Drawing the Line: How Mason and Dixon Surveyed the Most Famous Border in America

By Edwin Danson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Mr. Bird's
Contrivances

WITH THE TRANSIT of Venus over, the scientific community of London settled down to write the papers they would deliver to the Royal Society. All the astronomical data from the many observers around the country and overseas had to be collected, compiled, and checked. Maskelyne and Mason were due back from Saint Helena imminently with, it was expected, a significant amount of valuable information from the Southern Hemisphere. Mason and Dixon's inability to reach Sumatra by June 6 and their decision to divert to Cape Town was unfortunate, and a full explanation was required.

Meantime, the two proprietors of Pennsylvania and Maryland resumed their quest for quality surveying instruments. In distant Pennsylvania, Governor James Hamilton was informed at home of progress as the search went forward. He wrote to Thomas Penn requesting him to find “a special transit Instrument made in London twelve or fourteen years ago, ” undoubtedly referring to the Jersey Quadrant, unaware that arrangements were already in hand. In August 1761, the Council of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey had met at the behest of William Alexander's mother and agreed to loan their precious quadrant for the proposed survey. The giant instrument was delivered to the Pennsylvania commissioners in December 1761.

At about that time difficulties arose between the two provincial camps on what correctly defined a westerly direction for the boundary line between Maryland and Pennsylvania. John Robertson, master of the Royal Naval Academy, and Dr. Bevis vehemently disagreed as to whether the proposed border should be a great circle, advocated by

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