The Columbia County Republican


November 16, 1876


            Most of our readers well remember the murder of Alexander W. Rea, at Centralia in 1868.  Some time after the commission of the crime Thomas Donahue, James Duffy, Michael Pryor and Pat Hester were arrested and committed to jail to await their trial for the murder.  In February, 1869, Thomas Donahue was tried and acquitted much against the general sentiment of the community, and as has been developed this year in the Schuylkill cases contrary to the true condition of things.  At May term, 1869, James Duffy had his trial and was acquitted.  The counsel for the Commonwealth then agreed to quash the indictment against Hester and he was set at liberty without a trial.  Since the exposures of the "mollies" in Schuylkill and Carbon we have often been assured that arrests would yet be made and parties tried for the murder of Mr. Rea.  Our community was very much surprised last week by noticing a statement in the Shenandoah Herald that Pat Hester had again been arrested for the same murder.  Since then three others, Graham, McHugh and Tully have been arrested, being charged with complicity with Hester in this crime.  On Monday the prisoners had a hearing before Judge Pershing, at Pottsville, when on application of their counsel, Mr. John W. Ryon, they were remanded to our county for trial.  Their arrival is anxiously awaited.


November 23, 1876


            At the request of the Commissioners Pat Hester and his Confederates will be kept in Pottsville jail until the time of their trial.


February 8, 1877


            Mollie Trials. Our readers will remember the murder of Alexander W. Rea, near Centralia on October 17th 1868.  Mr. Rea was born in New Jersey in 1824 and was a graduate of Lafayette College.  After graduation he directed his attention toward journalism, being for a time employed as editor of the "Danville Intelligencer" and from a time on the editorial staff of the "Harrisburg Telegraph."  His necessarily close confinement proved injurious to his health, and he chose engineering for his profession.  In 1850 he entered an engineer corps on the Mine Hill railroad, under the charge of Mr. Wilder.  In 1853 the Locust Mountain Coal and Iron company elected Mr. Rea engineer and agent in Columbia and adjoining counties.  Mr. Rea continued in the employ of this company up the time of his murder.  No provocation seems ever to have been offered by Mr. Rea to lead any one to commit so brutal a murder.  It seems he was killed to secure the money he was thought to have with him.  In this they were disappointed as the monthly pay had been carried to the mines the day before.  Three men were arrested on suspicion of having committed the murder, Patrick Hester, Thomas Donahue, and Patrick Duffy.  Donahue was tried at the February term 1869, and Duffy at the Mary term, but both were successful in proving alibis.  Hester was thereupon discharged as no additional evidence could be produced against him.  Many years elapsed and the crime was almost forgotten, and it seemed the guilty would never be discovered.  But the disclosures in the coal region during the last years gave some hope that the perpetrators of this deed might yet be discovered.  On the 8th of last November Patrick Hester, Alexander Graham, and Patrick Duffy[1] were arrested for being implicated in the murder of Rea.  On the 16th of the same month Patrick Tully was also arrested on the same suspicion of being an accomplice.  These prisoners were kept at Pottsville, owing to the insecurity of our county jail.  Friday evening of last week the four prisoners were brought up to Columbia county under the charge of four Coal and Iron police, who have kept continual watch over them ever since.  A man by the name of Kelly who had been undergoing imprisonment at Pottsville for theft "squealed" upon these prisoners and it was on this evidence that they were held for trial.  Kelly was pardoned by the Governor some time since, that he might be used as a witness in the cases.  He was brought on from Pottsville on Monday evening.  Hester seems to have grown more fleshy since his former "visit."  He stood at the head of the Mollie organization of Northumberland county being their county delegate and at the same time he has held various township offices.  His very appearance would indicate that he must have exercised almost unlimited control of a class who seem to worship physical prowess and unswerving determination.  Graham, McHugh and Tully are but ordinary looking men.  At this writing every one seems to be anxiously awaiting the commencement of the trial.  Capt. Linden of whom almost all have heard in his relation to McParlan the detective, and his connection with the Mollie trials.  Some fears have been expressed that the prisoners might escape from the jail, but we feel certain that no event of that kind can take place owing to the vigilance of Capt. Alderson and his associates of the Coal and Iron police.

