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Border dispute paves way for the Mason-Dixon Line

December 22, 2015

Filed under Collections, Community and Domestic Life, Pennsylvania Icons, Pennsylvania Treasures

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Mason Dixon crown stone

This Mason-Dixon Line crown stone, and others like it, were shipped to the American colonies and installed every five miles along what is now known as the Mason-Dixon Line.

Originally 5 feet tall and weighing roughly 600 hundred pounds, this stone was cut from a limestone quarry in Portland, England. The stone, and others like it, were shipped to the American colonies and installed every five miles along what is now known as the Mason-Dixon Line. Each stone was inscribed with the Penn family crest facing Pennsylvania and the Calvert family crest facing Maryland.

Selected by CAP Curator Jennifer Gleim, this Mason-Dixon Line crown stone appears in the State Museum’s Pennsylvania Icons exhibit.

British King George III sent surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to the colonies in 1763 to settle a long-running boundary dispute between the Calvert and Penn families concerning who owned the land that made up the colonies of Maryland, Pennsylvania and the three lower counties that would become Delaware.

Mason and Dixon were charged with marking a line that extended due west from a point 15 miles south of Philadelphia. The surveyors drafted their line, relying upon celestial bodies and the most technologically advanced tools of the day, implements considered rudimentary by today’s standards. Mason and Dixon hired Native American guides to help negotiate temporary truces with hostile tribes along the way.

Considered one of the greatest technological feats of the 18th century, the survey was expected to take Mason and Dixon just 18 months to complete. However, the work lasted for six years, finally drawing to completion in 1769.

In the 19th century, the stone markers Mason and Dixon placed along their survey line became an important symbolic division between the free northern states and the slave-holding southern states, known as the Mason-Dixon Line.


About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.


About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.