Belfast Telegraph

Tyrone woman murdered 183 years ago in America to be buried in Coalisland

Almost 183 years after she was murdered in the United States the remains of Tyrone woman Catherine Burns will be returned home for commemoration and burial.

In 1832, Catherine, a widow at the age of 29, immigrated to the States with her father-in-law, laborer John Burns, on board the ship John Stamp, according to IrishCentral

Her remains will be buried with a full funeral mass on Sunday, July 19, at the Clonoe parish, near Coalisland, Tyrone, with a burial immediately after in the church cemetery.

Catherine was one of 70 residents of Tyrone among the 160 passengers to leave for a new life in the new world. Within eight weeks of their arrival, Catherine and John disappeared from the historic record.

They were among the 57 Irish laborers hired by Irish-born railroad contractor Philip Duffy to build mile 59 of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, a worksite that would become known as Duffy's Cut and, over a century later, famous for its tragic and mysterious past.

By the end of August 1832, all 57 workers, Catherine included, were dead. Some died due to a cholera outbreak that swept the work site, but most were murdered before they had a chance to succumb to the disease.

They were forgotten, buried in a mass grave, for over 100 years. The site and its story have been brought to light over the past 12 years by brothers Frank and William Watson, a Lutheran minister and a historian at Immaculata University. The Watson brothers, along with their colleague Earl Schandelmeier, founded the Duffy’s Cut Project in 2002. Since then the Duffy’s Cut Project team has worked to excavate the site, identify any remains, determine the causes of death, and secure funding for the project’s continued work.

As Frank Watson explained, “All of those recovered to this date were murdered by blunt force trauma, and one was both axed and shot in the head. None of the murdered show defensive wounds, indicating that they may have been tied up prior to being murdered.

“Among the six recovered at Duffy's Cut was the first man found, 18-year-old John Ruddy from Donegal, who was reinterred at Holy Family Cemetery in Ardara, County Donegal on March 2, 2013.

The other five men were buried at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd on March 9, 2012.

“The last person recovered at Duffy's Cut in the summer of 2010 was a woman aged to around 30 years of age by our physical anthropologist, Dr. Janet Monge of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. This woman's remains showed that she was used to heavy labor, similar to the men buried alongside of her in the 1832 railroad fill. She suffered perimortem (at the time of death) blunt force trauma to her head, as did the men (they were beaten to death).”

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