The Descent of Their Last End: A Son of Erin Returns Home

by lissajuliana

Smoking pipe fragments excavated at Duffy’s Cut, Pennsylvania. Some of the pipes clearly made in Ireland. Duffy’s Cut Museum, Immaculata University. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

After 181 years, John Ruddy has returned to Ireland to be buried among his ancestors at a funeral attended by descendants. In an earlier post, Royal Reliquaries, or Who Do You Think You Are?, we wrote about how DNA testing, archaeology, and forensic science have solved mysteries about the past both for the famous and for the forgotten. Richard III’s remains were recently identified, but so were John Ruddy’s. In the spring of 1832, John Ruddy and a number of other Irishmen sailed to Philadelphia and were hired straight off the boat to work on building one of the country’s earliest rail lines. Barely two months later, as a cholera epidemic raged, Ruddy and fifty-six others died at a site known as Duffy’s Cut.

Locals long believed that the mass grave contained men who were victims of the disease and that this accounted for the many eerie stories associated with the site. But a team of historians and students from nearby Immaculata University discovered when they began excavating the bodies, that some had died by violence. Forensic evidence suggests that some of the six men, and one woman, whose graves have been excavated so far, were murdered. The hypothesis is that local vigilantes wanted to prevent them from leaving the camp to get medical help and supplies for the many men who were sick with the cholera. Of these bodies, they were only able to positively identify John Ruddy due to a rare genetic abnormality that affected his teeth and that several present-day Ruddy family members share.

Members of the Duffy’s Cut project had the six who are unidentified reinterred at Philadelphia’s West Laurel Hill Cemetery last year. On March 2, 2013, Bill Watson, Frank Watson, and Earl Schandelmeier of the Duffy’s Cut Project, along with Sadie, James, and Bernard Ruddy, accompanied John Ruddy’s casket to its final resting place in Ardara, County Donegal, Ireland. In 1832, John Ruddy was just eighteen years old, a poor Irish immigrant who needed any work he could find when he made his westward journey, first to Philadelphia and then just thirty more miles to a cut in the woods. He has returned to Ireland at last.