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

By Edwin Danson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
At a Council of
the Royal Society

MASON AND DIXON's proposal to the Royal Society in June 1765 for the measurement of a degree of latitude was approved. Nearly a year before, on October 17, 1765, the Council of the Society had met to consider the proposal and had agreed it “to be a work of great use, and importance.” The astronomer royal, Nevil Maskelyne, gave the enterprise his full support and endorsed the skill and excellence of the two surveyors, along with the quality of their instruments and of their American assistants. In supporting the resolution, the society's members expressed their confidence that the measurement would be the most precise ever made. Their confidence was well founded.

The society agreed that Mason and Dixon's fee of £200 for the work was acceptable and furthermore an additional £40 would be made available for the homeward passage, should the proprietors not meet the fare themselves. Nevil Maskelyne gladly agreed to prepare the specification and was instructed by the members “to draw up such further instructions as he thinks necessary.” Charles Morton (1716– 1799), under-librarian of the British Museum and secretary of the Royal Society, wrote to the proprietors, Lord Baltimore and Thomas Penn, requesting permission for Mason and Dixon to undertake the work in their provinces and to use the proprietors' astronomical instruments.

The two proprietors met on the morning of Thursday, November 7, 1765, to discuss the matter. Relations between the two great landowners were most cordial and, after a pleasant lunch discussing business and the prospect of a final resolution to their costly dispute, they

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