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

By Edwin Danson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Fifteen Statute
Miles, Horizontal

ACCORDING TO LAW, the West Line separating Pennsylvania from Maryland was required to follow a parallel of constant latitude, exactly fifteen statute miles south of the house on Cedar Street. On the advice of Reverend Richard Peters, Penn's provincial secretary, Mason and Dixon decided not to proceed directly south, which would have involved two difficult crossings of the wide Delaware River as well as working through the province of New Jersey. Instead, they chose first to head due west and establish a point that corresponded to the same latitude as Cedar Street, then turn due south. Leaving the carpenters to dismantle and pack the observatory, Mason and Dixon set off in company with Joel Bailey on Saturday, January 7, 1764, to reconnoiter the area near the forks of the Brandywine River where, according to Peters, surveyors from New Jersey had established similar positions in 1730 and 1736.

Conscious that somewhere nearby the Paxton mob was gathering more recruits and terrifying the country people, they hurried as best they could along the muddy lanes. Thirty-one miles west of Philadelphia, “at the forks of the Brandiwine, ” they came to Mr. John Harland's plantation, where the earlier surveyors' marks still stood. Using their Hadley quadrant to check the latitude, they found that the site suited their purpose admirably. After negotiating terms with the affable Mr. Harland, they returned to Philadelphia to load up the dismantled observatory and pack their equipment.

While it was never their intention to measure the distance from Philadelphia to the Brandywine, it occurred to them that the geographic

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