Jefferson County Historical Society

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John Duffy, locomotive engineer on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern 
Railroad, was born at Cape Vincent, N. Y., in 1837, and is a son of
John and Olivia Duffy, the former of whom, a native of Ireland, came to
the United States when young, and was a carpenter by trade.  Mr. Duffy
was educated in his native place, and when sixteen years of age commenced 
working at the blacksmith's trade at Schenectady, N. Y., which he
followed six years.  He then went to Canada, where he remained until 
the war broke out, and from 1863 until the close of the war was employed 
by the Government in the South.  He subsequently settled in Seneca,
Ill., where he engaged in carriage manufacturing for two years, then
sold out and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was employed in the
Ohio & Mississippi Railroad shops, and after eighteen months was promoted 
to the position of engineer.  In 1869 he went to East St. Louis and
was in the steam-shovel business three years; he then removed to DeSoto
and has since been running as an engineer between De Soto and Piedmont.
In 1867, at Seneca, Ill., he married Miss S. J. Billings, daughter of
Joseph and Sarah Billings, natives of England, who settled in Canada,
in 1831.  Mrs. Duffy was born in Cobourg, Canada in 1850, spending her
girlhood on the farm of her father, who was extensively engaged in 
stock raising.  She was the youngest but two of a family of nine children, 
and throughout life has been noted for great courage and presence
of mind in time of danger.  When but fourteen years old she signally
distinguished herself during a journey by water, when the boat on which
she was a passenger was burned.  In March, 1886, during the famous 
railroad strike in De Soto, Harry Todd, yardmaster, was assaulted by 
over 200 strikers; he started for a place of safety, with the strikers
in hot pursuit throwing stones, clubs, etc., and declaring vengeance if
they could catch him.  Mr. Todd sought the residence of John Duffy,
which was his boarding place, and when he reached the house nearly 
exhausted, he was met in the doorway by Mrs. Duffy, who suddenly seized
Mr. Todd's 44-caliber revolver and demanded the infuriated mob to stop,
and declaring she would shoot the first man who entered the gate.  They
shouted "Hang her!", "Kill her!", etc., but this brave woman, with 
undaunted courage and true heroism, held them back fully ten or fifteen
minutes, until the officers of the law arrived.  Mrs. Duffy saved the
city of De Soto from consequences most terrible to contemplate, and for
her loyalty and true womanly devotion to the cause she espoused, she
was presented with a purse of $150 by the citizens of De Soto, and 
H. M. Hoxie, third vice president of the railroad, gave her $50 and 
also a pass for herself and two children to Canada and return.  She now
receives an annual pass over the entire system.  Gov. Stewart, of Vermont, 
said: "She is a noble woman; modest to a remarkable degree.  I have read 
of heroines but I don't know as I ever met one before."  Four children 
have blessed this union of Mr. and Mrs. Duffy: John L., Maude E., May 
and Olive.  In politics Mr. Duffy is a Democrat.  He is a member of the 
Masonic fraternity, and of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.  
Mrs. Duffy is a member of the Episcopal Church.