February 15, 1877

The Trials.






            Never before has the quiet town of Bloomsburg been so excited as over the present trials.  By seven o'clock a vast crowd has assembled in front of the court house to await the opening of the court at nine.  The room is crowded from day to day, to its utmost capacity.  On Wednesday afternoon the news spread from one to another that the grand jury had found a true (illegible) against the prisoners and that Judge Elwell, had ordered them brought into court.  A general rush was made for the court room which became literally packed, not an inch of standing room being left.  The prisoners entered through the door of the Library room with Hester in front.  He is a short, heavy set man, with black hair and chin whiskers.  Tully and McHugh are of the common size.  After the indictment was read the prisoners were asked by (illegible) (illegible), "How so you plead?"  Hester immediately answered "not guilty!"  Hester was too fast for My Ryon his counsel informed the court that a special plea would be entered for him.  When McHugh and Tully had answered not guilt to the charge.  Mr. Ryon arose and read the special plea was as Hester had been held over two terms once before, on the same charge, and been discharged by the court, he could not now be tried for the same offense.  During the half hour that Mr. Hughes was writing a traverse to the special plea, the crowd became still larger, every one striving his utmost to catch a glimpse of the prisoners.  The judge was finally obliged to give directions to the constables to see that quiet be restored.  Mr. Hughes read the traverse on behalf of Hester, when Mr. Ryon made some additions to his plea.  The commonwealth's attorneys asked time to make reply, as it became necessary for them to examine some records of previous courts.  As it was over the hour of adjournment, 6 o'clock, court was adjourned till morning.  During the evening many were the opinions as to the effect of the plea on behalf of Hester.  Many expressed fears that he might escape (at this point the article is mostly unreadable, most of the words in the text are too faint to read and accurate transcribing is almost impossible without risk of interpreting the illegible text.)


March 1, 1877


The Great Trial.




            Tuesday morning Miss Ellen Hester was called and examined very particulary as to the "still" so frequently spoken of.  It seems the Commonwealths counsel can't understand why Hester should fear an arrest because his still was stolen.  She was also asked some questions concerning the woman that seems to have caused the trouble between Hester and his wife.  It turned out to be the Mrs. O'Brien whom Kelly swears Mrs. Hester got him and some others to go and commit an outrage upon.  Garner Pepper testified that he was working at Hester's in the month of November 1868 and that Pat left for the west on the 16th of November 1868.  On the morning of the 16th he noticed Mrs. Hester run out of the house, being pursued by Pat, who chased her until we stopped him.  This witness seemed to be acquainted with the still.  Witness continued: Hester said he would go out west as there was something in the mountains that he would get into trouble about; did not know exactly where the still was, but I know where they said it was.

            Cross examination Don't remember sir when I joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians; never left them sir; do not belong to them now; never did belong to them sir; Hester paid me for that work, (Mr. Ryon here repeated the question as witness had evidently forgotten himself) he paid me, said the witness catching himself, at the Christmas when he came back; Hester went away on Monday; I fix the time because he paid me what he owed me up to that day; did not give him a receipt, nor keep an account book; John Boyle kept the time; he is now dead; Hester paid me thirty six dollars at the time; no one was present but John Boyle; never saw Kelly at Hester's that I remember; nor Tully or McHugh.  The Commonwealth here called Captain McLaughlin and desired that as they had served a notice on the witness to produce his counter book that he or his wife be directed by the court to make search; the court ruled that he could not be compelled to give up the keys.  Just here we would remark the excellent memory the defendant's witnesses and especially the Hester family possess.  Ellen Hester in now going on twenty two and Anna will not be twenty till next December.  But this fact doesn't seem at all to operate against their remembering the smallest incidents that occurred over eight years ago.  They seem to be able to give the minutest details of every circumstances that occurred at that time.  It is a great blessing to persons of good memory.

