July 30, 2008

*Ask Jen: Mason Dixon Edition

Jim writes, "Who were Mason and Dixon and why did they get a line named after them?"

Mason and Dixon were just the surveyors who figured out exactly where the boundaries were between some of the British Colonies: specifically, Maryland and Pennsylvania, who were all argumentative about who belonged where. (Delaware was also involved, but didn't feel as much need to break out the militia and shoot people about it.) The King stepped in and made Pennsylvania and Maryland behave themselves. He also ordered a survey to establish the physical boundaries. Some of the surveyors' original boundary markers can still be seen today.

The colonies were always disputing each other's borders, with some of the original colonies claiming rights to all the land west of their chartered territory. Violence was not uncommon amongst the colonies as they fought over land, and it must be said that the same problems cropped up amongst later U.S. territories/states as well. (See this description of the Iowa-Missouri Honey War for one nearly-violent example.)

Over 50 years after Mason and Dixon surveyed their line, it became involved in the Missouri Compromise and therefore tied to the issue of slavery. The term "Dixie" likely derives from the line's name, making a British colonial surveyor the nicknamesake for the entire American South.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't know the answer, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at July 30, 2008 09:00 AM | TrackBack


Cool. So all y'all living in the north are really in Macie. Heh.

Posted by: Jim at July 30, 2008 07:02 AM