Were Civil War draft protestors hung as Molly Maguires?

Tom McBride explores this question in his new book, Civil War Draft Resistance and the Molly Maguires.

McBride will hold an inaugural book signing today from 2- 4 p.m. at the Treasure Shop, 44 Broadway in Jim Thorpe.

The book is coauthored by Tom McBride and his wife, Betty Lou McBride, owners of the Old Jail Museum, a property they bought from Carbon County in 1995. During the 1800s, the prison held and hung seven Irish coal miners who had been persecuted and prosecuted as a hooligan gang termed by the press as "Molly Maguires."

In his book, McBride focuses on the period from 1863 to 1879, from the enactment of the Civil War draft to the last executions of two "Molly Maguires" in Carbon County.

McBride's book asks the reader to see yourself as a juror in the trial of James McDonnell, and to decide if he is innocent or guilt as charged.

To prepare for his 130-page book, McBride read through 8,000 pages of original transcripts and scores of newspaper reports over the fifteen-year period since acquiring the jail.

As the Civil War continued into 1863, the Union was finding it difficult to provide the needed men and material. They turned to Carbon County for coal and for men. A draft had been passed, and anyone who could not ante up $300 for a substitute was be forced into military service.

The Civil War was unpopular among the Irish miners, who feared that once the slaves were emancipated, they would take mining jobs from the Irish. President Lincoln had issued orders to draft miners for the Union army. The miners were forming their own union to prevent it.

A force of 500 members of the 10th New Jersey Regiment was sent to Carbon County to enforce the draft. Mine operator George Smith was believed to have helped the military by giving them the names and locations of the homes of troublesome workers who were mine organizers.

On the evening of November 5, 1863, men knocked on the door saying that they had a letter for Smith. When he came down the stairs, he was fatally shot. Members of his family were home at the time. Between 60 and 100 men were arrested by the military. Two of the men were Charles Sharpe and James McDonnell.

After the Civil War, the Reading Coal & Iron Company expanded into the northeastern anthracite mines under Franklin B, McGowen. He hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to crack the fledgling union movement. He popularized the term "Molly Maguires" to describe an organization that committed violent acts in support of this union movement.

Fifteen years after the murder of Smith, McDonnell was arrested in Illinois, and Sharpe was arrested in Luzerne County. Sharpe and McDonnell were separately brought to trial. James McDonnell and Charles Sharpe acknowledged participation in the attack on Smith but protested that they were innocent of the murder.

McBride focuses on prosecuting attorney, Charles Albright, a former Union General.

"Albright was a strong-willed person," McBride noted. "He was of a military mind and believed anyone who was not 100 percent Yankee was no good. Albright came to court wearing his Civil War uniform, complete with saber, and prosecutes McDonnell as a Molly Maguire, and hangs him."

McBride said that the jury was largely composed of German Mahoning Valley farmers who spoke English as a second language, and had a tradition of obeying men in officer's uniforms.

"They didn't understand the American judicial system, but when they saw someone standing in front of them in uniform, they were impressed," McBride said.

McBride urges the reader to review the narrative and the transcripts and decide for yourself about the guilt or innocence of James McDonnell and the existence of the Molly Maguires.

McBride will be available to answer your questions at today's book signing.