Two brothers from Pennsylvania who tackled the nearly 200 year old mystery of Irish immigrants to the USA will visit Derry this morning to visit the spot from where the immigrants set sail in 1832.
Brothers Frank and William Watson have invested over a decade of their time in unravelling what has become known as the mystery of Duffy’s Cut. In 1832, 57 people from Derry, Donegal and Tyrone boarded the ship John Stamp at Derry quay, bound for Philadelphia.
Yet, within in weeks of arriving and beginning work for Philip Duffy, a railroad contractor, on a stretch of track for the Pennsylvannia and Columbia Rail Company all of them were dead. At first it was thought that a cholera epidemic, rampant at the time, had accounted for their demise. But, almost two centuries later, the discovery of rail company documents by the Watson brothers which had been taken by their grandfather, an employee of the company, a possibly more sinister reason for the deaths began to emerge.
The papers suggested that at least some of the immigrants had been murdered by vigilantes in the area either attempting to cease the spread of cholera or fuelled by anti-Irish fervour.
Frank and William Watson are also in Ireland to attend the burial of fragments of the remains of Tyrone woman, Catherine Burns who died at the area which became known as Duffy’s Cut. Catherine Burns will be buried after a mass at Clonoe Parish Church, close to Coalisland in Co Tyrone at 12 noon this Sunday. The 29-year-old widow left for America with her father-in-law and many others from Tyrone but perished soon after her arrival in America.
Dr William Watson, a professor of history at Immaculata University in Pennsylvania said: “We found the two bone fragments in Catherine Burns coffin nail box in November, 2014, and we then came up with the idea of returning some of her remains to her native county.”
Catherine Burns will be the second set of remains to be repatriated in Irish soil, following those of teenager John Ruddy who was reburied in Donegal.
Fr Benny Fee, of St Patrick’s Church in Clonoe will preside over the funeral Mass on Sunday.
He said: “Her story touches our history with people leaving Ireland for America with teir hopes and desires. Not everyone found its streets were paved with gold.”
The Watson brothers are themselves from Scots Irish descent and for that, and many more reasons, took an avid interest in what happened to the Irish immigrants.
Pages 24 & 25 for full story.