The Mason-Dixon Line (7/15)

BY JOHN HORNER / July 2015

(slow, syncopated, bluesy tempo) “As Mr. Mason said to Dixon” (cue growly, muted trumpets), “This is where I draw the Line.”

And draw the Line they did, creating the most important boundary in American History, a division that to this day, symbolically defines the “north” from the “south,” “Yankee Doodle” from “Dixie.”

In the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Calverts of Maryland and the Penns of Pennsylvania could not agree on a line dividing their respective colonies, it seemed a simple solution to the problem would be for King Charles II of England to appoint English astronomer Charles Mason and English mathematician Jeremiah Dixon to establish a boundary line that would settle the matter once and for all.

It turned out to be not-so-simple as the King might have anticipated.

Still, over a four-year period, from 1763 to 1767, a line was established beginning around Delaware and ending in the Allegheny Mountains, 36 miles short of its intended conclusion, because of hostile Indians and rugged terrain.

Limestone slabs called Mile Markers, measuring 34 inches high, 12 inches wide and 11 inches thick, were placed at each mile, with P on the north side and M on the south. Every Fifth Mile Marker, called a Crownstone, was larger and showed the Coat of Arms of William Penn and Lord Calvert, the ones who had urged King Charles to take action in the first place. The stones were quarried, cut and carved in Portland, Dorsetshire, England, and transported to the colonies as ship ballast. The M/D boundary has defined the separation of Pennsylvania (Penn’s Woods) from Maryland (Mary’s Land) for 2 1/2 centuries.

For a mile or so, the Mason/Dixon Line constitutes the extreme southern boundary of Cumberland Township. The Surveyor’s Journal for 1765 reads as follows: “Aug 23 -continued the Line. At 78.66 crossed Rock Creek. The Creek here 2 chains (a chain was about sixteen feet) wide, two chains south where we crossed; Ma(r)sh Creek joins Rock Creek”

Continued the Line 79.56. Mr. John McKenley’s house 2 chains south 80.21 crossed Ma(r)sh Creek. Breadth near 2 chains.”

Aug. 24, 2015, marks the 250th anniversary of the establishment of the Mason/Dixon Line in Cumberland Township. Interested parties will have a rare opportunity to advance their knowledge of the Mason/Dixon Line in our area when actors Wayne Twigg as Dixon and Robert Angle as Mason, garbed in period costumes, will present a sit-down program for the Cumberland Township Historical Society on Aug 24 in the Gettysburg Church of the Brethren, 1710 Biglerville Road, Gettysburg, at which time they will also demonstrate some instruments similar to ones used by those they represent.

Following up on this experience, an Open House is planned for Saturday, Aug. 29, at the Mary Penn Bed and Breakfast, 716 Mason Dixon Road, a house which sits astride the Line. Rides will be provided to the 2 Milestones located on the property, which will further enhance the participant’s understanding of this historical adventure.

Anyone care to join me in a rousing rendition of “Dixie,” a southern theme song, the title of which some say was derived from Surveyor Jeremiah Dixon?

John B. Horner was born, reared and has lived his last 40+ years within mile of the M/D Line. The southern boundary of his farm was at one time (circa 1739) the accepted Temporary Line between the 2 colonies.