Touring Philadelphia's Western Regions
Philadelpia County had two hundred farms in 1950, but is now thickly settled in all directions. Western regions along the Schuylkill are still spread out somewhat; with many historic estates.
In taking a comprehensive view of a city, an author sometimes makes observations which differ from the common view. Usually with special pride, sometimes a little sullen.
It's generally agreed, railroads failed to adjust their fixed capacity to changing demands. It's less certain Philadelphia was pulled down by that collapsing rail system.
Chester County, Pennsylvania
Chester was an original county of Pennsylvania, one of the largest until Dauphin, Lancaster and Delaware counties were split off. Because the boundaries mainly did not follow rivers or other natural dividers, translating verbal boundaries into actual lines was highly contentious.
"Alabama in-between," snickered James Carville, "Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Alabama in-between."
Right Angle Club 2012
This ends the ninetieth year for the club operating under the name of the Right Angle Club of Philadelphia. Before that, and for an unknown period, it was known as the Philadelphia Chapter of the Exchange Club.
THE Right Angle Club was recently honored by a talk by Professor William Watson, who teaches history at Immaculata University in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Although it is hard to find much memorial recognition of it, Immaculata is on the site of the Battle of the Clouds, of the Revolutionary War. Washington's army was retreating from the advancing British invaders from Elkton, Maryland, who were headed for the occupation of Philadelphia, in 1778. Although Washington had been outflanked at the biggest battle of the war at Brandywine Creek, he regrouped near Paoli and prepared to defend Philadelphia where the Continental Congress convened. A tremendous rainstorm, possibly a hurricane, hit the two armies as they formed for battle, and everyone's gunpowder was soaking wet. By mutual consent, the battle was called off. The Malvern area was also the site of the Paoli massacre, where General Anthony Wayne overestimated his understanding of the local area, and British troops attacked at night with orders to use bayonets, only.
Professor Watson was, however, speaking about another massacre in the area, at Duffy's Cut. The Cut now belongs to Amtrak, but it was originally built in 1832, from Columbia on the Susquehanna River eastward, as the Philadelphia and Columbia RR, using horse-drawn rail carriages. That essentially means it went from Scotch-Irish Cumberland County, through the Pennsylvania Dutch territory, to Quaker Chester County and Federalist Episcopalian Philadelphia. The builders of the railroad contracted out mile-long sections of the construction to contractors, one of whom was Philip Duffy, who naturally imported southern Irish laborers to do the digging. As a sidelight, Duffy lived in Port Richmond, where he was buried, allegedly a very rich man. His work site was nearly 60 miles east of Columbia, the most expensive contract on the railroad because it involved more cutting and filling of the hilly countryside: Duffy's Cut.
|Duffy's Cut Marker|
Sanitary conditions at the dig site were probably pretty primitive, ideal for the spread of fecal-borne illnesses like cholera (and hepatitis, amoebic dysentery, Salmonella, and Shigella), which are characteristic of concentration camps, prison camps, army encampments, and the like. Many later epidemiologists now trace the introduction of cholera to Canada, with downward spread along the Susquehanna, but fifty years before Pasteur there was no sure way to make the diagnosis and no knowledge of its epidemiology. The Irish encampment at Duffy's Cut might just as well have died of bacillary dysentery, but it would have made little difference to know; they just died, and it was said to be cholera that did it. It was probably some kind of fecal contagion, but modern archaeology has recovered eight or ten skulls with bullet holes at the site, and historical investigation of the more usual type has recovered letters by President Clement of the Pennsylvania Railroad, ordering a cover-up. The rest of the story is necessarily conjectural, and we have to be uncertain whether Clement was concerned about hushing up cholera in the region, or ethnic riots, and if so whether he wanted to avoid scaring away replacement laborers, or avoid stirring up local antagonisms. Professor Watson describes considerable difficulty with getting cooperation from politicians and news media in pursuing his studies, where it is hard to see any non-railroad motive, except the motive of wanting to let sleeping dogs lie.
If so, it is a serious concern. It must be recalled that the Scotch-Irish of central Pennsylvania were located there as a result of the activities of James Logan, the agent of the Penn family. The Penns wanted to sell land to settlers and felt that fear of hostile Indians was inhibiting immigration. Logan, who was himself a Scot from Northern Ireland, suggested that the protestant Scotch Irish of that region were tired of combating their Catholic neighbors to the south, and were definitely the equal of the Indians in combativeness. This is the reason the Scotch Irish of Pennsylvania were located to the west of the German settlements of Dauphin and Lancaster Counties. It is also the cause of numerous clashes with the Indians (the Paxtang Boys), the Connecticut invaders of the three Pennamite Wars, and most notably -- the Irish Catholic Molly Maguires of the Pottsville region. Throughout all of these overtly military disputes ran the readily observable fact that the Scottish tribes were accustomed to guerrilla warfare in the woods. They mainly are responsible for winning the Revolutionary War, at least in the Appalachian regions stretching as far to the south as Georgia. They leave us a heritage of bagpipes, country music, very rough football, and airplane pilots. Unfortunately, rough behavior provokes rough behavior in return, and much of the unfortunate features of the labor conflicts of our national politics can be traced to the scars and antagonisms of the Molly Maguire episode of railroads and coal mining. This may or may not have been on Clement's mind when he tried to suppress the news of Duffy's Cut massacre, but it should have been, and to some extent it probably was.
There is no excuse for shooting people in the head or killing them with an ax. But the sixth or seventh generation descendants of the victims are urged to reflect that a campful of male laborers far away from home are apt to exhibit unfortunate behaviors. Remember that no one knew the cause of cholera, but it was new, and it certainly looked contagious. The laborers may or may not have brought it with them, but somebody introduced it to the region, and it looked as though the contagion would continue to spread as long as the laborers continued to be there. There might well have been some unfortunate economic incentives at work, like the disappearance of the Conestoga wagon industry among the Pennsylvania Dutch when the railroad came through. And the obvious concern of the railroad owners that the region has a peaceful, healthful, reputation. The almost total approval of slavery by the Pennsylvania Irish during the Civil War provoked Lincoln to send ten thousand troops to the area during the Civil War. And on, and on. There is almost no part of this region which does not have some remote history of savage behavior. Let's be careful not to stir it up.
Originally published: Friday, November 09, 2012; most-recently modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2019
|Posted by: David E Dillman, BS ,RRT | Apr 28, 2013 11:09 PM|