Friday, 1 July 2011

Sailing to Philadelphia

Mark Knopfler and James Taylor.

My name is Jeremiah Dixon
I am a Geordie Boy
A glass of wine with you, sir
And the ladies I'll enjoy
All Durham and Northumberland
Is measured up by my own hand
It was my fate from birth
To make my mark upon the earth...

He calls me Charlie Mason
A stargazer am I
It seems that I was born
To chart the evening sky
They'd cut me out for baking bread
But I had other dreams instead
This baker's boy from the west country
Would join the Royal Society...

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne,
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line,
The Mason-Dixon line.

Now you're a good surveyor, Dixon
But I swear you'll make me mad
The West will kill us both
You gullible Geordie lad
You talk of liberty,
How can America be free?

A Geordie and a baker's boy
In the forest of the Iroquois...

Now hold your head up, Mason
See America lies there
The morning tide has raised
The capes of Delaware
Come up and feel the sun
A new morning is begun
Another day will make it clear
Why your stars should guide us here.

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line,
The Mason-Dixon line. 

1763:There is a dispute over land ownership in the colonies of America. Back in 1632, King Charles I gave some land to one Cecilius Calvert. That land became known as Maryland. Some of its borders were easily  defined, being delineated by coastline,  and the Potomac river.
50 or so years later, King Charles II gives another piece of land to the Penn family. This becomes Pennsylvania.
Boundaries at first, in a sparsely populated land, are ill defined, but it seems there is a discrepancy, and both the Calverts and the Penns try to tax settlers in an area where the terms of the original grants appear to overlap. Acrimonious disputes arise, even a war.
To be fair, the boundaries were a bit complex...

Eventually, King George II got a bit tired of the whole thing, and ordered that the belligerents cease shooting at each other, and try to solve the problem rationally.
"According to The History of Maryland by John Thomas Scharf, both William Penn II and Charles Calvert received a letter from the King of England in April 1681 requiring them “to make a true division and separation of the said provinces of Maryland and Pennsylvania, according to the bounds and degrees of our said Letters Patent and fixing certain Land Marks where they shall appear to border upon each other for the preventing and avoiding all doubts and controversies that may otherwise happen concerning the same.” " 


This led to the two families appointing surveyor Jeremiah Dixon, and astronomer/navigator Charles Mason, both from England, to be responsible for mapping and marking out the border between the states.
It took them five years, but eventually the boundary was delineated by a line of marker stones, set at mile intervals.  Every fifth mile there was a "crown Stone" with the crest of the Penn family on the Pennsylvania side, and the crest of Lord Baltimore (Calvert) on the Maryland side. Many of these markers still exist.
"The stones — huge blocks of limestone between 3.5 and 5 feet long and weighing between 300 and 600 pounds—were quarried in Southern Great Britain and shipped to America. Carried by wagon to their final resting place on the line, the stones were placed at one-mile intervals. Mile markers were decorated with vertical fluting and a P on the north face and M on the southern face; every fifth mile along the line the stones were engraved with the Penn coat of arms on the Pennsylvania side and the Calvert coat of arms on the other."
Go to the links: (This was the most informative one for me, with a lot of detail on how the survey was undertaken)
to read more.


  1. This is very interesting. I never new the origins of the so-called Mason-Dixon Line.

    Or of James Taylor, for that matter. :)


    The Delaware certainly would have seemed a world different from (to?) the Tyne.

  2. hi soubriquet,
    america would thank you for the history lessons that are never mentioned in our school. the wealthy were in charge then as now. i like the pic of you @ 5, the boy next to you looks like he just ate a bird and i'm sure some of you must've had a little crush on that school marm behind you.

  3. Are you guys serious?
    Now I thought Relax Max was just joking, but Jim too?

    They really don't teach this stuff in your history classes?
    I'd have thought, given how significant that line becomes in the history of your nation, that there'd be a place for it in the education of all americans.
    It always fascinated me to see maps of U.S. states, full of those straight lines, so unlike any boundary in the old world.
    well, not entirely true: There's a straight line on the russi to Finnish borde, with an interesting little bump in it. The name for that bump is "Stalin's finger". When, after the second of two wars Finland fought, in order to remain independent, during WWII, an angry Russia seized 1/5 of Finland's land, a new boundary map was to be drawn up. The mapmaker started to draw a straight line , but Stalin, at the last moment, snapped out his hand and placed a finger on the little Finnish town of Enso. The mapmaker, trembling, no doubt, carefully drew around the fingertip, and Enso became Svetorgorsk.
    I knew finns who'd joined the exodus from the ceded territories. One woman described how her father instructed her to gaze forward, never look back, as he torched all the farm buildings behind them. They'd resolved to leave nothing of use to the old enemy. But that's a digression.

    Mason/Dixon would have gone further west, but their Indian guides told them that they'd reached the furthest point that was permitted. Many of their men had already fled, for fear of indians and the unknown, so it was left to later surveyors to extend the line.

    The start of the line was established by a temporary observatory, to accurately place the datum stone, whence all else was measured.
    That stone's still there, and it's still called the Stargazer Stone.

  4. One can live without knowing the origins of Mason's Dixon line, but it still begs the more immediate question of what did Delaware?

    I know that one.

    She wore a brand new jersey...

    Or knitted cardigan.

    You keep teaching American History, and I'll keep feeding you Jacobitia. :)

  5. You're showing your age, old fella, with that Delaware line...
    A schoolyard ditty of far-off days was "Catch a Perry Como, wash him in some Omo, hang him on the line to dry..."

    Those Jacobites? Maybe you're right. Maybe Mason/Dixon's as interesting to you as all the failed Jacobite rebellions are to me.
    All those scots princelings, better at speaking french than their own tongue, and, whilst wearing fine lace, and dainty hosiery, trying to lead a army of teuchters against London.
    They were always doomed to failure.


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