Saturday, January 06, 2007

I’ve Been Dying On The Railroad

In June 1832 fifty-seven Irishmen arrived in Philadelphia aboard the John Stamp out of Derry. Just six weeks later all of them would be dead. All over America Irishmen were doing the back-breaking labor that was building the country’s roads, canals, railroads, bridges and anything else that a new and usually poorly educated immigrant could do to make a living.

On the docks the fifty-seven men were hired by Phillip Duffy, a railroad contractor working for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. No doubt they thought it a wonderful start to their new lives in “Amerikay,” instead it was the beginning of the end of their lives. Duffy took them to a spot in southeast Pennsylvania along the route of the new rail line near Malvern. It was a ravine between two hills that needed to be filled. The spot is known as Duffys Cut today.

We know that a cholera epidemic broke out shortly after they began work and that some of them caught it. Shortly after that all fifty-seven were dead, supposedly of the disease, and buried in a mass grave. But the normal death rate from cholera is 40 to 60 percent, not 100 percent, and most of these men would have been in tremendous physical condition to do the job they were doing. The suspicion exists that some of them may have been killed by locals who were fearful of the spread of the disease and prejudiced against the Irish Catholic suddenly thrust into their midst.

Now a group from Immaculata University is hoping to clear up this historical mystery with an archeological dig at Duffy’s Cut. Thus far they have found a large group of artifacts, including belt buckle, coins, eating utensils, buttons, and nails, but no bodies. You can learn more at the Duffy’s Cut Project website.

Duffy’s Cut Project

Articles on Duffy’s Cut

Philly's big dig: Closing in on the secrets of Duffy's Cut

The dark side of the Irish-American dream

The Ghosts of Duffy's Cut: The Irish Who Died Building America's Most Dangerous Stretch of Railroad


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing about this! I am a student at Immaculata University and I know Dr. Watson and John Ahtes (both faculty members at IU) appreciate your work!

Maxime said...

You write very well.