Discover the history

of duffy's cut

Nearby is the mass grave of fifty-seven Irish immigrant workers who died in August, 1832, of cholera. They had recently arrived in the United States and were employed by a construction contractor, named Duffy, for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. Prejudice against Irish Catholics contributed to the denial of care to the workers. Their illness and death typified the hazards faced by many 19th century immigrant industrial workers. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission © 2004


Duffy's Cut is the name given to a stretch of railroad tracks about 30 miles west of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania originally built for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, which later became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Main Line. In June, 1832, a contractor and fellow Irishman named Philip Duffy hired a group of 57 Irish immigrants to lay this line through the area's densely wooded hills and ravines.


The workers came to Philadelphia from the Ulster counties of Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry to work in Pennsylvania's developing railroad industry. Less than two months after their arrival, all 57 are believed to have died during the second cholera pandemic. While most died of the disease, forensic evidence suggest that some may have been murdered, perhaps due to fear of cholera in the area and surrounding counties. They were buried anonymously in a ditch outside of Malvern.

The Duffy’s Cut Project began undergoing archaeological excavation in August of 2004 by a research team headed by Dr. William Watson from Immaculata University, Rev. Dr. Frank Watson, Earl Schandelmeier and John Ahtes (who passed away in 2010). The team took on the momentous task of archival and archaeological search into the life and death of the forgotten men of Duffy's Cut. Seeking to provide insight into early 19th Century attitudes about industry, immigration, and disease in Pennsylvania.¬†On March 20, 2009, the first human bones were unearthed, consisting of two skulls, six teeth and eighty other bones.

With the help of the Chester County Emerald Society, we obtained an official State Historical Marker for the site in March, 2004, thereby putting Duffy’s Cut on the map of history. The marker was dedicated on June 18, 2004, and was placed by us at the intersection of King Road and Sugartown Road in Malvern.