The Molly Maguires was a secret, fraternal society founded by the Irish in the 1800s. The group took its name from a woman who had led a movement against landlords in Ireland. Molly Maguires saw their mission as fighting against individuals and businesses that hurt common people.
It is well-known that Molly Maguires were active in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania, including in Centralia. In fact, the group was directly responsible for the death of Centralia’s founder, Alexander W. Rea.
On October 17, 1868, Alexander Rea was murdered as he was driving his buggy from Mount Carmel to Centralia PA. The perpetrators of the crime remained a mystery for nearly a decade. Finally in 1878 four men, who were identified as Molly Maguires, were tried, convicted, and hung for the murder.
The motive behind the killing of Centralia Pennsylvania’s founder was never entirely clear. At trial, some testified that the men hoped to steal a large amount of money that Rea was carrying. However, their reasons may have been tied to vigilante justice too.
Alexander Rea was a supervisor-level mine engineer. He had moved to the Centralia PA area specifically to oversee operations at a colliery for the Locust Mountain Coal and Iron Company.
Molly Maguires fought for the rights of the working class miner, many of which were Irish immigrants. This pitted them directly against coal mining companies and operation supervisors.
One of the Maguires’ tactics was the establishment of unions. Though they were also known for the use of intimidation, threats, and even murder. Things came to a head in 1875 when unionized miners went on strike throughout the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania. Violence between miners and company supervisors was widespread.
Eventually, the strike and the Molly Maguires were broken by James McParlan, a Pinkerton detective. He spied on the group and used this to testify against them. In 1877, ten men were hanged for their crimes during the strike – four in Jim Thorpe (Mauch Chunk) and six in Pottsville.
After the hangings, the group slowly lost power and faded into history. However, their impact upon the legacy of coal mining and Centralia Pennsylvania is remembered today.