History professor works to uncover mysterious Irish immigrant deaths

It was a stain on local history when 57 immigrant workers died during an alleged Cholera outbreak, but it was even worse when historians found out it wasn’t illness- it was a massacre. 

On Friday, a local professor told Fox 29's Bill Anderson that they want to tell the true story of what happened to the Irish immigrants at Duffy’s Cut on the main line, so that the people who lost their lives can get the respect they deserve.

“In 1832, his was the biggest industrial endeavor in Pennsylvania," said history professor Dr. William Watson. "The Philadelphia and Columbia railroad.”

“Nearly 200 years ago, 57 Irish rail workers came to this main line site looking for work and filled with hope.”

According to Watson, the story is that Cholera broke out in Philadelphia around the same time as their arrival and then made its way west. By the end of the summer, they were all dead.”

Watson says the 57 Irish immigrants working at the site, called Duffy’s Cut, were thrown in a mass grave and virtually forgotten until historian Dr. Watson discovered the truth.

“This land at the time was owned by the family that ran the east white land horse company which was the local vigilante group and it was like the perfect crime," he said. 

The times were strongly anti-Irish, and it was routine to be exploited, attacked and beaten. Dr. Watson believes that’s what happened to many of the 57 workers.

“They were foreigners, Irish Catholics, probably Gaelic speakers," said Dr. Watson. "It was the easiest thing in the world to contain the epidemic and get rid of a group that they really didn’t want out here in their midst.  So murder? Murder!”

Proudly stating their Irish heritage, Dr Watson and others now dedicate large parts of their lives to finding the remains of those who tragically had theirs taken.

“It pisses me off that this happened here, it could’ve been me in here or my son. All of us believe that,” said Dr. Watson.

Now at the site of the apparent massacre, they brought out new radar technology allowing them to look for remains in a way that was previously impossible.

“All this science going on here today is hopefully going to right a historical wrong," Dr. Watson said. 

The remains of seven people have been recovered so far. 

As the radar helped them identify and mark possible sites of additional remains, Dr Watson and the workers seemed to feel at least a small sense of accomplishment from giving respect to those who died without it.

“No one else is here to advocate for these guys except for us," said Dr. Watson.

And although heritage and pride drive them, there is also a feeling of their work benefiting us all.

“Its very timely, this stuff is happening today," said Watson. "These guys were killed for who they were, that’s going on everywhere.”

They plan to keep going until the people at Duffy’s Cut can finally get appropriate recognition.  

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