As a small boy growing up in Mauch Chunk, PA, I was always asking my Mother, who grew up in Summit Hill, PA. to tell me about "Blue Pat", my grandfather. He was nicknamed "Blue Pat" because of the scars on his face, arms and hands. He was a miner at Colliery #5 in Lansford, PA, working for the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co. (LCN). One day he was setting off a charge to loosen coal. When he lit the fuse, there was an explosion that knocked him down. The shards from the coal left him with multiple lacerations. There was evidently a pocket of gas that was not detectable causing the explosion. So much for mine safety. He was carried home by his miner "buddies" where his family tried to remove the pieces of coal from his body. One good factor with cuts from coal, is that the sulfur in the coal helps to heal the wounds. "Blue Pat" was about 21 years old at the time, and he was strong and healthy otherwise, so he survived. However, he carried the scars on his body and in his memory for the rest of his life.
The reason he was called "Blue Pat" was because there were four Patrick Breslin's in Summit Hill.
But I'm getting ahead of my story. My Grandfather was born in County Donegal, Ireland on March 22nd, 1850, right in the middle of the Great Hunger, The Famine, "An Gorta Mor". He never said much of his early days in Ireland, except that he received a medal for saving the life of a member of the aristocracy (the medal is with cousins in Philadelphia). It seems that one of the upper class fell off a boat and was floundering in the water when my Grandfather jumped in and rescued the person.
Unfortunately in 1866, he left Donegal, leaving behind his Mother Alice, and his Father Charles. He also left behind his brothers, Charles, James and Edward, as well as his Sister Alice. There were also several nieces that we know of. So at 16 years old he traveled to America and wound up in Summit Hill, PA. which was an early coal camp, where it is said that Anthracite Coal was first discovered. There were other Breslin's in Summit Hill who had arrived much earlier, and this with the promise of work probably attracted him there.
As we know, Patrick went to work for the LCN at #5 and within a year he found a beautiful Irish Girl and they decided to marry, but there were problems. First of all Ellen McMullen was only thirteen years old. Not a real big problem for those days, but the second problem was. She was a Protestant. Her Parent's were "Souper's" in Ireland. They converted to the Church of Ireland so they could get food. When they arrived in Summit Hill, they joined St. Phillip's Episcopal Church. Her Father "Beau McMullen" became the sexton at the church. He used to let "Ellie" ring the Church Bells. He would place a short board on the end of the bell rope and knotted it so she could ride up and down on the rope. Ellie knew all the Protestant songs and later on in life she taught all her children the songs. Her Family would not have wanted her to marry at thirteen, especially a Catholic. So Patrick and Ellie "borrowed" her Uncle Robbies horse and wagon. They took off for Tamaqua, a town several miles from Summit Hill, and they were gone several days. They were married by a Justice of the Peace in Tamaqua and returned to face the music. The first place Patrick went was to the Parish Priest, to tell him what they did. He immediately told him that they would have to be married in the Church, and that Ellie would have to convert. I might add that according to the U.S. census, my Grandparents did not have a child for almost a year, which indicates that it was not a marriage of necessity. And so for the next 25 years the Breslin's had twelve children. One every two years. The eleventh child was "Rosie", my Mother and the most beautiful. Due to illness and disease of the time and no medical care, four of the child died as babies. Two others died as young adults. So six survived and they were all hard working good Catholic people.
When my Grandparents took up housekeeping, it was a company home, a patch house on Pump St. (which no longer exists). It was next to St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Summit Hill. It was a wooden frame structure, with dirt floors, no inside plumbing or electricity and the air conditioning came from the cracks and gaps between the wooden siding. There were two rooms downstairs, one of which was the kitchen where there was a coal stove, the only heat in the house. It had two rooms upstairs where everybody slept. On the side of the house was a shanty that was used as a wash room. The reason they called the houses "Patch Houses" was because they had a patch of land that could be used as a garden. "Blue Pat" had a small farm where he grew potatoes and other vegetables. He stored them in a storage cellar in the side of the mountain. He had a pig and a sausage cellar for his meat. At times, he had a goat and a cow for milk. He would trade sausage and potatoes for chicken with "Chicken Pat". His "farm" was an absolute necessity for survival. He could not exist on his less than one dollar a day pay. It made me wonder how "Blue Pat" ever saved the money to send to Ireland for his sister and nieces to come to America. It was about twenty dollars for each and they came one at a time. They would stay with my Grandparents until they found a husband and then moved on. One of the nieces was Mary Jallop Breslin Kennedy. She and her husband John were my Mother's Godparents. Their Grandson became a member of the United States Congress from the Summit Hill District.
The Workingmen's Benevolent Association, of which "Blue Pat" was a member was the first attempt to organize the labor force in the American Labor Market. They were trying to negotiate for better wages and conditions in the work place. They wanted a guaranteed work week and an end to docking. Docking was carried out by all the collieries. Each Miner going into the mine had a number. When he filled his car with coal he would send it to the surface with his number on it. The ticket boss was usually a welshman and a "company" man. He would check each car and always find waste i.e. stones, sticks, slate or other foreign material or at least that's what he said he found. He would then dock the miner and instead of 100%, he would give him only 50% or 60%. This was an accepted policy of the company but definitely not with the miners. But there wasn't anything they could do about it. This "docking" happened to "Blue Pat" once too often and in late November, 1871, after the was docked again, he decided to complain to the ticket boss. "Blue Pat" was not a quiet passive man and he evidently told the ticket boss what he thought, and he was summarily fired!!! He went home and cleaned up and went to the main office of the LCN Co. in Summit Hill to talk to Morgan Powell, the general manager of the Co. Powell was not in his office and "Blue Pat" was sent to another place where they told him that Mr. Powell had just left. He didn't find Powell that day or the next couple of days, but he kept going from one place to the next doing his best to find him. Morgan Powell knew that "Blue Pat" was looking for him but they never connected.
On Saturday night of that week, November 2, 1871 about 7PM, Morgan who was married with five children, took his oldest son to the dry goods store of Henry Williamson. He left this son there to pick out candy while he went across the street to the LCN Offices to check on business. Powell did not make it across the street because he was shot. Several people who heard the shot ran out of the store to see what happened. It was reported that it was an extremely dark and cold December night. There were no street lights and the only light came through the window of the Henry Williamson store. Morgan Powell was carried into the store. After the Doctor examined him he realized it was a mortal wound. They asked Powell did he see who did it? Powell stated that it looked like Patrick Gildea, and Patrick Breslin and another person he couldn't remember his name. But he said he couldn't be sure about any of them. It was necessary for the Doctor to give him morphine, but he was still questioned and the Doctor had to keep throwing water on him to get him to answer. At that time he mentioned that "Blue Pat" was following him around all week. Morgan Powell died on Monday, 4 December, 1871. On that day "Blue Pat" and Patrick Gildea were arrested for his murder. They were incarcerated in the Carbon County jail, a new structure at that time on West Broadway in Mauch Chunk, PA. The jail was built for $125,000, and opened that year. I imagine that they were some of the first inmates in residence.
They were held for three months until March 1872 when Patrick Gildea was tried first, since he was the accused shooter. "Blue Pat" was charged with accessory before the fact, and was to be tried after Patrick Gildea, with of course the same evidence used in the Gildea case. The Mauch Chunk Coal Gazette identified these two men as "Buckshots". A name associated with the Mollies. "Blue Pat" belonged to the A.O.H. as well as the Workingman's Benevolent Association, which the prosecutors later painted as "Mollie's". "Blue Pat" never denied to his family that he was a Molly. One of his close friends and bodymaster of the Summit Hill Mollies was Tom Fisher who signed "Blue Pat's" citizenship papers as a witness. This is on record at the Carbon County Courthouse. Tom Fisher was eventually hung for the murder of Morgan Powell.
But back to the trial, and the following I might add is from the trial transcripts of Patrick Gildea. The names of 36 men from Carbon County were pulled from the July wheel. Only four could be identified as being of Irish heritage. None of the four were selected for the jury. Most of those selected were German immigrant farmers who could not read or write and a good many of them did not understand English at all. Some of those were excused, but those picked as Jurors had trouble understanding English. Not a fair start but one more violation of Patrick Gildea and "Blue Pat" Breslin's civil and human rights. This was prevalent in the later trials of the Mollies who were found Guilty and Hung.
The Prosecutor presented ten witnesses all of whom stated much the same evidence. Since there was no eye witness except Morgan Powell, they had to depend on his dying statement. All the witnesses that were present after Powell was shot and heard his statement testified that Powell would say that the shooters looked like Patrick Gildea and "Blue Pat" Breslin, but he could not be sure. Finally on Sunday night the State Prosecutor Dimmick and Squire Minnick with Dr. Thompson tried once again to elicit a dying statement, but again Powell would state that he wasn't sure. So the State Prosecutor wrote out a statement that named both Gildea and Breslin as the attackers. At this time, Powell was very weak from loss of blood and being sedated. Dr. Thompson stated that he had to splash water on Powell to keep him awake. He didn't think that Powell could hear the Prosecutor. At that time Squire Minnick took Powell's hand and made an X on the statement. He then took Powell's hand and had him touch the top of the pen. So much for fairness.
Three witnesses placed Patrick Gildea at work at #10 Colliery in Coaldale, PA. at the time of the murder. At the completion of the prosecutors case, the prosecution themselves told Judge Dreher that they felt they could not ask for a conviction and requested the jury find Patrick Gildea not guilty. The Judge then called "Blue Pat" to court room and although he protested being discharged since he wanted also to be declared not guilty, the Judge discharged him.
After the trial of Patrick Gildea and the discharge of the Patrick Breslin case the Coal and Railroad Barons realized they would need more solid evidence to convict "Mollies". Their future strategy was to hire the Pinkerton Detective Agency who furnished the infamous, James McParland, alias James McKenna, and other spies to infiltrate and provide evidence even if they had to make it up, which they did.
On 21 June, 1877 five years later, three men were hung for the murder of Morgan Powell at the Carbon County Jail. Alec Campbell was also hung that day with them. In Pottsville, PA at the Schuylkill County Jail, also on that day six other Mollies were hung. Before they were done, twenty miners gave their lives in the name of organized labor. Call them what you will, Workingmen's Benevolent Association, Buckshots, AOH, or Molly Maguires they stood up for their rights and eventually all of our rights. "Blue Pat" spent the rest of his life working in the mines. He died of Silicosis or Black Lung at 68 years of age.
Patrick "Blue Pat"
Breslin was the Grandfather of Hugh D. McClafferty
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