Jack Kehoe



Our Division was named in honor of
John J. (Black Jack) Kehoe (1837-1878);
a heroic Irish-American pioneer of workers’
rights and active member of the Ancient
Order of Hibernians.  

In 1849, at the age of 12, John J.
Kehoe and his family emigrated
from County Wicklow, Ireland, to
the United States during the height
of the Great Famine (Irish Potato
Famine). Kehoe’s early life was
spent laboring as an anthracite coal
miner. After settling in Girardville,
Schuylkill County, he opened up a
tavern  and quickly became a well-respected businessman in the community, as  well as becoming a High Constable. This was an unheard of accomplishment  in the “Big Business” dominated region, which was largely  anti-Irish-Catholic.  

During this time, Kehoe met and married Mary Ann O’Donnell, and  the two had several children together. They had the American dream, and  what seemed to be a flourishing future, but John Kehoe never forgot his  experiences in the mines. Many years of enduring ruthless wage cuts and  horrific working conditions, which claimed the lives of many workers,  led Kehoe to become an outspoken proponent for miner’s rights.  

Kehoe’s efforts to rally for the unionization of workers of the  Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, a subsidiary of the  Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, lead to an alleged affiliation with  the Molly Maguires and the moniker of “King of the Mollies.” The papers  portrayed the Molly Maguires as a clandestine, renegade group that  terrorized the coal companies and their officials, while using the  Ancient Order of Hibernians as a front. Word quickly traveled to the  president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, Franklin B. Gowen.  

In 1873, Gowen hired the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to  dismantle the Molly Maguires. Pinkerton employed an Irish immigrant by  the name of James McParland, under the guise “James McKenna” to go  undercover and infiltrate the Mollies. McParland provided the  information that aided in sending ten men to the gallows on June 21,  1877, “The Day of the Rope.” The following year, on December 18th 1878,  John Kehoe was condemned to hang for his alleged complicity in the  murder of mine foreman Frank W.S. Langdon, fifteen years earlier.  

Over one hundred years later, in early January of 1979, Governor  Milton J. Shapp issued a full pardon to John J. Kehoe, thanks in great  part the efforts of his great grandson. He refused to accept the verdict  and worked tirelessly to have his great grandfather's name cleared.