were unaware of McParlan’s presence and, apparently, he was unaware of theirs. Violent acts Broehl carefully considers the idea that McParlan may have acted as an agent provocateur, not only uncovering violent and murderous plots, but actually instigating, if not participating in them. Though the charge seems ultimately false, there is much circumstantial evidence to support it. McParlan did rise rapidly to positions of responsibility in the small organization due to both his literacy and apparent competence, at times acting as the designated substitute for the Shenandoah “bodymaster” (head of an AOH lodge). More violent acts As the number of murders and murder attempts attributed to the Mollies increased with no arrests being made, there began to be calls for vigilante justice in local newspapers. One night a mob attacked a house in Wiggans Patch and two people were killed, one a murderer identified by McParlan in his reports, and the other an 18 year old bride who opened her bedroom door and was shot dead by vigilantes who had entered the house. Since this occurred while McParland was still undercover, the killers he had identified were still closely guarded secrets, and it is likely from this and from the spelling of the town on a circular accusing the killers by name, that the information the vigilantes used came from the Pinkerton office. Broehl also considers, without reaching a definite conclusion, that the killers themselves may have been Pinkerton agents or Coal and Iron police under the direction of Pinkerton agents. In support of this possibility he unearthed information on an earlier case in Indiana where Pinkertons were accused of being instigators and possibly participants in the lynching of several prisoners whom they had earlier captured. Motivations Railroad president Gowan’s pursuit of the Molly Maguires had several motivations which worked together in interesting ways. As president of the railroad and representative of mine owners he certainly had an interest in eliminating the violence occurring in the coal fields. At the same time, he was working on breaking the miners’ union, both through external pressure in forcing a strike and through internal infiltration by Pinkerton agents. He successfully managed to conflate the crimes of the Molly Maguires with union activity in the press and the minds of the public, so that the anathema that fell on the Mollies managed to inhibit labor organization for decades afterward. Finally, Gowen had served one term as Schuylkill County district attorney in the 1860s and several prosecutions of Mollies which he undertook at that time were frustrated by witnesses who provided false alibis for the accused. One of the courses he pursued in the later trials was the aggressive prosecution for perjury of those who provided alibis. Violent ends Gowan, after losing, regaining, and again losing his control of the railroad, was found in a New York Hotel room dead of a pistol shot to the head. This occurred five days short of the eleventh anniversary of the execution of Jack Kehoe, publicly known as the “King of the Mollies”. Despite having been the prime mover in destroying an organization of violent and vengeful men, there is no evidence to indicate anything but suicide as the cause of his death.

  2. 4 out of 5

    John Peel

    The story of the Molly Maguires is filled with action, murder, spying and betrayal. The events took place in the coalfields of Pennsylvania around 1875. Irish laborers were being abused by the mine and railway owners, so some of them took the law into their own hands, meeting out their idea of justice. A Pinkerton detective went deep undercover to root out the group and punish the guilty parties. Despite all of this, however, the book is slow and dull, and manages to make everything sound almost The story of the Molly Maguires is filled with action, murder, spying and betrayal. The events took place in the coalfields of Pennsylvania around 1875. Irish laborers were being abused by the mine and railway owners, so some of them took the law into their own hands, meeting out their idea of justice. A Pinkerton detective went deep undercover to root out the group and punish the guilty parties. Despite all of this, however, the book is slow and dull, and manages to make everything sound almost boring. There's no sense of the urgency or danger involved, and his endless moralizing doesn't help either.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mitch

    FILLED with info. This book is basically a fact-check on everything known about what went down. Pretty well written as far as these things go. It does an excellent job of pulling in things I'd never heard about. Like the history of the Mollies in Ireland, and the anti-Irish climate of the times. Plenty of dirt on the coal barron Gower. I learned a lot I hadn't known, but it got tedious after awhile. FILLED with info. This book is basically a fact-check on everything known about what went down. Pretty well written as far as these things go. It does an excellent job of pulling in things I'd never heard about. Like the history of the Mollies in Ireland, and the anti-Irish climate of the times. Plenty of dirt on the coal barron Gower. I learned a lot I hadn't known, but it got tedious after awhile.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  6. 5 out of 5

    Douglas

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  8. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

  9. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  11. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  12. 5 out of 5

    xDEAD ENDx

  13. 5 out of 5

    John

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ashton Zanecki

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amber Wingerson

  18. 4 out of 5

    Louis

  19. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Conrad

  20. 5 out of 5

    Robbie

  21. 4 out of 5

    THOMAS RYASKO

  22. 4 out of 5

    The Celtic Rebel (Richard)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Appalachian Liberation Library

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sean

  25. 5 out of 5

    John Somers

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