Mason and Dixon

G S C gscole at ARK.SHIP.EDU
Wed Aug 11 16:09:31 UTC 1999

The following is a result of a question that came to mind when a
list-question about the origin of 'Dixie' was raised.  My question
related to the first use of Mason and Dixon line.  A further question
came about when I saw that many sources defined the line as merely being
the current dividing line between Pennsylvania (of today) and Maryland.
>From my Delaware history classes, I had learned that the Mason and Dixon
line also served as a dividing point between Delaware (of today) and
Maryland.  The various dictionary definitions that I've seen tend to
describe a single line, which exists between Pennsylvania (today) and
Maryland, without noting that such a usage was probably derived well
after the time of the Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon survey.  Perhaps
the dictionaries are correct, and the state archive sites (below) are
presenting possibly misleading information.

My original posted concern should have been labeled, when did the
present-day dictionary definitions come into use?  According to a
Britannica volume (#7, 1991: p. 913), "the term 'Mason and Dixon Line'
was first used in debates leading to the Missouri Compromise (1820)."
My concern would be with the point at which the line came to be defined
as being merely the East-West (West-East) line between Pennsylvania &
Maryland.  The original survey would have also included a North to South
line, along the western edge of the lower part of Pennsylvania (today =
Delaware), and a further West-East component, at the lower border of
Pennsylvania (today = Delaware).  At some point in time, probably for
the sake of convenience (in debates), the line came to mean merely the
dividing point between Pennsylvania (of today) and Maryland.  [The
details from the maps (cited below) distinctly show the 'three lower
counties', or Delaware, as being part of the Mason & Dixon survey.]

Going by the information presented in the state archive sites (below),
it is not clear that the original Mason and Dixon line was merely the
dividing point between today's Pennsylvania and Maryland.  In the
various Delaware history classes that I took as a student (grade school,
high school, & college) in Delaware, the Mason-Dixon line coursed around
both the western and southern borders of the state.  Various on-site
historical markers affirmed the information given in those history
classes.  (I've 'lost' the notes of those classes, memory has to serve;
along with information from a recent discussion with another student of
that era.)

Having worked in land surveying, many, many years ago (in Delaware), I
realize that a survey can incorporate the results of another survey,
without replicating the work of the other survey.  Perhaps the work of
Mason & Dixon was merely incorporated with the work of others,
concerning the Delaware (today) portion of their work.  [Or, historians
may have made the 'incorporation'?]  For that matter, Mason & Dixon
never actually reached the westernmost edge of Pennsylvania.

In the Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, at the entry for Mason-Dixon
Line, is a map graphic which shows a line that defines the border
(today) of Pennsylvania/Maryland and the western border of Delaware
(today).  It does not show a southern (Mason-Dixon) border for
Delaware.  After mentioning Mason and Dixon's work, it notes that
"Further work was done in 1773 and 1779."

>From a site for the Maryland State Archives:
"1768. Details from the map of the boundary survey between Maryland and
Pennsylvania by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
(Maryland State Archives Map Collection), MSA SC 1427-74-1/2.
(general listing of maps, including "detail of Delaware & Maryland
Further map detail, of the three lower counties (today = Delaware), at:

Additional discussion at:  (click on the illustration that shows
the Delaware border)

At a state of Delaware site:
"Delaware's boundaries were surveyed in 1763-68 by the noted English
scientists, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon."  Earlier note:  "After
1682, a long dispute ensued between William Penn and Lord Baltimore of
the Province of Maryland as to the exact dominion controlled by Penn on
the lower Delaware. . . The dispute continued between the heirs of
Baltimore and Penn until almost the end of the colonial period."

Overall, this note is not meant to be a criticism of any other source of
info.  If the dictionaries are correct, then the information presented
by various state archives may be in error or incomplete.

George S. Cole   gscole at
Shippensburg University

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