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The Untold Story Behind the Mason-Dixon Line

Pushpa Duddukuri Feb 25, 2020
Although symbolically known for conflict over slavery in the Civil War between northern and southern states of USA, Mason-Dixon Line has another untold story behind its making. So read on to find out where is this boundary and its historical relevance.
Mason-Dixon Line was a boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland (from lat 39°43'26.3''N and lat. 39°43'17.6''N) during the 1700's.
Now this demarcation is also a part of Delaware along with Pennsylvania. In 1632, King Charles I of England accorded the land of Maryland to George Calvert, however the land which was known as Pennsylvania later was given to William Penn by King Charles II in 1682.
In the good old times of colonies, a disputed land meant nothing but war, and as there was some confusion over the boundaries of these colonies, both the families expressed vexation in this matter. Finally, this dispute reached the Courtroom of the Chief Justice of England.
Thus, a compromise was agreed upon. The job of establishing a line between these states was thrust on the capable shoulders of two men.

Formation of Mason-Dixon Line

Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon imprinted their marks in the annals of American history when they set out to live up to the tall order of creating a line of division between these states. Charles Mason was a renowned astronomer who worked at the Greenwich Observatory.
He was asked to find calculate the exact distance between the Earth and the Sun by observing the Transit of Venus. For this purpose, he traveled to Sumatra where he met Jeremiah Dixon who was not only an amateur astronomer, but also a surveyor.
After finishing up their work in Sumatra, they came to the colonies to establish the correct division of land between Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Their goal was to accomplish three tasks: (1) determining the southern boundary of Pennsylvania, dividing it from Maryland and Virginia, (2) Separating the low counties of Pennsylvania on the western side and (3) establishing the southern line of the lower counties of Pennsylvania.
These two Englishmen were equipped with just some astronomical and land surveying tools.
They took the help of celestial angles to build up a short wall of limes stone. The lime stone boulders were quarried in Great Britain and shipped all the way to America for the very purpose of constructing this wall. Building the 233 mile of boundary wall of Mason-Dixon Line began in 1763 and it took the duo almost four years to achieve the end goal.
This line consists of four parts according to the agreement between the Penn and Calvert families: tangent line, north line, arc line and 39°43'N parallel line. Mason and Dixon were equipped with some astronomical and land surveying tools and found it very difficult to establish the tangent line.
While determining the line between Pennsylvania and Maryland, their work run into some trouble as their guides refused to go any further due to the presence of Lenape (Delaware Indians) in that area. After five years of persistence and hard work, this demarcation came into existent in 1767.
These four years were not easy for them as they strenuously fought against unfavorable terrain and hostile Native Americans to achieve their goal.

Mason-Dixon Line During Civil War

The movement against slavery created a feeling of trepidation among the southern states. This demarcation came to be known as a symbolic division between freedom and slavery as well as pro-slavery states and northern states which were up in arms against slavery, as it geographically divided the pro-slavery states and states which abolished slavery.
Again after some 50 years or so, this boundary grabbed the public eye when the great debate over slavery raged on during Missouri Compromise of 1820. As a result, the line became an epitome of conflict between states over slavery in USA in the early independence era.
Now years later, past the times of slavery, civil war and independence, this famed line of dispute still stands albeit crumbling and forgotten.