Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'They were expendable': Remembering the Irish immigrants of Duffy's Cut, 180 years later

A post several months ago told the story of dozens of Irish immigrant railroad workers who perished in 1832 in rural Pennsylvania, in a place called Duffy's Cut. Buried in a mass grave, they were long thought to have been victims of anti-immigrant vigilantes, a theory that has gained credibility in recent years after researchers unearthing their bones found signs of trauma.

Five men and one woman - believed to have been a washerwoman - were reburied on Friday with a ceremony in a Pennsylvania cemetery; another man, believed to have been named John Ruddy, will likely be reburied in a family plot in Ireland once tests confirm his identity.

It's a haunting story from a time when Irish immigrant laborers faced harsh discrimination, one that still resonates. The Irish Times interviewed William Watson, the historian who led the dig along with his brother, and has some details about the laborers' arrival in the U.S. long ago:

The story starts in 1828, when Irishman Philip Duffy won a contract to build Mile 59 of the Philadelphia-Columbus railway.

Mr Duffy enlisted "a sturdy looking band of the sons of Erin", according to an 1829 newspaper article. The men moved heavy clay, stones and shale from the top of a hill to an adjacent valley, hence the name Duffy"s Cut. They were poor, Irish-speaking Catholics who would have been paid "$10 to $15 a month, with a miserable lodging, and a large allowance for whiskey" according to a British historian of the time.

Cholera broke out and the workers" camp was quarantined. Some escaped but returned because the surrounding affluent Scotch-Irish population refused to help them.

"Of all the places in the world, this was the worst place for them to be," says Prof Watson, a descendant of Irish Catholic Donnellys and Scottish Protestant Watsons. "They were expendable. Because they were recently arrived Irishmen, they were assumed to be the cause of the epidemic. It was anti-Catholic, anti-Irish prejudice; white-on-white racism."

...Janet Monge, an anthropologist who worked on the project, found signs of violence at or near the time of death on all the remains.

"One of the skulls had a bullet hole," says Laura Kennedy, the curator of the Duffy"s Cut museum at Immaculata and one of 10 pall-bearers at yesterday"s ceremony. "Most of the wounds look like an axe blow or pick."

Read more at: