1832 Cholera Outbreak in Philadelphia and Duffy’s Cut

Lately, there has been a fair amount of news coverage (“Fates Of Irish Workers Sealed In Mass Grave”, “Pennsylvania Ghost Story Leads to Murder Mystery”, “CNN Visits Penn Museum to Follow Story of “Duffy’s Cut” Excavations in Malvern, PA”) about the mystery surrounding “Duffy’s Cut,” a stretch of land in Chester County where, during the summer of 1832, 57 Irish laborers died. The men were hired by labor contractor Philip Duffy to construct mile 59 of the Pennsylvania and Columbia Railroad. The cholera epidemic that was ravaging parts of the U.S., including New York City, spread to Philadelphia and reached the laborers’ camp in mid-August. Within two and a half weeks, all of the men were dead.   

All of the deaths were blamed on the disease; however, historical documents and local stories suggest that some of the victims may have been murdered by locals, antagonistic to Irish Catholics, who wanted to prevent the outbreak from spreading. A few years ago, scholars and other interested parties began an archeological dig at the site of the mass grave to try and determine whether foul play had indeed occurred.       

Although downplayed in histories concerning the 1832 cholera epidemic, the toll that the disease took on Philadelphia that summer was high. Many residents fled from the city to the countryside. August proved to be the worst month with well over a hundred cases a day reported. A significant number of those cases resulted in death.  The worst days in the city were August 6, when there were 176 cases and 71 deaths, and August 7, when there were 136 cases and 73 deaths reported.      

There was a fairly organized and concerted effort on the part of the medical community in the city during the early months of the outbreak. However, by August medical personnel were overwhelmed and began to seek outside help. The Committee of the Almshouse, later known as Philadelphia General Hospital, asked Bishop Kenrick if he could request the help of the Sisters of Charity to serve as nurses. The order, founded by Elizabeth Ann Seton, already had a presence in the city. In 1814, at the request of then Bishop Egan and Fr. Michael Hurley, pastor of St. Augustine’s Church and close friend of Mother Seton, sisters began working in St. Joseph’s orphanage.       

Sister Rose White, first sister servant of St. Joseph's Home, no date

Kenrick agreed to contact the order.  In addition to the five sisters already in Philadelphia, eight others were sent from the motherhouse in Maryland. They lived and worked in the Almshouse and other hospitals, including St. Augustine Church, which Fr. Hurley had turned into a makeshift hospital under the supervision of Dr. Oliver H. Taylor.        

Father Michael Hurley, no date

Four Sisters of Charity were also called upon to minister to the dying men at Duffy’s Cut. Their presence was recorded from the accounts of an eyewitness; however, no official record of their mission exists. Relevant documents may have been destroyed in the fire at St. Augustine’s several years later. Ironically, although most of the patients cared for by the Sisters of Charity at St. Augustine were recorded as being non-Catholic, the church was not spared by Protestant nativists when it was burned to the ground during the riots of 1844.       

Lithograph of St. Augustine in ruins, 1844

Cholera had run its course in Philadelphia by early September. None of the sisters who ministered in the city and at Duffy’s cut during the outbreak perished from the disease. Their assistance, as well as that of Bishop Kenrick and Father Hurley, was publicly recognized by the city. The Board of Health and the Almshouse Committee recognized their efforts, and the city awarded silver plates to the sisters and thirteen physicians who had played a prominent role during the outbreak. The sisters declined the offer, instead asking that the money used to make the plates be used as funds for the orphanages and schools that the order administered.          

 In his diary, Bishop Kenrick commented on the noteworthy efforts of the sisters and priests during the outbreak: “…displaying an example of heroic fortitude, with certain peril to their lives, the Sisters took charge of the pest-stricken patients in that Hospital. Four others of the Sisters gave their services in other hospitals…priests proved their character and their strong virtues, caring for the sick in the exercise of the sacred ministry; while non-Catholic ministers generally fled from the city.”       

Excerpt from Kenrick's diary, September 22, 1832

Kenrick was one among many prominent religious figures of all Christian denominations in the United States and Britain who viewed the outbreak as punishment for people’s sins, specifically those dealing with the overindulgence of food and drink. And although Kenrick greatly assisted those affected by the disease, in a letter to Bishop Rese of Detroit, Kenrick shares his view of the outbreak as sort of a blessing in disguise in that it allowed many to reflect on their lives and come to terms with death. He writes, “The cholera has done great good in Philadelphia. Many are prepared for death, frightened from daily examples of unexpected deaths.”   

  

Excerpt from Kenrick letter to Bishop Rese, August 16, 1832

References:  McGowan, Francis X., ed. Historical Sketch of St. Augustine’s Church, Phila., Pa. Philadelphia: The Augustinian Fathers, 1896.    

