In the 1870s, an expanding economic depression pitted mine owners and their laborers, particularly the Irish, in conflict over wages and working conditions. The situation spawned a wave of violence. The Irish and the Molly Maguires, a secret organization linked to them, soon became a scapegoat for those in authority.
Private police forces were commissioned by the state but paid by the coal companies, sworn to protect property of the mine owners. The miners believed their real purpose was to spy upon targeted agitators and intimidate and break up strikers.
The subject of the Molly Maguires remains controversial today with many refusing to believe the organization existed or that its members were guilty of the crimes of which they were accused. Others believe they operated secretly and used the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a legitimate benevolent organization, as a front. Probably more atrocities were attributed to the Mollies than occurred. But the organization’s existence is documented and people do have a tendency to strike back at oppression.
The largest owner of coal lands was the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, headed by Franklin B. Gowen. The P&R was a monopoly controlling the rail lines and the coal fields and it was Gowen’s goal to control the workforce as well. The miners formed a union, the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association, and Gowen was determined to wipe it out.
Gowen’s opportunity came when a strike led to sabotage and then the murder of 10 mine bosses. Gowen accused the WBA of harboring terrorists—the Molly Maguires. He manipulated the press to convince the public most of the Irish were Mollies and responsible for the murders and sabotage.
The end result was a series of trials which resulted in the conviction of 41 people and the hanging of 20 miners. The WBA was crushed and it was a long time before another union improved mine working conditions. At this late date it’s difficult to separate legitimate from false accusations.
I grew up hearing stories about those days from my grandfather and other older residents who had the stories passed down to them. Of the 20 men hanged, four were from my home area. My historical novel Watch The Hour focuses on this conflict between mine owners and their Irish employees in the 1870s in the coal region.
Into this milieu I introduced a young coal company police officer, a decent fellow who does his best to follow orders while trying to be fair to the workers whose lot he sees as little different from his own. Despite his efforts at fairness, his job makes him the enemy of the Irish. I complicated matters by having him fall in love with an Irish lass. Like a certain young couple from Verona, these lovers had to vie not just with family differences, but also with the society in which they dwelt. And Ben faces the additional problem of being pressured by the mine owner to marry his granddaughter who is also in love with the youth.
For their love, Ben and Jennie must risk the enmity of family and friends, their religion, their jobs and their very lives.
Coal mining remains a tough and dangerous occupation. Today, for the most part, the Irish are accepted and valued members of society. But the prejudice they endured still exists and can be seen in the plight of other strangers in the land. Maybe one day man will change.
A retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth lives and writes in central Pennsylvania. Since his retirement he has served as librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with research and genealogy. He is the author of 10 novels and publishes regularly in a variety of magazines, both print and on line.
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I love your Cover art! Can you tell us about your book, The Limping Dog?
Gavin Cutter, an artist living in an isolated village on the New England coast, witnesses the crash of a sailing ship onto a reef. The first aboard the wreck, he rescues a dog, the only living creature on the vessel. Ron Myers, wealthy owner of a growing computer firm, and the ship’s crew have disappeared without a trace.
When insurance investigator TJ Flood questions Cutter and others, he learns a sheriff’s deputy denies knowledge of a woman who also witnessed the incident. Myers is alleged to have developed a radical new microprocessor system. Some assert the system was lost with its creator, others believe it exists and have devious plans to profit from the invention.
Flood is attracted to Cutter’s daughter, Dee. Together they investigate the ship incident and strange coincidences surrounding it. The result is threats, danger—and several murders.
Very intriguing story line! Where can readers find your book online?
Purchase Link for The Limping Dog
J.R., thank you so much for guesting today and giving us a glimpse into history and for sharing about your newest release.
If you'd like to enter for a chance to win one of J.R.'s books (Watch The Hour or The Limping Dog, winner’s choice), please be sure to comment on this blog post. Hope you can join the chat!