In 1877, Franklin B. Gowen was the wealthiest coal mine owner in the world. He was the President of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, a mining concern, and also of the related Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. But it wasn’t enough.
Why, in some of his coal mine, the men who worked there had the unmitigated gall to complain about his safety standards (after 110 men died in a mine fire in 1869) and even to unionise (as if Gowen’s hired thugs hadn’t killed 10 people while busting a strike on his railroad that same year).
Nevertheless, Gowen’s business ineptitude (he managed to bring the railroad the brink of bankruptcy twice in the 16 years he ran it) and corruption (he was the prime mover behind one of the great price-fixing deals of the 18th century, which helped to maintain his coal fortune) knew virtually no bounds. In 1877, he hired the Pinkertons to infiltrate a supposed secret society called the Molly Maguires, which he claimed existed inside the union at his mines and committed assorted crimes at the behest of its members.
Evidence of a sort was produced, and men were accused, tried and convicted – in the newspapers. The actual legal proceedings were mere formalities. Ten men were hung on June 21, 1877 for assorted crimes, some of which may even have existed (let alone been committed by the men in question). Another ten would be executed by the state – and several more killed by vigilantes – before Gowen’s bloodlust was sated.
Today, some historians question whether the Molly Maguires even existed, while others insist that they did, but were mischaracterised. The is a general consensus that Gowen was a murderous buffoon, however.
Molly — Molly Maguire
Molly Maguires — The Dubliners
The Sons of Molly — The Irish Balladeers
Lament for the Molly Maguires — The Irish Rovers