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Frank and William Watson Photo by: Handout

Duffy’s Cut murder victim’s remains brought home to Donegal after 180 years

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Frank and William Watson Photo by: Handout

John Ruddy, one of the 57 Irish laborers who died during the cholera outbreak in 1832, will be returned to Donegal to be buried in his homeland.

Ruddy's burial in Ireland will be symbolic coming home and recognition of the 57 people killed at Duffy's Cut.

The discovering, exhumation and excavation of the site has been a passion for local brothers William and Frank Watson. Their quest began when they found an old file in the vaults of the Pennsylvania Railroad which helped them identify these Irish laborers and figure out how they died.

The Watson brothers, along with their colleague Earl Schandelmeier, the founders of the Duffy’s Cut Project, in 2002, have officially been named as John Ruddy’s legal guardians. They will accompany his remains and hold a funeral for in Ardara, County Donegal.

Speaking to IrishCentral, Frank Watson said bringing, what as far as DNA can tell is, John Ruddy,  home to Ireland is “the final chapter of the life and death of ” this 18-year-old laborer who recovered at Duffy's Cut.

Ruddy had arrived in the United States just five weeks before he fell ill and was murdered.

These 57 immigrants were hired to work on the Philadelphia and Columbia line, originally a horse-drawn train. Work began in 1828 and three years later an Irish contractor named Philip Duffy won the contract for Mile 59, hence the name of the site.

The project required leveling a hill, which was known as making a cut; it was nasty work. The men Duffy hired were described as a “sturdy looking band of the sons of Erin,” in an 1829 newspaper article. They were paid about ten dollars a month and lived in shacks. They were probably Irish speakers and had few possessions.

Read more: Duffy’s Cut archaeologists search for descendants of murdered John Ruddy

Watson said, “Ruddy was born 1814, and came to America aboard the ship the John Stamp, which sailed in April 1832 from Derry to the Port of Philadelphia, arriving in June.”

He also told IrishCentral the theory behind how the 57 forgotten Irish laborers were murdered. 

“When cholera broke out in the work camp, Ruddy and some of his fellow laborers tried to escape into the neighboring community,” said Watson.

“He, along with at least four other men and one woman, were murdered by locals who were afraid of the cholera disease and of the "foreigners" who they believed were carrying the disease.

“Ruddy died of perimortem blows to his head, while at least one other was shot in the head. None of the bodies of the dead at Duffy's Cut have shown defensive wounds, indicating that they may have been tied up prior to being murdered.”

Read more: Murder in a time of cholera remembered as Duffy’s Cut Irish victims finally reburied

Last year the Watson brothers and their team laid five of the Duffy’s Cut victims to rest at the West Laurel Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, PA, with a full funeral and graveside ceremony. 

However bringing John Ruddy’s remains back to Ireland is even more meaningful to the team.

Watson said, “We have always wanted to bring one of the men from Duffy's Cut back home, as a way of saying to the world that every life is worth remembering, and everyone deserves to be remembered. The story of John Ruddy's life and death have now been remembered and commemorated through the work of the Duffy's Cut Project team, and now, as he will be returned to his homeland, he will rest in peace.”

Ruddy will finally be buried in Ardara, County Donegal on March 2, 2013.

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