MOLLY MAGUIRES, an Irish American secret society which maintained numerous branches in the anthracite coal regions of Pennsylvania, U.S.A., from 1854 to 1877, and perhaps later. The name was imported from Ireland, where it had been used to designate one of the Ribbon societies that devoted its energies to intimidating and maltreating process servers and the agents of landlords, and whose greatest activity was between 1835 and 1855. The Irish society of Molly Maguires seems to have been organized in 1843 in the barony of Farney, Co. Monaghan, to co-operate with the ribbonmen, and its membership seems to have been confined to the very lowest classes. The Molly Maguires of Pennsylvania consisted of similar classes of Irishmen, but there seems to have been no connexion between the two societies. Every member of the American organization was also a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an association organized for benevolent purposes, and having branches throughout the United States and Great Britain. To the Ancient Order of Hibernians none might be admitted but persons of Irish birth or descent, who were Roman Catholics, and whose parents were Roman Catholics; but notwithstanding this requirement, the organization—being a secret society—was under the ban of the Catholic Church. At the head of each division or lodge there was a “body master,” who communicated directly with a county delegate; the county delegates reported to the state delegate, and the state delegates to a national delegate. The supervision of the whole order was vested in a “Board of Erin,” meeting quarterly in England, Ireland or Scotland, and at each meeting arranging a new code of signals and passwords, which were communicated to the national delegate in the United States by the steward of a transatlantic steamship, and thence were transmitted to the various subdivisions. In the mining districts of Pennsylvania the organization fell under the control of a lawless element, which created the inner order of “Molly Maguires,” with the object, it appears, of intimidating the Welsh, English, and German miners, and of ridding the region of mine superintendents, bosses and police who should make themselves in any way objectionable to members of the order. Any member having a grievance might lay a formal complaint before his “body master,” who thereupon conferred with the officers of the neighbouring divisions and secured members from a distance to make away with the offending person. Under this system the crimes in a given district were always committed by strangers rendering identification of the criminal difficult and escape easy. The society grew in strength during the Civil War, when the increased demand for coal caused an influx of miners, many of them lawless characters, into the coal-fields, and in 1862-1863 it opposed enlistments in the Federal Army and roughly treated some of the enlisting officers. After the war its activity was shown by an increasing number of assassinations, burnings and other outrages, until by 1875 it completely dominated the mining classes and forced a general strike in the coal regions. After repeated efforts to bring the criminals to justice had failed, Franklin B. Gowen (1836-1889), president of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, sent James McParlan, an Irish Catholic and a Pinkerton detective (who some thirty years later attracted attention in the investigation of the assassination of Governor Steunenberg of Idaho), to the mining region in 1873; he joined the order, lived among the “Molly Maguires” for more than two years, and even became secretary of the Shenandoah division, one of the most notoriously criminal lodges of the order. The evidence he secured led to the arrest, conviction, and execution or imprisonment of a large number of members during the years 1876-1877, and subsequently the outrages ceased and the society was disbanded.
See F. P. Dewees, The Molly Maguires Philadelphia, 1877); Allan Pinkerton, The Molly Maguires and the Detectives (New York, 1877); E. W. Lucy, The Molly Maguires of Pennsylvania; (London, n.d.); The Commonwealth versus John Kehoe et al. (Pottsville, Pa., 1878); and an article by J. F. Rhodes in Amer. Hist. Review, April, 1910.