WIGGANS

DECEMBER 10, 1875

the coal region in 1875

America in the post Civil War years began to rebound from the ravages of its internal conflict.  The industrial revolution required fuel to power its growth. There was no better place ready, willing, and able to supply that power than the anthracite coal regions of northeastern Pennsylvania.

The European Immigration to America that began with the English in the 1700's expanded to the Germans in the early 1800's. But it was the Great Irish Potato Famine, An Gorta Mor, in the 1840's that brought the largest influx of immigrants into North America. Others - such as the Italians and the Eastern Europeans from Poland, Lithuanian, and Czechoslovakia - began to arrive as well.

The anthracite region needed laborers to mine the rich coal veins that ran beneath it.  The Irish - many unskilled at anything but the agricultural tasks of the farming the land - flocked to the coal companies in search of work.

The booming coal region, while it did not offer much in wages, at least offered employment.  The starving Irish, in search of a better way of life, embraced America. England was literally attempting to extinguish the Irish race in Ireland - if the Crown could not starve them out by exporting every Irish resource it could cram onto its merchant ships then it would simply export the Irish themselves.  Ireland lost over half its population through death, immigration, and exile.

But America did not embrace the Irish.

Coal mining was a job but it did not pay enough wages to provide a decent life for the families of the men who slaved below in the black caverns. It was a dangerous occupation. Many lost their lives and even more lost their health.  The coal barons and railroad magnets wished to make a large profit on their investments. Coal was a hot commodity. Dirt cheap labor and high product demand helped insure the profit margin was a generous one. 

And despite the deplorable conditions that the miners faced each day and the meager paypackets that awaited them at the end of their work week, most had no choice but to continue to "go down into the hole".

DOWN WE GO

Looking back, I see it still
A tiny pinhole bright
but soon I'm
Squinting in the blackness
That descends on us like night

Down we go into the hole
We leave the day behind
With pick and axe
We break our backs
A-workin' in the mine


I rode a famine ship from Cork
Cobh Harbor bade farewell Deported
by an English judge
Sent to this coal black hell

Down we go into the hole
We leave the day behind
With pick and axe
We break our backs
A-workin' in the mine


And though I toil f
rom dawn 'till dusk
No profit do I show
'Tis dangerously hard work
Minin' coal way down below

Down we go into the hole We leave the day behind
With pick and axe
We break our backs
A-workin' in the mine

For a better life, Jack Kehoe says
Our men must unionize
The Coal and Iron's can't break us 
In solidarity we rise

Down we go into the hole
We leave the day behind
With pick and axe
We break our backs
A-workin' in the mine

Now alas I am imprisoned
On what charges? I inquired
T'was then I was
accused of murder
And bein' a Molly Maguire

Down we go into the hole
We leave the day behind
With pick and axe
We break our backs
A-workin' in the mine


Jesus, Mary, an' Joseph, save me
So lost, yer my last hope
As the noose tightens fast 'round my neck
I cry, “'Tis the Day of the Rope!"

Down we go into the hole
We leave the day behind
With pick and axe
We break our backs
A-workin' in the mine

(Loretta Murphy, 2005)