PHILLY-ROOTS-L ArchivesArchiver > PHILLY-ROOTS > 2009-04 > 1240427114
From: Carole 2922 <>
Subject: [Phly-Rts] Emigrant Graves in Philadelphia
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 2009 15:05:14 -0400
This article was in my newsletter from UlsterAncestry & I thought the list
would find it of interest.
*Emigrant graves discovered in Philadelphia *
Researchers may have discovered a mass grave for nearly five dozen
19th-century Irish immigrants who died of cholera just 3 weeks after
traveling to Pennsylvania to build a railroad.
Historians at Immaculata University have known for years about the 57
immigrants who died in August 1832 but could not find the grave.
Human bones discovered last week near the suburban Philadelphia university
may at last reveal their final resting place — and possibly allow
researchers to identify the remains and repatriate them.
We feel a kinship with these men, said Immaculata history professor William
Watson. Righting an injustice has led us to this point.
The woody site where the bones were found is known as Duffy's Cut. It is
named after Philip Duffy, who hired the immigrants from Fahan, County
Donegal, Tyrone and the environs of Londonderry City to help build the
Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad.
Years of combing the several acres of rough terrain in Duffy's Cut had so
far yielded about 2,000 artifacts, including pipes, buttons and forks. Then
on Friday, researchers using ground-penetrating radar unearthed pieces of
two skulls along with dozens of other bone fragments and teeth. The findings
were announced Tuesday.
Research led Watson to conclude many of the Irish workers died of cholera,
an acute intestinal infection caused by contaminated food or water that
typically had a mortality rate of 40 percent to 60 percent.
Watson believes some of the workers may have been murdered because of their
illness or ethnicity. There was general prejudice against Irish Catholics,
tension between residents and the transient workers, and a great fear of
cholera — especially among the affluent classes, Watson said.
Anyone with cholera was deemed to be almost subhuman, Watson said.
God forbid it would spread to the respectable segments of society.
Researchers including University of Pennsylvania geosciences professor Tim
Bechtel expect to find bullets buried with the bones.
"Every shovelful of dirt that comes out of there ought to be sifted,"
The immigrants were buried anonymously in a ditch outside what is now
Malvern, about 30 miles west of Philadelphia. All day long trains travel
past the site, which backs up to a manicured subdivision in East Whiteland
Watson and his twin brother, Frank, also a historian, started the Duffy's
Cut Project in 2003, a year after learning of the workers and their demise
from the personal papers of their late grandfather, who had worked for the
railroad much later on.
Watson said they have discovered the names of 15 of the 57 immigrants with
help from a ship's passenger list, and even have tentatively identified one
set of remains as that of John Ruddy, a teenager.
Researchers plan to extract DNA from the bones and find living descendants
of the men in Ireland. The goal is to identify them all and either
repatriate their remains or give them proper burials, Watson said.
The railroad never informed the men's families of their deaths and instead
allowed the bodies to be "thrown into a ditch and treated like garbage,"
"This was someone's son or brother or husband," he said. "Something has to
Breandan O'Caollai, deputy consul general of Ireland in New York, praised
the Watson brothers for their commitment to the project.
"This is a very important discovery that will help bring some closure to a
very sad chapter in Irish-American history," O'Caollai said.