The Molly Maguires

Background and History

The Molly Maguires was an Irish 19th-century secret society active in Ireland, Liverpool and parts of the eastern United States, best known for their activism among Irish-American and Irish immigrant coal miners in Pennsylvania. 

Faced with the prospect of starvation during the Great Potato Famine, more than a million Irish emigrated to America, where a large concentration settled in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania in search of work. Irish Catholics were routinely met with discrimination based on both their religion and heritage and often encountered help wanted signs with disclaimers that read, “Irish need not apply.” Accepting the most physically demanding and dangerous mining jobs, the men and their families were forced to live in overcrowded, company-owned housing, buy goods from company-owned shops and visit company-owned doctors. In many cases, workers wound up owing their employers at the end of each month.

When the Civil War broke out and miners were drafted to join what they perceived to be “a rich man’s war,” they began to rebel. After a series of often violent conflicts, twenty suspected members of the Molly Maguires were convicted of murder and other crimes and were executed by hanging in 1877 and 1878. This history remains part of Schuylkill and Carbon County Pennsylvania lore.