What is needed is an explanation that breaks free of the two existing poles of interpretation: the Molly Maguires as depraved killers, on the one hand, and the Molly Maguires as innocent victims of oppression – whether economic, religious, or ethnic – on the other. There were Molly Maguires in the Pennsylvania anthracite region and they killed people. The historian’s job is to explain why.
Twenty Irish immigrants, suspected of belonging to a secret terrorist organization called the Molly Maguires, were hanged in Pennsylvania in the 1870s for the murder of sixteen men. Ever since, there has been enormous disagreement over who the Molly Maguires were, what they did, and why they did it. This lecture offers a new interpretation of the Molly Maguires, their transatlantic origins, and their actions and motivation.