Prendergast, Edmond, ed. Diary and Visitation Record of the Rt. Rev. Francis Patrick Kenrick, 1830-1851. Lancaster, Pa: Wickersham Printing Co., 1916.    

Watson, William. “The Sisters of Charity, the 1832 Cholera Epidemic in Philadelphia and Duffy’s Cut.” U.S. Catholic Historian 27no. 4 (Fall 2009): 1-16.    

For more information on Duffy’s Cut see:    

Watson, William E. et al. The Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut: The Irish Who Died Building America’s Most Dangerous Stretch of Railroad. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2006.    

 

Cardinal John P. Foley

Best known as the English language commentator for the Pope’s Midnight Christmas Mass and other major papal liturgies, Cardinal John Patrick Foley, Grand Master Emeritus of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and former President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, died on Sunday, December 11, 2011 at Villa Saint Joseph in Darby, Pennsylvania. Cardinal Foley was 76 years old.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Foley was a graduate of St. Joseph’s Preparatory School and St. Joseph’s College (now University). He was ordained a priest on May 19, 1962 by then-Archbishop John Krol.

John P. Foley, circa 1964

His earliest assignments were Sacred Heart in Havertown and St. John the Evangelist Parish in Philadelphia, and also studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome where he earned his licentiate and doctorate in philosophy. He taught for a year at Cardinal Dougherty High School, and from 1967 to 1984 he served on the adjunct faculty of St. Charles Seminary teaching ethics and metaphysics.

In 1970, Foley became editor of the official diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Standard and Times. During the decade previous he had served as assistant editor and Vatican correspondent for the newspaper, and received his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

circa 1975

He maintained his position as editor for the next 14 years, a period which saw some of the most important events in the history of the Philadelphia Church, including the Forty-First International Eucharistic Congress, held in 1976, the canonization of St. John Neumann in 1977 and the visit to Philadelphia of Pope John Paul II in 1978.

From 1966 until 1974 Foley was also co-producer and co-host of Philadelphia Catholic Hour on radio station WFIL.

On April 9, 1984 Pope John Paul II named him an Archbishop and appointed him head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications, a position he held for more than 23 years. Foley was elevated to the College of Cardinals on November 24, 2007.

 

Celebrating Foley's appointment as Archbisop, 1984

For more information on Cardinal Foley see the Archdiocese of Philadelphia website.

Photos of the Cardinal are from of the Halvey Photo Collection.

 

Thomas Nast Anti-Catholic Cartoons

In the last blog post, Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons were examined, revealing beliefs that the Irish were inferior and unable to handle American liberty. This made the Irish a threat to the United States and thus a focus of Nast’s criticism. Connected to this anti-Irish sentiment was also a strong Anti-Catholic feeling throughout the county. Thomas Nast’s cartoons dealt with Anti-Catholicism in two different ways, the first focused on the menace of the pope and the second dealt with the threat to the public school system.

The Promised Land," as seen from the Dome of St. Peter's, Rome http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7354

“‘The Promised Land,’ as seen from the Dome of St. Peter’s, Rome”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7354

Tied to His Mother's Apron-Strings http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7360

“Tied to His Mother’s Apron-Strings”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7360

One of themes conveyed through Nast’s cartoons was that the pope was looking to rule the United States by converting its people to Catholicism. This could be seen in his cartoon drawn in 1870 where the pope and other clergy stand atop St. Peters Basilica and greedily eye America as the promise land. Furthermore, with the inclusion of the weapons in the background, it is clear that Nast is suggesting that unless America is vigilant, it risks conquest by the papacy. This perceived threat of Rome is seen elsewhere in Nast’s work, such as with a cartoon showing Uncle Sam offering to free an American Catholic priest from the Pope’s plans to rule both church and state. This is an important cartoon since it suggests that the problem with Catholics is not their faith but rather their allegiance to a foreign power, and thus if Catholics removed that, then they would be acceptable.

A Roman Catholic Mission from England to the "heathens" of America http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7358

“A Roman Catholic Mission from England to the “heathens” of America”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7358

In addition to anti-papal sentiment, Nast seems to question the merit of Catholicism on a whole in another cartoon where he drew a Catholic priest trying convert a recently freed African-American family. However, behind his back the priest holds a pair of shackles, implying that through Catholicism the family will be enslaved again. It is also interesting to note, that in the background is a public school which the family was heading towards, which directly connects into Nast’s other theme that education is the way to fight Catholic enslavement. Through these three cartoons, Nast demonstrated the idea that the pope, by having authority over American Catholics, was a threat to the United States government and its people.

