SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA–LEARNING HISTORY THROUGH SONGS #5 by Cheryl Pierson

Hi everyone! I found this little gem quite by accident. Do you remember studying about The Mason-Dixon Line here in the United States? Maybe in a history class many years ago?

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 this line 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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaQS45-YFdE&t=62s

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. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mason%E2%80%93Dixon_line

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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
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37 thoughts on “SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA–LEARNING HISTORY THROUGH SONGS #5 by Cheryl Pierson”

  1. Thank you, Cheryl. I’m a history major and teacher and have known about the Mason-Dixon line for years. However, I didn’t know all these fascinating details.

    • Janice, I didn’t know, either. History was my minor–and when I think of all the opportunities through the years there were to learn about this I wonder why it didn’t happen. It’s a fascinating story–especially to think of the accuracy they achieved.

    • Tonya, I just find this fascinating. To think they had what is described as a “small army” traveling with them–115 people–everything from a milkmaid to sheep herders. There was so much more to it than we ever knew.

  2. It amazes me how much I learn from Fiction writers that I either never learned in school or I don’t remember. Thank you so much for the history lesson! Have a great Monday and an Awesome week! You would think that the measurements from way back then would be way off! I don’t recall ever knowing about the rocks shipped over from England being the boundary markers. Now I want to view some for myself since they say some are still visible. That just blows my mind.

    • In the video (link above) of the documentary (it’s short, only about 10 minutes) they show some of the stones. I just find it so fascinating that they were commissioned to come from England to America “to the forest of the Iroquois” to measure, survey and post markers along that line–and that it was so accurate, and remains that way to this day. I would love to see those markers, too!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Quilt Lady–I love the song–somehow it is really comforting–I think because the music itself reminds me of waves and sailing. But yes, the history is just remarkable.

  3. Wow never cared for history much due to the teacher I had. The okder I have become the mire things like this I find very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kristi, I never really liked history much in grade school or even in high school. It was in college that I began to truly love it, and since I was an English major, I found that by combining history classes of the same time periods of the English literature I was studying really made things “come together” and reinforced my understanding and learning of both subjects. And I sure had some great history professors in college that made me dearly love that subject. I am forever grateful to them! There is still so much to learn.

  4. Wow! I’m kinda surprised I didn’t hear about the Mason Dixon line more in school, as I had great history teachers and loved the subject! This is soooo interesting! To think that it’s not had substantive changes from how they did it back then to now is amazing!!

    • Trudy, that fact just blows my mind. Their tools had to be so much more rudimentary than what we have NOW — I think in the video they talk about what took 2-3 weeks back then they can do in a matter of minutes. But to think that they were so accurate with what they did is really astounding. I am truly just fascinated by this.

  5. I grew up in Delaware, was born in Pennsylvania, and currently live in Maryland–not too far from the border.

    This history was something I learned in elementary school. ? We even watched a film about it, in addition to the “book learning.” I’ve seen the stones.

    I’ve been to the center point of the arc above the Transpeninsular Line in Old New Castle, a beautiful old town which looks similar to Williamsburg, but with a lot less tourists, complete with cobblestones. A walk along The Strand will give amazing views of the Delaware River.

    Wonderful post.

    • OH WOW, DENISE! That is fabulous! You know, I grew up in Oklahoma. We ‘touched’ upon the Mason-Dixon line, but for some reason, even up to when I heard this wonderful song of Mark Knopfler’s, I had it in my mind that it was farther SOUTH than where it actually is. I think because in school, (at least HERE) it was not taught about it being the boundary that it was first intended to be, but rather, more that it had to do with slavery and a separation of Northern and Southern states. I’ve been to Wiliamsburg, MANY years ago, but would love to visit Old New Castle–this is all just fascinating to me.

  6. I grew up in Delaware, was born in Pennsylvania, and currently live in Maryland–not too far from the border.

    This history was something I learned in elementary school. ? We even watched a film about it, in addition to the “book learning.” I’ve seen the stones.

