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Robert McNamara

Cholera and the Dead of Duffy's Cut

By March 25, 2013

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A few years ago a sad tale of Irish immigrants who perished during an epidemic in 1832 began to be told when a long-forgotten burial ground was discovered in Pennsylvania. The laborers buried at a place known as Duffy's Cut had been building a railroad when cholera swept the East Coast.

The New York Times published an article about Duffy's Cut yesterday in which a historian mentioned that the men may have been the victims of a massacre.

That's not a new idea. When I first blogged about Duffy's Cut four years ago it was already suspected the men may have been killed out of fear they carried disease.

During the 1832 cholera epidemic immigrants were often blamed. The epidemic had been tracked across Europe. And New Yorkers, for example, lived in fear of its eventual arrival. The spread of the horrific disease could be tracked on the map, yet no one understood what caused it.

It would be decades before scientists determined that cholera is caused by a water-borne bacillus. And immigrant populations, prone to living near, and subsisting on, polluted water, were actually the victims of the disease, not the cause.

Related: The 1832 Cholera Epidemic

Illustration: Depiction of a cholera victim in 1832/Getty Images

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