The American River Ganges. The priests and the children http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7357

“The American River Ganges. The priests and the children”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7357

Another reason for Nast’s anti-Catholic drawings was a fear that Catholics were attacking the public school system, which Nast saw as integral to the foundation of the United States.[1] The reason Nast and others were concerned over the public school system was at this time Catholics were protesting the use of Protestant bibles and prayers at schools and wished to see the practice ended. Furthermore, the rise of parochial schools and some attempts by politicians, most notably Boss Tweed, to use state money to help fund these parochial schools raised concern that these religious institutions would replace the public school system completely.[2] One of Nast’s most famous cartoons, “The American River Ganges,”  published in 1871 depicts bishops shaped as crocodiles coming to devour children as a public school lays in ruins. Thus, the cartoon demonstrates a belief that Catholicism by destroying public schools will destroy the future of the country. Additionally, in the background of the cartoon, an image of the Vatican with both the papal and Irish flags flying as well as a building titled “the political Roman Catholic school,” reveal the origins of these threats to America.

Tilden's "Wolf at the Door, Gaunt and Hungry." Don't let him in http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7367

“Tilden’s ‘Wolf at the Door, Gaunt and Hungry.’                 Don’t let him in”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7367

Indeed, Nast was deeply troubled by the Church’s attempt to infiltrate the public school system as seen in two cartoons drawn in 1876. The first depicts a wolf with a papal and Democrat party collar trying to force its way into a school room as the children barricade the door. Nast makes clear that public schools need to be made safe from the Catholic menace since they are the “bulwark of the American Republic.” Indeed, in the background of the cartoon, Uncle Sam can be seen grabbing a gun above a plaque that reads “free for all; no sectarianism,” implying that the only way to protect the schools, and by extension America, is to eliminate the Catholic Church. The second cartoon takes much of its inspiration from Hamlet as Uncle Sam banishes a nun trying to teach at a public school to a convent. An interesting aspect of this cartoon is a parody of a quote by Lincoln that reads “a government of the priests, by the priests, for the priests shall perish from the earth.” This illustrates that Nast believes that Catholicism is incompatible with American democracy and will eventually die out once people are free from the Church. Additionally, Nast’s anti-Catholic sentiment was made even clearer by the use of the Shakespeare quote that the nun, representing the Church, makes monsters out of men. Indeed, when coupled with the phrase, “our public school system must and shall be preserved,” it reveals that Nast saw Catholicism as a threat to the very core of America.

Madness (Yet there's method in it) http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7363

“Madness (Yet there’s method in it)”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7363

Thomas Nast’s cartoons from the 1870s expressed his strong anti-Irish and anti-Catholic feelings and his fear these forces would destroy America. With a circulation on average of 100,000 and reaching peaks of 300,000 Harper’s Weekly not only was a vehicle for spreading these sentiments but was also a reflection of its readership’s feelings, since Nast would not have remained widely popular if his audience disagreed with his cartoons.[3] Thus by studying this cartoons one is able to come to a better understanding of the social conflicts and prejudices that existed in America during the late 1800s.

Visit our archives or our digital collections for more historic cartoons.

 

  • [1] Benjamin Justice, “Thomas Nast and the Public School of the 1870s,” History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer, 2005), 180.
  • [2] Ibid., 182.
  • [3] Joshua Brown, Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age America, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 62; Niall Whelehan, The Dynamiters: Irish Nationalism and Political Violence in the Wider World, 1867–1900, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 225.

Thomas Nast Anti-Irish Cartoons

Among the recently digitized images added to our online collection are a number of drawings by cartoonist Thomas Nast. In 1846 at the age of six, Nast immigrated with his mother to the United States and by age 15 he had begun drawing for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News.[1] He joined Harper’s Weekly in 1862 and at his height of fame was earning close to $20,000 a year (roughly $500,000 in today’s dollars) drawing for the paper.[2] Studying these cartoons can help us better understand the culture of the United States during the 1870s. Examining cartoons is an important tool because, as historian Thomas Milton Kemnitz asserted, the cartoons’ value rests in what they can “reveal about the societies that produced them.” [3] Once a cartoon is understood within its historical context, it can highlight public opinions that could not be revealed in more traditional written records.[4] Thus, in many ways cartoons are not only an artifact of popular culture but also help to shape and reflect public sentiment.

2016_013_10_01

The Thomas Nast cartoons in our collection tell a story of the ingrained anti-Irish and anti-Catholic attitude during the 1870s. Before discussing the content of the cartoons it is important to establish the context of their period. Dating back to the founding of America, there has been fear that immigrants, because of their supposed ignorance, will “fatally depreciate, degrade, and demoralize” the government and culture.[5] Nativism in the United States often took the form of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic feelings as seen in the Nativist Riots in Philadelphia in 1844, which resulted in dozens killed and over a hundred wounded, along with two churches and a convent burned to the ground.[6] These anti-Catholic feelings stemmed from the allegiance of the Irish Catholics, who were seen by many Americans as loyal to the pope over the United States. Indeed, many believed that Catholicism was incompatible with democracy and that it threatened the established Protestant culture in the country.[7]