    I’ve been to the center point of the arc above the Transpeninsular Line in Old New Castle, a beautiful old town which looks similar to Williamsburg, but with a lot less tourists, complete with cobblestones. A walk along The Strand will give amazing views of the Delaware River.

    Wonderful post.

  7. wow so interesting. thank you for sharing the links. yes in school it was all pretty much glossed over. but my son who was into anything “history” and got his bachelors and masters in history, checked it out on his first year of college. Oh my goodness the information that was not taught.

    • You are welcome, Lori! I love that documentary video that explains about what was going on in their lives and who they were. I know in elementary school and high school there is only so much time to teach SO MUCH HISTORY, so not surprised we didn’t know more about it here in Oklahoma. Sadly, I’m learning that even though Oklahoma is rich in history MUCH of that is not taught in our schools either. But again, so much to learn in so little time.

  8. What a great post, Cheryl! I taught American Lit and never uncovered this much about the Line, especially the stars and stones. Fascinating! xo

    • Thanks, Tanya! So good to see you over here! XOXO I love this song so much–turns out, Mark Knopfler has written a LOT of songs about historical things but one of my favorites is called “Prairie Wedding”–ahhhhh, Love IT! Not only does he have a soulful voice, I think he’s probably the best guitar player on the face of the planet and he has written a MILLION GREAT SONGS! (This one being one of them.) Thanks for stopping by today–I know you are really busy right now! Hugs, my friend.

  9. Hi, thank you so much for sharing this, this is so very interesting. Have a great week and stay safe.

    • Hi Alicia! I’m so glad you enjoyed it so much. I want to write more about this event “in-depth”–so much more than what I’ve put in this blog–this is the “tip of the iceberg” and I have really enjoyed reading about all that happened.

  10. Thank you, Cheryl, for an interesting and informative post. Posts like this are one of the reasons I enjoy Petticoats and Pistols so much. I never really thought about the origin of the term “Mason Dixon Line.” Like most others, I think, I associated it with the Civil War as the border between slave and free states. I find it interesting that they used both geological and astronomical techniques to establish the line. The latter is much less likely to change resulting in boundary disputes. The fact that it predates the formation of the country as well as the Civil War (by 100 years) is most interesting.
    The song is beautiful. It helps that James Taylor is a favorite.
    If it isn’t too difficult a trail, it would be interesting to hike the Mason Dixon Trail. It would be interesting to look for the crown stones.
    Have a good week. Stay safe and healthy.

    • Patricia, I always referenced it with the Civil War rather than it’s original purpose. And I ALWAYS believed it was farther south than where it actually is. Good grief! On the documentary video, there is a map that shows the trajectory of the Line and there’s one small jog in it, if memory serves, where there is a natural land “jog” (maybe the river, I can’t remember) but otherwise it is amazingly straight. I love that song, too, and hope everyone liked it–I enjoyed him having James Taylor perform it with him, as if they are the two men having a conversation. You have a great week too, my friend!

  11. Thanks, my friend, for a fantastic blog. I knew some of this from high school, but most I truly didn’t know or can’t remember because of my age (I’m working our AHS Alumni reunion next month…and it reminds me of how old I am! LOL). This is so good and I truly appreciate it, Cheryl. Take care of yourself and I’ll talk with you soon. Love ya, P

    • PHYLISS!!! I hope you are feeling much better and that things are settling down some for you, but it doesn’t sound like that — working on a reunion takes a LOT of work! I’m so glad you stopped by today and enjoyed this blog–yes we will talk soon. Love you! XOXO

  12. Thanks for sifting through all the facts about this and so many other points of interest in your research to make your books as historically accurate as possible. I’ve learned so much history for reading historical fiction.

    • Hi Sherry–you know, I think that’s part of what we as writers love best–finding ‘diamonds in the rough’ amidst all the research and being amazed all over again. LOL That’s one of the best part of our calling as writers, IMO. I’m so glad you stopped by and that you enjoyed this–it’s not exactly “western” but I love history of all kinds and just had to share this.

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