Chapter 20 - Hugh McGeehan
McGeehan was born on or about 1852 in Glenfin, County Donegal, Ireland. He
emigrated with some of his family, to the United States sometime after 1870,
for he is not listed in the census. He resided in the Storm Hill section of
Lansford, Carbon County, Pennsylvania, at the boarding house of Margaret Boyle.
Standing 6’ 0” tall, Hugh first made his living as a miner for the Lehigh and
Wilkes Barre Coal Company. He had joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH),
Storm Hill chapter and became heavily involved in demonstrating for the rights
of workers during the Long Strike of 1875.
One of these demonstrations, McGeehan headed a parade of striking miners through the Borough of Tamaqua. A contemporary newspaper had this account: “At noon today a large body of miners from Summit Hill collieries arrived in Tamaqua and made a street demonstration. They were headed by a solitary drummer and a man carrying an American flag. Every person carried a heavy cudgel and looked as if prepared for business. The object of the display was to induce the men working at Colonel Cake’s Philadelphia breaker to strike. The appearance of the strikers made considerable excitement in the town, and the Lehigh men were greeted in a loyal manner by the Schuylkill brethren. Four hundred miners paraded the streets today at Tamaqua. They went to the mines located near this town and found that the men had all quit work. They fired their revolvers in the air and informed the proprietors that they had no objection to coal being mined for the town’s own consumption, but none should be shipped abroad, which was agreed to. They made no disturbance and conducted themselves quietly.”
For his labor activities, he was blacklisted, supposedly by
Landsford mine boss John P. Jones. However, William D. Zehner, Superintendent,
testified at Hugh's trial that he discharged McGeehan "before we resumed
work after the strike."
On the night of July 5th, 1875, Officer Benjamin Yost is murdered in Tamaqua, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. On August 9th, Pinkerton detective James McParland joins McGeehan and Alec Campbell at the Ambrosher's saloon for a drink. Campbell tells McParland he is there to help Hugh McGeehan get a liquor license to open a saloon. On August 14th, Hugh McGeehan opens a tavern in Summit Hill, Carbon County, Pennsylvania, in a building leased from Nathan Clouse and sponsored by Alex Campbell.
The Vigilance Committee of Tamaqua or the Flying Squadron of the Reading Railroad Police used a more violent approach against those that were labeled ‘Molly Maguires’. Hugh McGeehan was identified on a “Strictly Confidential” handbill, as the murderer of Officer Yost. There were two attempts against his life, for he was shot at by vigilantes, once in late December, 1875, and then again while walking home early in January, 1876. Although he was not wounded, he could point to bullet holes in his clothes (Riffenburgh, page 112).
On January 9th, 1876, Hugh McGeehan marries Maria Duggan, in St. Joseph's Church, of Summit Hill, witnessed by James Walsh and Maria McGee. The honeymoon was short lived, for on February 5th, 1876, McGeehan was arrested for Yost’s murder. On July 24th, after two trials, he is found guilty, with others of the murder of Yost. On June 21, 1877, McGeehan is given capital punishment in the yard of the Schuylkill County prison. His body is taken back to Summit Hill, where he is buried alongside Alex Campbell and James Boyle in St. Joseph’s Cemetery behind the church.