“Something that will not "blow over." http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7366

“Something that will not “blow over.”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7366

Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons focus on the Irish as a destructive and lying group, who endangered American society. In the immediate aftermath of the Orange Riot of July 12, 1871 in New York City, in which Irish Catholics clashed with the National Guard protecting an Irish Protestant parade, Nast drew a number of anti-Irish cartoons for Harper’s Weekly. One cartoon illustrated the Draft Riots of July 1863, where Irish Catholics attacked African-Americans throughout New York City. At the top of the drawing Nast wrote that the Irish Catholic is bound to respect “no caste, no sect, no nation, any rights,” highlighting the believed lack of respect the Irish immigrants had for American society. Furthermore, the contrast between the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons in this cartoon clearly shows the Irish in negative light. While the Anglo-Saxons are drawn as regular looking people, the Irish are drawn with ape-like faces illustrating their inferiority as well as the lack of intelligence. Such depictions of Irish were not limited to Nast, with other papers such as Puck and Judge also using caricatures of Irish as primitive and violent.[8]

The other drawing that Nast published on the front cover of Harper’s Weekly in 1871 shows an Irish man with an ape-like face attacking Columbia, a common representation of America. However, Columbia was able to stop the attack and defiantly clutches the Irishman by the neck as he drops his shillelagh. The contrast between the two is clear, the Irishman in his ripped and tattered clothes, with a loose suspender looking not unlike a tail, represented his inhumanity as well as his threat to American society, which was represented by Columbia dressed in pure white and holding a whip labeled “law.”[9] Thus for Nast, the riots that the Irish Catholics were regularly involved in demonstrated clear evidence of their inferiority and justified his concern that they would be a threat to democracy.

Chorus of Rising Patriots (?). "We can not tell a lie! We did not do it! http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7364

“Chorus of Rising Patriots (?). ‘We can not tell a lie! We did not do it!'”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7364

Another cartoon a few years later also illustrates anti-Irish sentiment but in a different way. In this cartoon, a group of children representing Irish Catholic Democrats have cut down the tree of truth and have put up a sign for a new school with the slogan, “our rule, mob rule.” The cartoon further shows them supporting Boss Tweed, the Democrat whose political machine ran New York. Thus by depicting them as children, Nast was questioning their ability to think on their own and their ability to partake in democracy. Another important aspect of this cartoon is Columbia, who this time is dressed as a Greek goddess. Here she holds a bundle of sticks with the phrase “in union there is strength, patriotism, honor, and unity” and is clearly defending the spirit of the Revolution by standing in front of the “school of the old 1776.” Thus, this cartoon along with the other two demonstrate how Nast believed that the ideals that the United States were founded on were in danger because of the treachery of the Irish.

Examining Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons has revealed the deep-seated anti-immigrant feelings that were held by many in the United States. Such beliefs were developed in the wake of riots and other violent episodes that many saw as a sign that the Irish were incompatible with the ideals of the nation. Indeed, nativism arose due to the fear that the Irish and other ethnic groups would corrupt the fabric of America. This fear of the Irish was compounded because of their Catholic faith, which faced its own opposition in the United States as expressed by Nast in his cartoons.

 

Next blog will explore part two: Nast’s anti-Catholic cartoons.

  • [1] Fiona Deans Halloran, Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 2-3.
  • [2] Vinson, J. Chal. “Thomas Nast and the American Political Scene.” American Quarterly 9, no. 3 (1957): 338 & 340.
  • [3] Thomas Milton Kemnitz, “The Cartoon as a Historical Source.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 4, no. 1 (1973), 82.
  • [4] Ibid., 92-93.
  • [5] Bill Ong Hing, To Be an American: Cultural Pluralism and the Rhetoric of Assimilation, (New York: NYU Press, 1997), 14.
  • [6] Karla Irwin, “Chaos in the Streets: The Philadelphia Riots of 1844,” Villanova University Falvey Memorial Library, (2011), https://exhibits.library.villanova.edu/chaos-in-the-streets-the-philadelphia-riots-of-1844.
  • [7] Allison O’Mahen Malcom, “Loyal Orangemen and Republican Nativists: Anti-Catholicism and Historical Memory in Canada and the United States, 1837-67,” in The Loyal Atlantic: Remaking the British Atlantic in the Revolutionary Era, eds. Jerry Bannister, Liam Riordan, (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2012), 218.
  • [8] Benjamin Justice, “Thomas Nast and the Public School of the 1870s,” History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer, 2005), 177.
  • [9] Michele Walfred, “‘Bravo, Bravo’: Thomas Nast Cover- 29 July, 1871.” Illustrating Chinese Exclusion, https://thomasnastcartoons.com/irish-catholic-cartoons/something-that-will-not-blow-over-29-july-1971/bravo-bravo-thomas-nast-cover-24-july-1871/.