Decoding the Myths of Asa Packer, 1805?-1879

Packer and the Molly Maguires

Much has been made of the Molly Maguires and their violent tactics in the Pennsylvania anthracite region during the 1860s and 1870s. As a result, this pages focuses on Asa Packer’s small, but important connections with the trials of suspected Molly Maguire members. While it is doubtful that the Molly Maguires existed as an organized, widespread group of in coal mining areas of Pennsylvania, Irish and Irish-American laborers certainly knew of and used violent means to redress perceived social injustices. Though the first alleged killing by the Molly Maguire’s occurred on June 14, 1862, the first trial took place after the final murder ascribed to the group. John P. Jones, a superintendent, was murdered on September 3, 1875 in Carbon County. Three men faced trials, but one of them turned evidence and never faced a trial. The other two, Michael J. Doyle and Edward Kelly, faced separate trials. The Carbon County district attorney, E. R. Siewers, played a minor role in the trial. Instead, Asa Packer sent his personal attorney Allen Craig to prosecute the defendants. Two other railroads also sent lawyers to lead the prosecution. Carbon County legal scholar John P. Lavelle calls Packer’s roll in the trials “secret, subtle, but stunning in its impact.” A jury composed predominately of German-speakers who may not have known English convicted Doyle and Kelly who received sentences to hang. Although the first Molly Maguire trials took place in Mauch Chunk, this celebrated affair remains absent in all of the biographies about Packer. Providing legal help for a trial that almost certainly would have ended in a guilty verdict suggests a certain fear of labor critical to the success of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

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