Is Duffy’s Cut the Site of an 1832 Slaughter?

Photo by Jeff Meade.

William Watson, chairman of the history department at Immaculata University, is excavating a mass grave site near Philadelphia. The results, though preliminary, may indicate not merely a cholera epidemic, but a series of murders — possibly even an anti-Irish massacre. The group of Irish-immigrant railroad workers, working on the Duffy’s Cut Project (after Philip Duffy, who hired the workers to construct a railroad “cut”) were long thought to have succumbed to cholera. The events even spawned a mildly famous folksong in Ireland, sung by Christy Moore.

Some of the workers did die of cholera, but it now looks like others might have been the victims of mass violence inspired by anti-Irish prejudice, fear of cholera, or both.

The results are highly speculative and preliminary, but at least four of the 57 immigrants show signs of blows to the head, and at least one seems to show a bullet wound.

Watson, who leads a team of historians and anthropologists, is also working on the project with his twin brother, Frank. The brothers first heard about the grave site from their grandfather, who worked on the railroad long after the men died.

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