WIGGANS

DECEMBER 10, 1875

John "Black Jack" Kehoe

 John Kehoe, known best by his nickname "Black Jack", was a charismatic Irish immigrant whose name continues, even today, to symbolize the heroic heart and soul of those who mine the earth. Born in 1847, Jack came to this country from County Wicklow, Ireland. 

He is often referred to as "The King of the Mollies".

Although Kehoe worked as a miner for several years after arrival in America, he bettered himself and rose in the community ranks. Following a move from the southern end of the county to the already booming coal town of Girardville, Jack opened a tavern and became a well liked businessman. Well liked, that is, by everyone but Franklin Gowen, the President of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company. Gowen disliked Kehoe's rallying of the miners toward unionization. He tried to repress the miners' efforts in every way possible.

Once settled in Girardville, Kehoe became its High Constable.  But he did not forget those he had labored alongside in the dark bowels underground.  An active member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and a staunch supporter of the rights of coal miners, Kehoe earned the respect of the coal miners and resentment of the owners.  He was an eloquent spokesperson for the union movement.

 

Jack married Mary Ann O'Donnell Kehoe and they had several children.  Mary Ann was the daughter of Margaret and Manus O'Donnell of nearby Wiggans Patch. 

In 1875, Mary Ann's father Manus had passed on. Her mother, the Widow O'Donnell and her three adult children, Charles, James, and Ellen still lived there in the family home.  Ellen was married to Charles McAllister and they had a small child. The Widow ran a boarding home in the large house.  The home sat along the roadside on the outskirts of the thriving community of Mahanoy City.  At least four boarders, including Charles McAllister's brother, James, lived there. As with most patches, Wiggans grew up around a colliery. In this case, it was the Wiggans Treible Coal Company.

Kehoe was said by some to be a Mollie Maguire. The Mollie Maguires were accused by the local media of being a group of renegade Irish coal miners who terrorized the coal companies, the railroads and their officials while hiding behind the ranks of the Irish fraternal organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  This is an important point to remember when trying to come to grips with the tragic events that occurred at the O'Donnell House in Wiggans Patch during the wee morning hours of December 10th, 1875.

Black Jack was eventually hung along at the Pottsville Courthouse following a conviction for his alleged criminal involvement as a Mollie Maguire.  Nineteen other Irish men were also hung for similar charges.  It is felt by many supporters today that the trial itself was conducted improperly and that innocent men may well have been hung for crimes they did not commit. 

Kehoe's remains are buried in Tamaqua at old St. Jerome's cemetary. A memorial was erected there to pay tribute to the life of this great man.  It is maintained by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  The Girardville AOH Division as well as several other chapters in the United States, bear the name "Black Jack Kehoe Division" in his honor.  Diagonally from his grave is the stone monument erected to his wife's family, the O'Donnells. Ellen and Charles O'Donnell, their mother Margaret, father Manus and Ellen's child are buried there.

Many years following Jack's death, Kehoe's great grandson, Joe Wayne, led and won the fight to have Kehoe's name cleared.  Kehoe was pardoned by Pennsylvania governor Milton Shapp.  Governor Shapp called the trials a miscarriage of justice. He wrote that all Pennsylvanians should should with the members of the Pennsylvania Labor History Society in paying tribute to "these martyred men of labor."

Joe Wayne continues to operate Kehoe's original tavern, the Hibernian House, in Girardville.  It is a popular destination for individuals researching the Mollie Maguires, their Irish ancestry, and the history of the coal region. 

Visit the Hibernian House at  http://www.jackkehoehibernianhouse.com/ .