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The Mason Dixon Line

After long dispute between the Penn and Calvert families, writes Louis C. Kleber, the astronomers, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, sailed for America in November 1763 to lay down their momentous line.

‘Are you from Alabama, Tennessee or Caroline
Just anywhere below that Mason Dixon line.
So you’re from Dixie
Hooray for Dixie
‘Cause I’m from Dixie too.’

These words are from a light-hearted song, but in serious political, social and economic comment, the Mason and Dixon line has come to signify the division of the United States between North and South. Although its associations are largely with the period of the American Civil War, the line actually ante-dates the birth of America as a nation and had nothing to do with slavery or the struggle between North and South.

The Mason and Dixon line, in reality, is the product of a bitter dispute between two of Great Britain’s American colonies. The length andrancour of the struggle inextricably involved the Crown, long before two Englishmen, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, gave their names to the line. It is also a memorial to people from two Christian faiths who sought America as a haven only to find themselves in conflict with each other.

In 1670 Admiral Sir William Penn lay dying, his thoughts dominated by a desire for reconciliation with his Quaker son. At one time the young Penn had been driven from the family home because of his faith. ‘Let nothing in the world tempt you to wrong your conscience,’ Penn whispered to his son. Then he sent a message to the Duke of York, brother of the King. It was an appeal to ask for William’s protection from persecution. As for an estate, Charles II owed the Admiral £16,000 and the son was left to collect as best he could.

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