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Duffy's Cut

Duffy's Cut is the name given to a stretch of railroad tracks about 30 miles west of Philidelphia originally built for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad in the summer and fall of 1832; the line later became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Main Line. Railroad contractor Philip Duffy hired 57 Irish immigrants to lay this line through the area's densely wooded hills and ravines. Less than two months after their arrival, all 57 are believed to have died withing 6 weeks of arriving during the second cholera epidemic (Finding). Cholera was an epidemic and worldwide contagion spanning several continents (Watson 12).


One main way the Irish were discriminated against was in the way of lack of health care. When medical outbreaks occured, proper medical treatment was not given and dead bodies were not properly disposed of, creating an enviornment for the plagues to fester and spread. When the first few workers died, they were buried by Duffy's blacksmith in individual graves- until they realized everyone would die. That is when Duffy decided to make a large, shallow grave for the rest of the bodies to be put in without a funeral. There were no death certificates ever recorded (Barry 1).  


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Enclosure near the Amtrak tracks near Malvern, PA, mile 59, built as a memorial to Irish workers who died during a Cholera epidemic.

On June 18, 2004, a Pennsylvania state historical marker was dedicated near the site. The text of the marker reads, "Nearby is the mass grave of fifty-seven Irish immigrant workers who died in August, 1832, of cholera."

On March 20, 2009, the first human bones were unearthed by William E. Watson, a history professor at Immaculata University, and his twin brother Frank, a Lutheran minister, "consisting of two skulls, six teeth and eighty other bones." In August 2009, "Finding Dulcinea", an educational research website reported in an article in 2010 that the two earliest skulls found both show evidence of blunt-force trauma inflicted peri-mortem (Finding). 

One skull in particular showed evidence of "blunt force trauma" and Janet Monge, a physical anthropologist and the curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, explained, "He got wonked on the head". This evidence might suggest the possibility that they were murdered, possibly because of fear of the spread of cholera as Dr. Monge states that, "I actually think it was a massacre" (Barry 2).




These immigrants did not have many options for work due to "No Irish Need Apply" signs in many crowded cities, such as New York, so the railroads were a very attractive option. However, Duffy's Cut clearly shows what types of conditions the Irish were forced to work in and their atrociosu treatment while on the job. These immigrants were taken to create the most difficult stretches of the railroad, a difficult understaking to begin with, then suffered many types of fatal health problems. This tragedy speaks volumes to the horrors that these immigrants went through just for a paycheck, a paycheck that meant a possibility at a new life in a forgeign land. 


Barry, Dan. (2013). With Shovels and Science, a Grim Story Is Told. New York Times. P.1-2

FindingDulcinea Staff. "19th Century Irish Railroad Workers in Pennsylvania Grave May Have Been Murdered." 19th Century Irish Railroad Workers in Pennsylvania Grave May Have Been Murdered. Finding Dulcinea, 20 Aug. 2010.

Watson, William E; J.Francis (Frank) Watson, Earl H. Schandelmeier, John H. Ahtes (2006). The Ghosts of Duffy's Cut: The Irish who Died Building America's Most Dangerous Stretch of Railroad. Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Duffy's Cut