I came across Patrick Heenan via an obituary that appeared in The Plain Speaker, a newspaper based in Hazleton, Lackawarra county in Pennsylvania.
Patrick was described as ” an associate of the late John Mitchell in the early days of the United Mine Workers.” My curiosity aroused, I did some digging around to discover who John Mitchell was and how Patrick was involved in union affairs.
According to Wikipedia, John Mitchell was a trade union leader and president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1898 to 1908. Another source describes him as “one of the most respected American labour leaders of the early years of the 20th century” .
Conditions in coal mines of the late 19th century were harsh and there were several clashes between workers and the mining companies. Just before he became president, a strike by miners in Lattimer, a district near Hazleton, had seen 19 miners killed by police in 1897, in a dispute over lay offs and reduced wages.
The Lattimer massacre was a turning point in the history of the United Mine Workers (UMW). Having previously struggled to establish itself in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, the UMW experienced a dramatic increase in membership. More than 10,000 members joined in the aftermath of the massacre, boosting the bargaining power of the union.
In May 1902 anthracite miners and operators – numbering around 143,000 men – across the Hazleton/Scranton districts went on strike, led by the UMW under Mitchell’s leadership. The strike was settled in October by a compromise brokered by President Theodore Roosevelt which led to large wage increases and safety improvements for miners throughout the region. In recognition of his work to improve the miner’s conditions, a statue of John Mitchell was erected outside the county courthouse in Scranton – the city where he is buried.
Patrick Heenan’s work with miners
I’ve not found any information that backs up the statement made in the newspaper report about Patrick’s death. The only published account of the union is a book written by Chris Evans in 1918 called The History of United Mine Workers of America. Although very detailed about the formation of the union and its development I couldn’t find any reference within the text to Patrick Heenan.
A report of his funeral indicates that it was attended by members of the United Mine Workers but that in itself is not surprising since Scranton was the largest of the former anthracite coal mining communities in the Lackawanna valley. Patrick did work in the coal mines at some point. In the 1900 census and the 1920 Federal Census he described himself as a carpenter -there is no specific reference to his involvement with coal mining until the 1930 Federal Census when he said he was occupied as a labourer in the coal mining industry.
The only other connection is that his wife’s father was apparently also involved with the UMW. In a report of her death published in The Times-Tribune on 5 February 1940, she was described as the daughter of Patrick Reap who was “well known as one of the organisers of the United Mine Workers of America and a close friend of John Mitchell.”
Patrick Heenan’s family
Patrick was the son of John C Heenan and his wife Catherine Walsh. Both were born in Ireland. John C Heenan arrived in the USA in 1863. They had 14 children but a number of them appear to have died without reaching adulthood. John worked as a labourer in a steelworks.
Patrick married Mary Reap in St Patrick’s, Scranton, Lackawanna, in 1901. They went on to have four children, all daughters. Patrick died from cancer in 1937, his wife died in 1940.
History of United Mine Workers of America; Evans, Chris, 1918 , available from Duke University Libraries and GoogleBooks.com
Federal Census of USA; 1900, 1920, 1930, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed via FamilySearch.org and FindMyPast.com