            Officer Bensinger testified that Tom Donahue was arrested on Tuesday evening November 17th 1868 and I believe Duffy was arrested in Mahanoy City the same time.  Mr. Bensinger was very positive that a railroad ran between Mahanoy City and Locust Gap in 1868 and that to the best of his knowledge the Lehigh Valley road was built through Centralia to Mt. Carmel at the same time.

            Peter Dolan testified that he was in Locust Gap on November 16th 1868 and saw Pat Hester and Thomas Rourke on the hill near the Gap; Farley was with me at the time; they had a buggy and were going toward Shamokin; I was going from Mount Carmel to Locust Gap; saw Rourke again the same evening that week; saw Hester again between Christmas and New Year; Rourke said Hester had gone west.

            Cross examination I met Hester on the bill outside of the Gap, he was going toward Shamokin; the road from the junction ran due west at that time; was coming from Mount Carmel to Locust Gap and about half a mile from the Gap when I met him; Hester's house is west of Mt. Carmel; I took the road through Beaver Dale; I met him at the road on top of the hill he was going west at the time; I fix the time because confirmation was on the 14th when I was confirmed and it was directly after this; Rourke said he had left Hester at Sunbury.  A map on Mount Carmel and vicinity was shown witness which he attempt to explain after a fashion.

            Tuesday afternoon Francis McKiernam sworn. I live in Dark Corner in county I lived there in 1868; I know Kelly, he boarded at my house about three or four months; do not know what year but before Rea was murdered it was more than a year before; he came to my house in the winter time from Luzerne county; can not tell what time in the winter; he left in the summer; it is about one mile from Centralia to Dark Corner; he visited Centralia almost every Saturday night; he knew Rea; Rea tore a house down on the property that he was agent for and Kelly saw him; Rea visited Dark Corner twice a week and tied his horse at my stable while Kelly boarded with me; Kelly worked about half time and the last month he didn't work at all; he went about from place to place; I don't know where he went after he left my house; he left house the summer before Rea was killed; he had a bad character; his general character for truth and veracity was bad; I would not believe him under oath.

            Cross examined. I do not know who was President of the United States at that time, I vote sometimes when I get there; can not tell how many years it was before Rea was murdered; am not a Mollie, never was; do not know Patsey Butler; think it was about a year before but can give no reason; believe I had three boarders viz., Pat McGuire, Clarmy and Kelly; found Kelly was a bad character when he came for a revolver to shoot a woman; never saw Kelly at church; he spoke to him the day he was tossed the house; Rea pulled the house down himself; I looked at him; It was a good while before he was killed.

            Peter Mahan described the road from Pat Hester's house to Shamokin.

            Ben Thomas recalled by Commonwealth I was not at Pat Hester's on the 30th of January.  I never said I was a brother of Bully Bill, but I was asked whether I was; do not remember of ever saying that I did not believe in God, Devil, Hell, or Jesus Christ; did not have a bottle of whiskey; never said so in presence of Col. David Brown and John Reece; do not believe I did; do not remember of killing no man at a baseball match at Mahanoy City between Mollies and Modocs; never killed but one man, did not tell in Alstadt's that I killed a man at Mahanoy; I believe in God.  I killed Lieut. Wilson, of the 11th Mass. Regiment, under orders.

            Henry Farley sworn I am son in-law of Pat Hester.  I saw him on 16th on November 1868; met him on Shamokin Hill.  He was going to Shamokin; Thomas Q'Rourke was with him in a buggy.

            M. C. Woodward sworn I was keeper of the Columbia County prison in 1868 when Hester, Donahue and others were confined Donahue, Duffy and Prior were in one room and Hester was in a room by himself.  They never asked me to visit each other.  I generally kept the keys; when I went out I left the keys with Mr. Parr, one of the Coal and Iron police.  Parr claimed that he allowed no one to see Hester.

