The quest to uncover truth about immigrant deaths from 1832

  • 07/18/2017
  • Philly.com
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The quest to uncover the truth about the deaths of 57 Irish railroad workers on the Main Line in 1832 has led to an encouraging discovery: Ground-penetrating radar last month found several anomalies that suggest more bodies remain buried at Duffy’s Cut, a patch of woods between an Amtrak line and a manicured Chester County cul-de-sac.

The young immigrants arrived in the United States from Derry to work on a stretch of rail on the old Philadelphia & Columbia line, about 30 miles from Center City in Malvern. Within several months, all of the workers were dead. Official reports at the time listed the cause of death as cholera.

For decades, the circumstances of their deaths have drawn the curiosity of the Irish American community, which suspected foul play.


William Watson (left), professor of history at Immaculata University, and the Rev. Frank Watson led the effort at the Duffy’s Cut archaeological site to investigate the mystery of the 57 dead Irish rail workers. They are at the site where they found bodies of the rail workers who were victims of cholera and violence in Malvern.

In 2002, twin brothers William and Frank Watson discovered documents kept by their late grandfather, who had been the executive assistant to the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The file came with instructions that the information be kept private.

The documents contradicted the story released during the cholera epidemic. They revealed that instead of eight deaths, 57 people had lost their lives. But untreated cholera has a mortality rate of only 50 percent. Something didn’t add up. Why did everyone die? 
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