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David Muir of Foster Township – His Killing in 1865 Attributed to Molly Maguires

Posted By on May 2, 2016

On 25 August 1865, David Muir, a mine superintendent who lived in Foster Township, was murdered near his home in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.  A description of his death appeared in the Reading Times, 29 August 1865:


MURDER — We learn that David Muir, a superintendent of the Forest Improvement Company, was murdered on Friday, on the road from his house to the works. 

From what we have learned the following seem to be the particulars:

It seems from the evidence before the Coroner’s Jury, that after eating his breakfast yesterday morning, Mr. Muir left his residence for the slope.  About fifty yards from his house, there is a curve in the road which is hidden by bushes and banks of coal dirt.  When he reached that point it is thought that he was approached by two men, on the pretense that they wanted work.  The spot gives evidence of a severe struggle.  Dr. Halberstadt who held a post mortem examination of the body, thinks that Mr. Muir, was first struck on the head from behind.  The blow probably knocked him down upon his knees, and partially stunned him.  The Doctor thinks that while he was in that position he was shot by a pistol ball, which passed through his heart and right lungs.  After that he was stabbed three times in the body with a dirk. One of the wounds, a slight one, is in the back, below the shoulder blade.  The others, either of which would have killed him, penetrated the stomach and liver.

The murderers are said to have been strange men.  After committing the act, they were observed passing hurriedly down the railroad from the mines, for some two hundred yards, when they entered the woods, and moved towards York Tunnel, since which time they have eluded pursuit.

Wikipedia describes the Molly Maguires thus:

The Molly Maguires was an Irish 19th century secret society active in Ireland, Liverpool and parts of the eastern United States, best known for their activism among Irish American and Irish immigrant coal miners in Pennsylvania. After a series of often violent conflicts, twenty suspected members of the Molly Maguires were convicted of murder and other crimes and were executed by hanging in 1877 and 1878. This history remains part of local Pennsylvania lore.

According to Kevin Kenny, in Making Sense of the Molly Maguires, 1998, this was the third of sixteen killings attributed to the Molly Maguires.  The group was implicated in these murders in a series of trials that took place in Schuylkill County in the 1870s.


Kenny gives the following background information on David Muir and his employer on page 104 of Making Sense and relates the murder to the enforcement of the Civil War draft:

David Muir… worked as mine superintendent for the Heckshers, who owned the Forest Improvement Company, the New York and Schuylkill Coal Company, and various other coal owning interests in Schuylkill County.  The Heckshers’ superintendents had incurred the enmity of mine workers in Cass Township during the Civil War for their resistance to labor organizing and their cooperation with the officials in charge of conscription.

A native of Scotland, David Muir had come to Schuylkill County in 1845.  He settled in Hecksherville, where he worked for the Forest Improvement Company.  At the time of his death, he was superintendent at the Otto Colliery in Reilly Township, just west of Cass.  He was killed on 25 August 1865, in Foster Township, which bordered Cass and Reilly Townships.  The president of the New York and Schuylkill Coal Company, O. W. Davis, offered a reward of three thousand dollars for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the assassins, and the Coal Exchange of Philadelphia offered a reward of one thousand dollars.  Six months later, Benjamin Bannan was still lamenting that “the murderers – in consequence of the efficiency of the secret, oath-bound organization that exists in this County [the Molly Maguires] – remain to this day undetected.”  Nobody was ever arrested for the murder of David Muir.  And despite Bannan’s certainty that the Molly Maguires were involved, it is by no means clear why Muir was killed.  The context and location, however, suggest the settling of scores arising from the wartime turmoil in and around Cass Township.


Wayne G. Broehl Jr., in The Molly Maguires, 1964, gives less detail, on pages 93-95:

With the release of pent-up wartime tensions after Appomattox, the anthracite fields were again shocked by violence and murder.  David Muir, a Schuylkill County mine superintendent, was ambushed in broad daylight two hundred yards from his office on 25 August 1865….

A ground swell of public indignation led to efforts to bring more rigorous law enforcement, and advocated aid from the state….

The Molly Maguire legend… was firmly planted in the minds of the people.  Not one of the crimes had been solved; not one person was publicly linked to the feared secret organization.  No one yet knew if such an organization actually existed, or, if it did, what its purposes and functions were.  But few in the region could have been convinced that the whole story was a myth – a fabrication.  There were too many murdered men… in their coffins.

David Muir is buried at Frieden’s Lutheran Church Cemetery at Minersville, Schuylkill County.  Not much information is currently available on his Findagrave Memorial.  However, his gravestone indicates that he was 60 years, 10 months old at the time of his death – and that he was a native of Scotland.


A card (from Ancestry.com) listing the passengers of the Brig Atlas,  sailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, shows that David Muir and his family entered the United States at Boston.

Although David Muir did not see Civil War service – he was too old – he did have one son who was eligible to be drafted and/or volunteer to serve.  To date, no service record has been seen for the son,  Dalrymple Muir (1834-1907), although he did register for the draft in 1863 as a 29 year old resident of Minersville with “restaurant” given as his occupation.

Additional information is sought about David Muir, his connection to the mines in Schuylkill County, his murder (allegedly) by the Molly Maguires, and his descendants.


One Response to “David Muir of Foster Township – His Killing in 1865 Attributed to Molly Maguires”

  1. I am a direct line descendent of David Muir through my paternal grandmother and have visited this gravesite. Thanks to all who researched the details especially my cousin, Hettie Susan Mason.


    PS My grandmother talked of this tragedy (Elizabeth Muir Hutchison Jefferson) many times which left in her a strong resentment toward the Molly Maguires

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