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

By Edwin Danson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
“Persons Intirely
Accomplished”

SAFELY BACK in England from the transit of Venus campaign, Maskelyne and Mason had much mathematical work to complete, checking the computations, collating the many observations, and preparing learned papers. Mason and Dixon's own paper was titled “Observations Made at the Cape of Good Hope.” Mason was also collaborating on a paper with Thomas Hornsby (1733–1810), the up-and-coming Oxford don and accomplished astronomer, who had observed the transit of Venus from Lord Macclesfield's home, Shirburn Castle, near Oxford. Mason and Dixon were familiar faces around Crane Court and tales of their African exploits were eagerly sought; the storm caused by Dixon's letter to the Royal Society and the blunt reply had blown over, but was not forgotten.

On the long voyage from Saint Helena to England, Maskelyne had conducted more longitude experiments by lunar distances and was becoming obsessed with the method. He was convinced that lunars would solve the mariner's longitude problem, as was Mason, who had prepared the original set of tables. Maskelyne decided to publish a mariner's guide to the lunar method together with the necessary tables immediately upon his return. Shortly before, on March 27, 1762, John Harrison's chronometer, number H4, had returned to England from Jamaica at the end of its first longitude sea trial. The longitude solutions provided by Harrison's “watch” were phenomenal; in fact, the instrument was so accurate as to be almost unbelievable. Maskelyne was interested in the “mechanicks” alternative to his own laborious lunar method, but was skeptical, and for good reasons. Isaac Newton himself

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