Origin of the Mason-Dixon Line

I love history. We can learn so much from it when we’re not busy memorizing names and dates for that big test. So today, we’re going to have a little history lesson. Partly because I’m a history nerd, and partly because this is a post from my old site and I forgot to write a sparkly new post for today. Just being honest.

Let the learning commence!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re asking what credentials give me the right to teach you history. None, actually. I don’t teach history. I’m certainly not a historian. I don’t have a degree in history of any kind. What I did have were two excellent history teachers in high school. My tenth grade history teacher made it fun. She told us the untold stories that weren’t in our history books. She read to us out of books like Lies My Teacher Told Me and One Night Stands in American History. That last one isn’t exactly what you think. I also had an AP US History teacher in the eleventh grade who was small, but fiery and just a little bit scary. She reminds me of the character “Hetty” from NCIS Los Angeles. She made me a better writer, too.

Thanks to those two ladies (and the other great teachers I had along the way) I am quite well versed in the history of these here United States. And today’s topic hits close to home because I’m from the south. South of the Mason-Dixon Line. Which isn’t what you think.

Did you know the creation of the Mason-Dixon Line has absolutely nothing to do with the division between North and South? Not a thing. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. The Mason Dixon Line, for the most part, runs along the southern border of Pennsylvania (it also dips down the western border of Delaware). In 1861, Maryland (south of the Mason-Dixon Line) became a “border state”, meaning it was a slave state that did not secede when the Confederacy did. So the Mason-Dixon Line was drawn to separate slave states and non-slave states, right? No. Actually, it existed quite some time before that.

MasonDixonPlaque

The Mason-Dixon Line was “drawn” because of a completely different fight. Approximately a century before the Civil War. The line is named for the two surveyors (just called scientists back then, by the way) from England, who were sent to settle a disagreement over the city of Philadelphia.

The original Maryland charter placed part of its border in Philadelphia. The Penn Family (you know, of PENNsylvania –just in case you missed it) was none too happy about this. Philadelphia was theirs, and they would have none of this Maryland nonsense. In 1681, when the disagreement arose, they took the problem to King Charles II. The King’s answer was to give Delaware (originally part of Maryland) to Pennsylvania, as a satellite colony, and to give Philadelphia to Maryland. Again, William Penn wasn’t happy. He had already decided that Philadelphia would be his colony’s capital! Outrage! This border dispute continued. In fact, in 1732 a war over it broke out, known as Cresap’s War. The result? The offended parties went back to the King. He came up with a new solution and sent two scientists, Mason and Dixon, to enforce it.

Mason and Dixon surveyed the land and drew the line, based on the stipulations they were given (I should add here that the timeline is quite drawn out. It took a while to get from England to the colonies, and it took much longer to survey land). The two scientists used crown stones, which were actually created in England and then shipped to the colonies, at five-mile intervals to mark the line. One side of the stones had the Calvert Family (Maryland) crest, and one side had the Penn Family crest. This line was created sometime in the 1760s.

Crown Stones

So, there you have it. It may have become famous for other reasons, but that is the real origin of the Mason-Dixon Line. It was the center of disputes between states long before the Civil War. It doesn’t change what it has been used for in the time since, but like I said, I’m a history nerd. Plus, this was the best I could do last minute. I’m a hot mess mom today, what can I say.

2 thoughts on “Origin of the Mason-Dixon Line

    1. Thank you! I went several years ago as a side excursion on a trip to Philadephia. What book was it? I’m always looking for more to read. Of course, I say that as I hide behind my fort built of the books on my TBR list, haha.

      Like

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