            Thomas Donahue I was imprisoned with Duffy and Hester for the killing of Rea in 1868; was tried in this court; Hester was placed in the cell opposite.  I never visited him in his cell; I knew Parr; never asked him to visit Hester; I never said to Hester it was a bad go, the killing of Rea.  I never was in the cell; never spoke to him.  Hester never said, "if I had to do it over again I would not do it."  Parr never took nor allowed me to go into his cell.  Hester never was in my cell.

            Cross-examined I am here from Schuylkill county prison; I am serving a sentence as a convict for accessary in assault with intent to kill Bully Bill; I said Parr was a mean man for putting the irons on me cold; I am a member of the Ancient Order; got partly in the organization after my trial; I was not a legal member; was applying for membership; I decline to answer anything criminating myself about Jerry Hall's whiskey; I decline to answer about an attack on Sam McGee on the same ground; I do not remember about taking Aleck and Roger Latferty to Mrs. Ragan for boarding.

            John Britt.- I came here yesterday morning, I am sick; live at Ashland; lived there on October 1868; I know Luke Richardson; he worked at Bancrofts; was in his company at Martz; met Hester there and left and went to Donahue's and stayed there about an hour; there were eight or ten persons there; knew one person Pat Gilespy; met Pat on the other side of the street and we went up to McLaughlin's; Hester was pretty well drunk; we drank six or seven rounds in there; we drank whiskey and porter.

            The commonwealth began their rebuttal by calling P. R. Brosins of Ashland who testified that Tom Donahue's saloon is twenty-nine feet ten inches deep and fourteen feet eight inches wide, thus contradicting a witness for the defense who testified that it was about nine by fourteen feet.

            Michael Shulthorn sworn In 1868 I lived in Mt. Carmel and no whisky still was found that year or any other, from information we received we went to Hester's in the spring of 1868 and found parts of two hogsheads of molasses hid away near an old saw mill opposite Hester's house; Hester came and said he knew nothing about the molasses and seemed very anxious to know how it got there.  I was a police officer at the time; I don't know anything about a "still" there at any time or of any proceedings having been instituted against Hester on account of the molasses.

            By Mr. Ryon I guess the Coal and Iron police were a part of the government; was not a revenue officer, but was looking for a sleigh that Pat was said to have stolen; had a memorandum of the time I was there but have lost it; think I received my commission as a police officer April 1st 1867.

            By Mr. Hughes No search that we made had any reference to any still, neither before or after Hester fled; Officer Bensinger aided in the search.

            Col. D. P. Brown sworn About two months ago witness said he met Ben Thomas on the cars and on reproving him for blasphemous language Thomas said he didn't believe in God, Jesus Christ, Heaven, Hell or hereafter. (A nice witness this Thomas seems to have been).  In answer to Mr. Ryon, witness said Thomas did not seem to be drunk although he had a bottle and he knew it to be Thomas because he told him so.

            John Reese testified that he lived in Shenandoah, is superintendent of mines and a police officer; heard the conversation we had with Thomas as I considered it my duty to do so as a citizen.

            William Gittings, of St. Clair, testified as to Thomas' character for truth and veracity that he would not believe Thomas if he sat and swore in this court house for sixteen years.  On cross examination witness said he had heard Thomas' own father question his character for truth.

            Court was adjourned to Wednesday morning.

            Wednesday morning Rev. Mr. Leisenring testified: I was at dinner at a hotel here on the 9th when Ben Thomas was discussing the testimony of Kelly.  When told that Kelly denied having any conversation with him, Thomas said, "He's a d__d mean man.  He's a son of a b___h and I'll bust up his evidence."

            Daniel William, Fred Gading, Morris Evans, William Davis, Samuel Myers, Samuel (illegible) and Coal and Iron police officer Wynne all of St. Clair; John Kutz, Squire Andrew Comrey, Matthew Ellis constable, William Ramsey editor of Mahanoy Gazette, Henry and Hugh Stride, John Hardly chief of police and J. Seligman all of Mahanoy city the present home of Ben Thomas testified as to Thomas' bad character and his utter untruthfulness.

            Now came Peter Luby's turn to have his character ventilated.  James R. Cleaver, Dr. Yeomans, Squire Gensel, Levi Leib, Reese Davis, Joseph Parry, James Pricce, Jabez Payne of Ashland and John Reese of Shenandoah testified against Luby's character for truth and veracity; many saying they would not believe him on oath.

            Ex Sheriff Millard testified that Parr has partial charge of the jail here in 1869.

            John Alstadt, barber, testified that he shaved the prisoners in the jail in 1869.  In other respects his evidence proved to be immaterial.

            Captian Linden sworn I was in Squire Reed's office when Kelly was examined at the hearing.  The Capt. Related Kelly's testimony there and in answer to Mr. Ryon said he had been very careful to follow him as he wanted to see whether he would tell the same under oath that he did to him before.

            Mr. Fielders was again called and testified that he would not swear that Kelley said at the hearing that they did not leave Donahue's saloon on the morning of the 17th of October 1868.

            Michael Graham was recalled for cross examination.  Did not see Kelly at my house on the day or evening of October 17th 1868; did not tell Mr. Bridge that I saw him on the day Rea was murdered.



The Verdict




            On Thursday morning Mr. Buckalew began his argument for the Commonwealth, speaking for four hours.  His address was a clear and forcible presentment of the case against the prisoners.  At times the speaker became truly eloquent and in his vivid description of the foul murder brought tears to many an eye.  Upon the opening of court in the afternoon Col. Freeze began his speech for the prisoners and concluded a little after six o'clock in the evening when court was adjourned till morning.  At nine o'clock on Friday morning Mr. Ryon began the closing argument for the prisoners. He made a gallant defense against the odds, as the evidence in the case and sympathies of the audience were alike operating against him.  Mr. Ryon closed at twelve o'clock and court was adjourned till fifteen minutes past one, when Mr. Hughes began his argument to the jury for the prosecution.  Mr. Hughes first gave his attention to the discussion of the thirteen points of law upon which the attorneys for the defense requested his remarks to the jury.  The speaker gave a short sketch of the origin and history of the Mollie Maguire association and then proceeded to discuss the evidence and arrange it into a connected link which told to plainly to the large audience the guilt of the prisoners.  At times he was quite bitter in his denunciations as when referring to the evidence of Hester's family and the troubles that were alleged to exist when his daughter Ellen was only ten years old Mr. Hughes said: "What manner of people are these that they degrade even the minds of children in their infancy and destroy their souls in their youth."  At six o'clock Judge Elwell interrupted Mr. Hughes by saying that the hour of adjournment had arrived.  Mr. Hughes said he was willing to finish that evening if it was desired, but upon the Judge remarking that he would charge the jury immediately afterward the jurors preferred to adjourn till morning.  At half past eight on Saturday morning Mr. Hughes resumed his argument which bore down still more heavily upon the prisoners as the speaker proceeded.  At half past eleven he closed as follows:

            Lives are at stake say my friends on the other side.  Aye, gentlemen, lives are at stake; not the lives of these men alone, but the life of every respectable man in the coal region.  If "Mollie Maguireism" should lose her advanced (illegible) in Schuylkill and Carbon, and organize in Columbia county, you would soon discover what "Mollie Maguire" means.  But we rely on you and think that you have too high a sense of your duty and too much true courage to allow such a result to be reached.  I do not want you to convict these men if you do not believe them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but I do not want you to transgress your duty by going beyond a reasonable doubt.  Do your duty manfully, and you will then have given a sense of great relief to this community, and I will go back to my mountain home believing that the death blow to "Mollie Maguireism" has been struck by a noble body of twelve men of Columbia County.

            Mr. Elwell, one of the counsel for the prisoners, made a motion in their behalf that the court discharge the jury on the ground that counsel for the prosecution had gone outside of the evidence in their argument.  The paper was filed.

