Archaeologists and historians are continuing to investigate the mass grave in Pennsylvania where of 57 Irish immigrants were murdered and buried in 1832. Currently carrying out core sampling on the memorial site, next to a railway track, the team hopes to provide proper burials to the remaining 51 immigrants.
The plot of land known as Duffy’s Cut, in Pennsylvania's Chester County, hit the news almost 12 years ago after brothers Doctors Frank and William Watson began their investigation into the deaths of the Irish immigrants. Their mission started when a file of evidence, prepared by their grandfather, was left to them on his death and the story began to unfold. Through years of investigation and examination of the remains the Watson brothers believe they have found proof that these Irish immigrants buried in a mass grave met a violent end.
In July 2015 the brothers and their volunteer staff returned to Clonoe, County Tyrone to bury the remains of Catherine Burns in her native soil. Another five bodies were reinterred at the West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, PA.
Dr Frank Watson told IrishCentral that after long communications with Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, the team has “started taking core samples at the Duffy's Cut stone memorial wall.”
“With approval from Amtrak we are now conducting core samples at the site of what we believe is the mass grave of the remaining 51 laborers at Duffy's Cut,” Dr Watson told IrishCentral.
“We have core samples being taken between 20 and 30 feet along an area underground that our geophysicist indicated looks like the ossuary or mass burial place of the remaining Irish laborers who died of cholera and violence in August 1832.”
In 1832 these Irish immigrants sailed from Derry on the John Stamp to start their new lives in the US. These immigrants, from counties Donegal, Tyrone and Derry, were hired to work on Duffy’s Cut, a stretch of railway in Pennsylvania. Six weeks after starting with the railway works all the workers were dead.
It is believed that many of the workers died from cholera, while others were murdered by local people who believed that the immigrants were responsible for spreading the disease. The families of the workers were never informed of their deaths. Their remains, according to forensic anthropologist Dr Janet Monge’s study, show they met a violent death, including one man who was shot in the head.
“Anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment combined with fear of a world-wide cholera pandemic that hit Chester County, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1832 led to vigilante violence at Duffy's Cut,” explained Dr Watson.
The Watson brothers and their team have been examining the evidence and raising funds to further their investigation for over a decade. Now Dr Frank Watson believes that they may be on their way to locating, identifying and exhuming these 51 Irish immigrants' remains.
Dr Watson said, “If we find human remains in these core samples our intent is to excavate the remains and re-inter them in the United States, at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, PA, and in Ireland, as we have already done with the first 6 bodies who were buried at the base of the 1832 railroad tracks).”
The core sampling should be completed by the end of this week. “They will be analyzed by Dr. Janet Monge of the University of Pennsylvania,” Dr Watson said. “We hope, if there are viable remains, to be able to match them up additional laborers from the John Stamp.”
The Watson brothers and their team rely entirely on donations to complete their honorable work to give these Irish immigrants murdered and buried in a pit, thousands of miles from home, a dignified burial.
For more information and to contact the team visit Duffyscut.immaculata.edu.
Watch the full documentary on Duffy’s cut below. The Tile Films/PBS/RTE documentary “Death on the Railroad”: