Home Organization The Boyertown Irish Catholic Women’s Organization hosts a speaker on the 1832 Duffy’s Cut Irish Massacre

The Boyertown Irish Catholic Women’s Organization hosts a speaker on the 1832 Duffy’s Cut Irish Massacre


The Ladies of the Ancient Order of Hibernia of St. Columbkill Parish in Boyertown sponsored a presentation by Dr. Matthew Patterson on the massacre of the Irish at Duffy’s Cut.

Duffy’s Cut is the story of the murder of 57 Irish Catholic immigrants – 55 men and two women – who remained in hiding for approximately 180 years. The Irish arrived in Philadelphia on June 23, 1832, and six weeks later they were all dead.

Launched in 2004, The Duffy’s Cut Project is an archaeological dig and research into the life and death of the forgotten men of Duffy’s Cut, seeking to provide insight into early 19th century attitudes towards industry, immigration and disease in Pennsylvania.

On March 20, 2009, the first human bones were unearthed, consisting of two skulls, six teeth and 80 other bones, according to https://duffyscutproject.com.

Patterson, a forensic dentist, has worked on the project since 2009.

During the March 20 presentation to the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians in Boyertown, which is an Irish Catholic organization for women, Patterson described the events leading up to the massacre and efforts to identify the victims.

In 1832, the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad was building tracks.

Their goal was to eventually build a railroad from Philadelphia to Columbia, Pennsylvania, and eventually to Pittsburgh. This was the start of the main line. However, the Mile 59 track near Malvern was difficult to build. A valley had to be filled in by knocking down the surrounding hills.

All of this had to be done by hand with horses, pickaxes, carts, pitchforks and shovels.

Dr. Matthew Patterson, a forensic dentist, gave a presentation on Duffy’s cut at St. Columbkill Parish in Boyertown on March 20.

Patterson explained that a worldwide epidemic of cholera impacted the region during the hot and humid summer of 1832.

At the time, Irish people came to America in search of a better life and were willing to work hard to support their families back in Ireland.

The Irish who were hired for Duffy’s Cut came from Tyrone, Derry and Donegal in Ireland, with the largest number from Donegal. They only spoke Gaelic. They were paid 25 cents a day and a glass of whisky.

They worked 16 hours a day. Donegal is also believed to be the birthplace of Philip Duffy, the railway employee responsible for the project and for whom the incident is named.

Philip Duffy hired the Irish straight from the ship they arrived on, the John Stamp.

Although no one aboard the ship had cholera, the workers were blamed for bringing it to Pennsylvania. Cholera came to Pennsylvania from Canada, down the Hudson River to New York, then to Pennsylvania. Although some died of cholera, most were brutally murdered by militiamen who hated Irish Catholics.

When the workers began to fall ill with cholera, which they ingested by drinking from infected streams, they asked for help from the local community by knocking on doors.

There were no local police at the time, so neighbors called in the local militia, the East Whiteland Horse Company. The extreme hatred of the Irish caused the locals to blame the Irish for the cholera outbreak and called on the militia to get rid of them.

While newspapers at the time said the workers died of cholera, anthropological examination of the remains shows many victims died of blunt force trauma from bullets and hatchets, Patterson said.

One of the first problems that plagued the excavation teams was that they found no bodies, just personal effects and artifacts.

The project began after the grandsons of the President’s Secretary of the Pennsylvania Railroad, who had purchased the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, reviewed their late grandfather’s documents.

The Duffy’s Cut file began with Martin Clement, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1935 to 1949. His secretary, Joseph Tripician, became aware of the Duffy’s Cut file and received the file upon Clement’s death in 1966. When Tripician died in 1977, his wife passed on the file to their grandsons William and Frank Watson.

Reverend Dr. Frank Watson and his twin brother, Dr. William Watson, heard their grandfather tell ghost stories, but those stories had no impact. After seeing a ghost by chance, they started looking at their grandfather’s ghost stories with a new perspective.

In September 2000, William Watson, a history professor at Immaculata University and a friend looked out of his office window and saw bluish electric lights in the shape of a man flickering on the quad and suddenly the lights disappeared.

Believing they had seen ghosts, Patterson noted that was when they knew where to start looking for the bodies. In March 2004, excavation work began.

Patterson joined the project in March 2009. One of the discoveries made by Patterson was a dental abnormality. Using DNA blood samples from Irish residents and the help of the ship’s manifesto, he was able to identify seven members of the Ruddy family.

John Ruddy, an 18-year-old, was the first body identified. His remains were brought back to Donegal and buried in 2013.

Catherine Burns, a 30-year-old widow, was the second body identified. Anthropologists realized the skeleton belonged to a woman due to its larger pelvic bone. His remains were returned for burial in Tyrone, Ireland.

The Pennsylvania Railroad acknowledged the massacre with signs.

The project encountered setbacks. First, they couldn’t find the bodies. The first seven bodies were found buried in coffins.

The remaining bodies, dumped under the embankment of the railway line, have mixed remains. There has also been a struggle to access the site since three quarters of the cut is now surrounded by housing estates. And, at one point, Amtrak didn’t allow digging. The project relies on private funding which has slowed down the process.

Patterson noted that this has been called the most important Irish anthropological project in the country. He called Duffy’s Cut the most worthy project of his 37-year career.

For more information about the Duffy’s Cut project, visit www.duffyscut.immaculata.edu.

Submitted by Martha Gehringer of Boyertown