THE AMERICAN academic who spearheaded the search for the remains of 57 Irish Immigrant rail workers at a spot outside Philadelphia says he is "both humbled and excited about the discovery of the mass grave."
Dr Frank Watson led the team of archivists and archaeologists at 'Duffy's Cut' for the past five years-and last Friday, March 20, the burial site was located.
Mystery has surrounded the demise of the men since they died at the site just weeks after their arrival at the railway construction site in the nineteenth century.
In June 1832, a group of 57 Irish immigrants from Londonderry, Tyrone and Donegal arrived ain Philadelphia. They were brought to Chester County by a fellow Irishman named Philip Duffy as labourers for the construction of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad.
Within six weeks, all of the men were dead. The official explanation was that they had contracted cholera and and as a result had to buried quickly for fear the disease would spread. However, suspicions always remained that they had in fact been murdered and deposited in a ditch outside Malvern.
The Duffy's Cut Project is an archival and archaeological search into their lives and also seeks to provide insight into early 19th Century attitudes about industry, immigration and disease in Pennsylvania. An official State Historical Marker was placed at the site in March, 2004 and dedicated in June 2004.
Last Friday, almost exactly five years after the search for the remains began, the burial site was located.
Speaking to the Sentinel, Dr Frank Watson said: "In addition to leg and toe bones, we discovered two human skulls. I discovered the skull of a teenage boy and my brother Bill found the skull of an adult. We also found jaw fragments with teeth from the teenage boy. We believe the boy is John Ruddy, an 18-year-old from Donegal, who arrived on the ship, the John Stamp and disappeared from history after his arrival."
Dr Watson said that retrieving the skull was simultaneously "sad and joyous".
"Sad, in that I am the father of a 17-year-old boy, and I can only speculate what his parents had gone through when he announced he was going to leave Donegal to work on the railroad in America, and then what grief they must have gone through when they never heard from him again. And, it was also a joyous moment in that now these young men and the sacrifice they made to help build America, can now be properly remembered. John Ruddy and his companions that helped build America will never be forgotten," he said.
Frank Watson also revealed that there are plans to return the remains of some of the men back to the Irish counties from which they hailed for burial.
However, telling the Sentinel that there is much more work to be done at the site, Dr Watson said: "I will add that what we found on Friday is just the tip of the iceberg. Fifty-five more men are still there at Duffy's Cut and we hope to work with the Smithsonian Institute in having the bones properly analyzed in the coming weeks."