Wednesday, August 18, 2021
SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA--LEARNING HISTORY THROUGH SONGS #5--by Cheryl Pierson
Chances are, if you did, it was skimmed over and briefly touched upon. And you may still have misconceptions about it, because of this. Is it a “real” line, or just one that exists in American cultural references? How far south is it? Why did we need a “line” such as the Mason-Dixon Line?
And probably, you’ve never even given this a second thought once high school nine-weeks’ tests were over and done with, right? I wouldn’t have, either, but I became fascinated with a piece of music of Mark Knopfler’s called SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA.
I stumbled across this on Youtube one day and was shocked when I printed out the words and to learn it. I was even more surprised to find a very short documentary that accompanies the song, in which the lives of surveyor Charlie Mason and astronomer Jeremiah Dixon are touched upon.
Here’s the song performed by Mark Knopfler and James Taylor.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PTxt7Qa06g Briefly, according to a Wikipedia article:
The Mason–Dixon line, also called the Mason and Dixon line or Mason’s and Dixon’s line, is a demarcation line separating four U.S. states, forming part of the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia (part of Virginia until 1863). Historically, it came to be seen as demarcating the North from the South in the U.S. It was surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in the resolution of a border dispute involving Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware in Colonial America. The dispute had its origins almost a century earlier in the somewhat confusing proprietary grants by King Charles I to Lord Baltimore (Maryland) and by King Charles II to William Penn (Pennsylvania and Delaware).
The largest, east-west portion of the Mason–Dixon line along the southern Pennsylvania border later became known, informally, as the boundary between the Northern free states and Southern slave states. This usage especially came to prominence during the debate around the Missouri Compromise of 1820, when drawing boundaries between slave and free territory was an issue, and resurfaced during the American Civil War, with border states also coming into play. The Virginia portion of the line was initially the northern border of the Confederacy, until West Virginia separated from Virginia and joined the Union in 1863. It is still used today in the figurative sense of a line that separates the Northeast and South culturally, politically, and socially (see Dixie).
But did you realize this “line” was “drawn” in great part by using the stars at night as the guide? And that every mile is marked by stones every mile 1 mile and “crownstones” every 5 miles using stone shipped from England. The Maryland side says “(M)” and the Delaware and Pennsylvania sides say “(P)”. Crownstones include the two coats of arms. Today, while a number of the original stones are missing or buried, many are still visible, resting on public land and protected by iron cages. (Wikipedia)
Here’s the link to the documentary–it’s about 10 minutes long and WELL WORTH IT!
Mason and Dixon confirmed earlier survey work, which delineated Delaware’s southern boundary from the Atlantic Ocean to the “Middle Point” stone (along what is today known as the Transpeninsular Line). They proceeded nearly due north from this to the Pennsylvania border.
Later, the line was marked in places by additional benchmarks and survey markers. The lines have been resurveyed several times over the centuries without substantive changes to Mason’s and Dixon’s work. The stones may be a few, to a few hundred, feet east or west of the point Mason and Dixon thought they were: in any event, the line drawn from stone to stone forms the legal boundary. (Wikipedia)
Think of it. This “line” was drawn between 1763 and 1767 and has been remeasured and re-calculated many times through the following centuries—and there have been “no substantive changes to mason’s and Dixon’s work.” Amazing!
I’m going to include the links to the song, the documentary, and the Wikipedia article in this post. But I think I’ll be talking more about the Mason-Dixon Line in the future. It was truly a huge accomplishment that needs to be remembered!
Here’s the link to the entire Wikipedia story about the Mason-Dixon Line.