            Judge Elwell began his charge as follows:

            Gentlemen of the Jury: Over two weeks ago you were selected according to the solemn forms of the law to sit as the tribunal to pass upon the facts in this important case.  During the whole of this protracted investigation you have submitted with the commendable patience to the confinement incident to a trial of this nature, and I have observed that from the first opening of the case to this time you have given to it your undivided attention and have listened to the evidence and the argument of counsel with the evident anxiety to ascertain the truth in regard to the homicide charged against the prisoners at the bar.  Such interest in the discharge of duty deserves all praise and is especially your due for the uncomplaining manner in which you have borne the hardship of being separated from your families and from the pursuit of your own private interests and business.

            You have been warned by counsel against prejudice and prejudgment.  Your answers to inquiries when called to those seats forbid the idea that any caution from the court in necessary on that subject.  I cannot bring my mind to fear that the verdict of twelve upright and intelligent jurors, selected by lot from the mass of their fellow citizens will be founded upon anything besides the applicable to the case and the facts as established by the evidence.

            This case has been prepared by the counsel on both sides with great industry and has been presented and argued with marked ability and learning.  Where their labor ends your task begins.  They duty of the court will end when we shall have instructed you as to the law of the case, and rendered to you such service as may be in our power to please at your disposal, to assist you in the responsible office of applying the law to the facts.  If we discharge these duties in the fear of God and according to the best of our judgment and ability, neither the prisoners at the bar, nor the community in which we live, will have just cause to complaint.

            The Judge then proceeded to discuss the different grades of murder and review the evidence in the case.  The charge was complimented on every hand for its impartiality and clearness.  If we had the space we would publish it in full.  The jury were sent out at one o'clock and court was adjourned to the ringing of the bell.  Many were the opinions expressed in the meantime as to the verdict but scarcely any one expected one of not guilty.

            At Three o'clock the court house bell began to ring in solemn tones giving notice that the jury had agreed.  Such a wild rush for the court room we have never witnessed and scarcely five minutes elapsed before even standing room could not be obtained.  The Jury and prisoners soon made their appearance and from the solemn look of the jurors it was evident that the prisoners should be prepared for the worst.  After order was restored and the audience warned by the Judge not to indulge in any outbursts of any kind the momentous question was asked by Mr. Zarr, "Gentlemen have you agreed upon a verdict?"  Mr. Perry Christian stepped forward and answered, "we have- Guilty of murder in the first degree."  Mr. Elwell for the prisoners asked that the jury be polled.  This was done but before the whole list was called, Mrs. Hester fainted, which caused considerable excitement but nevertheless the call proceeded and the twelve answered in clear tones "Guilty of murder in the first degree as to Patrick Hester."  The jury was polled in both the other cases and all answered, "Guilty of murder in the first degree" as to both Peter McHugh and Patrick Tully.  The guard then stepped forward and placing the handcuffs on the prisoners marched them back to jail.  The Hester family and Mrs. McHugh followed the prisoners giving visible expression to their grief.  These were the first convictions for murder in this county and occasioned an unusual amount of excitement.  We learn that on the first ballot the jury stood eleven for conviction and one undecided.  The public generally agree that it was a righteous verdict.  Application was made to the court for a new trial.  This will be argued in a few days.



March 8, 1877


            Several rumors have been circulated that attempts would be made to rescue the Mollie prisoners confined in jail here awaiting their sentences.  While it is universally admitted that the jail is very insecure, it must still be born in mind that there is a most vigilant guard on duty all the time.  It should also be generally understood that the citizens of Bloomsburg would rush to the aid of the police in case any such an attempt should be made.  The prisoners have been convicted of murder by due process of law and all law abiding citizens in our midst will see to it that they do not escape the penalty unless by means of legal process.  Mob violence had better not be resorted to or some one may get hurt.


[1] Most likely a typo that was not caught before the article was published since later on in the article the reporter uses Peter McHugh's last name with that of the three other men.