As I said in 2013 when I first wrote about Duffy’s Cut, given the clouds of mystery and intrigue still surrounding Duffy’s Cut, I think the foggy afternoon I photographed the historical marker was perfect. You can never truly move forward into the future if you can’t honor the past, or that is just my opinion as a mere mortal and female.
I have written before about Duffy’s Cut and thanks to my friend Dr. Bill Watson at Immaculata, I have been blessed to have been to see Duffy’s Cut twice. And no, you can’t just go, you need permission. There is private property of homeowners and AMTRAK involved, and those who show callous disregard for either put the project at risk. So please, don’t just go exploring. Dr. Watson and his brother Rev. Watson and their team have worked so hard.
My last Duffy’s Cut adventure was about a year ago. I was invited to accompany them on a brief dig last summer. I was with the Duffy’s Cut team and teachers attending the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Duffy’s Cut Teachers Institute. Everyone was so warm and welcoming to a non-educator. It was an experience I will never, ever forget.
Earlier this year, a new film on Duffy’s Cut was released. “The Cut” by Irish American Films. I was originally supposed to attend the premiere of the documentary film at Immaculata, and this was yet another thing my blasted knee at the time did not allow me to do.
But I bought the DVD and it has sat on my desk, haunting me until today. Amazing. It is amazing. So very good and true.
In the very beginning of the film they discuss the “Irish Need Not Apply” of it all. I have personal family memories attached to that. When I was little my maternal grandfather (whom I called Poppy) would tell me stories of how the Irish were persecuted at different times in this country (John Francis Xavier Gallen was Irish and born in the late 19th century) . When he was a little boy, my great grandmother Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen was in service and was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt Family in Haverford. If I recall correctly, he lost a lot of family during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of the early 20th century, but I digress. Poppy would tell me of anti-Irish sentiment and tales of “Irish need not apply”.
I remember feeling wide eyed and incredulous as a child hearing that.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child”
~1 Corinthians 13:11
Yes, it was kind of like that. Because today I heard that phrase again, in The Cut, as an adult. And I recall the wonderful (and recent) series by Sam Katz, “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” (which you can watch in it’s entirety online at 6ABC). Sam Katz also discussed the plight of the Irish immigrant in his series.
Today as I watched this brilliant documentary that is so honest and true, I was struck by it all again. I was also struck by the parallels into the world today in which we live. Power, political power, the almost obfuscation of the law, prejudice, religious persecution. Here we are, residents of a country where out very forefathers fought and bled and died for our rights, our inalienable rights, and look how we treat one and other? And even in 1832, when the Revolutionary War wouldn’t have been as distant a memory, let alone the War of 1812, right?
This area in 1832 was farming and countryside and rather rural. These Irish rail workers were discriminated against, abused, persecuted, and ultimately murdered. And one who was complicit? A fellow Irishman named Philip Duffy. He was by most accounts a bully who exploited these men and women who had traveled thousands of miles to a different country in the hopes of a better life. Of course by the very nature of how Duffy treated these workers, he was was also a big coward, wasn’t he? The Philip Duffys of this world persist throughout history, don’t they?
This documentary also delves into the politics and political climate of the time, which seemed somewhat chaotic. I have to ask have we evolved enough from then? It seems like history is so often doomed to repeat itself unless we take the steps to be part of the change, right?
I am the child of immigrants, including Irish. I am not related to any of these workers (at least that I know of), but this inconvenient history of Duffy’s Cut hits me at the core of my being every time I read about it. These dead men could have been my ancestors, or yours, or anyone’s. These men and women mattered. All Americans are the descendants of immigrants. It is how the U.S.A. was founded, remember?
I was struck by an interview of Walt Hunter, Duffy’s Cut Board Member, supporter and long time KYW TV 3 reporter in Philadelphia. He spoke about having a certain feeling when onsite at Duffy’s Cut. I totally get it, I have felt it twice. It’s a feeling, a knowing, an awareness that great evil happened there.
You can buy a copy of “The Cut” through Irish American Films. I strongly recommend it.
Also Dr. Bill Watson and his brother , Rev. Frank Watson can always use our continued support of this magnificent and historically important archaeological project. Donate to The Duffy’s Cut Project. You can donate via the Duffy’s Cut website, just look for the little round button partway down the front page of the website with the PayPal icon. Or click here to see the Duffy’s Cut Donation Page. You can also donate via Square and checks are graciously accepted.
Donations can be made directly to Duffy’s Cut Project by check or money order and mailed to:
Duffy’s Cut Project
C/O William Watson
21 Faculty Center
Immaculata, PA 19345-0667
This history of Duffy’s Cut is so important. Yes it is ugly and brutal and raw. It is a true tale of the horrific things human beings do to one and other. But this was so awful that I totally understand why people literally tried to make this whole part of American history, local Chester County history, disappear. To the descendants of anyone involved, I am truly sorry. It doesn’t matter that it was 1832, it’s so ugly. But the dead will not rest until the workers are all discovered and honored. And that will be a good thing.
Please support Duffy’s Cut.
Recent Duffy’s Cut in the media articles include:
Promising discovery in 1830s deaths of Irish rail workers on the Main Line
Updated: JULY 13, 2017 — 3:45 PM EDT by Genevieve Glatsky, STAFF WRITER (Philadelphia Inquirer)
By Bill Rettew, firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: 06/10/17, 5:30 AM EDT
By Peg DeGrassa, POSTED: 03/06/17, 9:16 PM EST