coming eventsComing Events

September 6

PBA

September 13

Heritage

September 18-19

Sotheby’s 

September 20

Swann Galleries 

September 21

Skinner 

September 25

Bonhams 

September 27

Forum 

Find More Events in the FB&C Calendar

In the News

Howard Greenberg Gallery Presents "Vivian Maier: The Color Work"

New York - The color work of street photographer Vivian Maier will be the... read more

Bonhams Introduces the Griffith J. Davis Photography and Archives

New York − On October 2, Bonhams sale of Photographs will offer over 130... read more

Modern African-American Art Shines in Oct 4 Sale at Swann

New York—African-American Fine Art sales at Swann Galleries offer the opportunity to see marketplace... read more

The First Book Published and Printed in Antarctica at Bonhams NY

New York− On September 25, Bonhams sale of Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana will... read more

The First Western Book on Cosmetics & Scents will be Sold in Paris

Published for the first time in Venice in 1555, it was a precious asset... read more

Printed Matter Presents the NY Art Book Fair Sept. 21-23

Printed Matter, Inc. presents THE NY ART BOOK FAIR, September 21-23, 2018 Preview:... read more

Rarities Reach Six Figures at Heritage Auctions' Rare Books & Maps Auction

Dallas, TX - An extremely rare first edition considered one of the most significant... read more

Winners of the 2018 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Announced

Dayton, OH - Salt Houses, Hala Alyan's debut novel about a displaced Palestinian family,... read more

Follow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook
Auction Guide
Advertise with Us
2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Fine Maps

Walk the Line

Two and a half centuries ago, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon started their epic survey along what would become the most celebrated border in America Jeffrey S. Murray Jeffrey S. Murray is a former senior archivist with Library and Archives Canada.

Less than a century after its creation, the Mason-Dixon line entered American popular culture, not for its technological achievement, but as the boundary that separated the North from the South, the free states from slave states. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Standing on a small hill overlooking Dunkard Creek, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon aligned their latest survey post “and heaped around it Earth and Stone three yards and a half diameter at the Bottom and five feet High.” The conical monument was about thirty miles short of Pennsylvania’s southwest corner and “233 Miles, 13 Chains and 68 Links” from their starting point, “the Post mark’d West.” Behind the forty-man survey crew lay several hundred miles of near impenetrable Pennsylvania woodland; ahead were wandering bands of Shawnee marauders, the mortal enemies of their Iroquoian escorts. If Mason and Dixon continued to push the line west to its completion, as their financial supporters back in England had requested, they were sure to find themselves embroiled in an Indian war. The leader of the native guides recognized the danger and took issue with the surveyors’ hesitation to call a halt to their fieldwork. His emphatic declaration that he “would not proceed one step further Westwards” left the Englishmen with only one option. Dunkard Creek would have to be the end of the line.

The first map to show the boundary surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon was printed in Philadelphia by Robert Kennedy in 1768. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Detail showing the first twenty-five miles of the Mason-Dixon survey. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The 1763–67 survey by Mason and Dixon marked the culmination of an eighty-year border dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland—a dispute which at times had degraded into some of the worst bloodshed witnessed on the American frontier. When the lands were originally awarded in the mid-to-late seventeenth century to two of England’s aristocratic families, the Penns and the Calverts, ambiguous wording in the royal grants and faulty maps misplaced Maryland’s northern border within the limits of Philadelphia. A clear interpretation of the grants was obviously required, along with a demarcation of the border on the ground.

Page 1 | 2 | 3 | Next