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The Story of the Mason-Dixon Line: The Colonial-Era Border Battle That Defined the Civil War

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 21, 2024 3:01 am

The Story of the Mason-Dixon Line: The Colonial-Era Border Battle That Defined the Civil War

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 21, 2024 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, the Mason-Dixon Line defined the American house divided between antislavery and pro-slavery. Yet this border war was pre-dated by another border battle—a colonial-era quarrel which ended only when the area separating Pennsylvania and Maryland’s border was surveyed and mapped in the 1760s by the Englishmen Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Here to tell the story is Dakota Bricker who hosts the YouTube channel, What In The History?

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Let's take a listen. No other borderline in the United States ever marks so much division than the Mason-Dixon line. The figurative divide between the north and the south during the American Civil War, the Mason-Dixon line would be world famous for being the separation between one idea of freedom and another. But before the famous borderline between the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania gained this recognition, it was the center of a divide between two powerful families within the court of the British royals. The story of the Mason-Dixon line does not begin with the Civil War. It begins with a mapping mistake, continued with bloodshed of a border war, finished with a possible deceitful agreement and finally put to bed through a ruling by the King of England himself.

To start the story of the Mason-Dixon line we have to go the whole way back the 1608, over 250 years before the American Civil War. And we have to talk about Captain John Smith. Captain John Smith being of Pocahontas fame if you ever watched any Disney movies. Captain John Smith he actually traveled through the areas around the Chesapeake Bay surveying the lands around Virginia and in 1613 John Smith actually created a map and he published it and he put in place the location of the 40th degree parallel latitude on his map in relation to the lands around the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. Smith's map was used by the English kings to give land grants to his people.

So in 1632 King Charles I who was the King of England at the time granted Lord Baltimore also known as the family of Calvers. They were granted the uncultivated land lying under the 40th degree parallel and north of the Potomac River from the Delaware Bay. As the proprietor of Maryland the Calvert family they would sell this land and collect taxes to continue to build their royal estates. Now in 1681 for services rendered by his father for the British crown William Penn was granted by King Charles II who was the King of England at that time and he was granted land west of the Delaware River limited on the south by the beginning of the 40th degree parallel.

Now as the proprietor of Pennsylvania William Penn who was a commoner but very influential in the royal court would also sell land off and he would collect what was called quiet rent to help pay for his province and his lifestyle as well. But in 1682 it was discovered that Captain John Smith's map marking the 40th degree parallel was wrong. What he marked as the 40th degree parallel was roughly 19 miles further south than the actual 40th degree parallel which made William Penn's land grant completely and utterly nonsensical and that of course also put the majority of Philadelphia which was Penn's planned capital in the province of Maryland. And since Smith was wrong, Penn technically lost millions of acres including his capital city and Maryland claimed it all.

So King Charles II dies and James which is his brother and also the Duke of York becomes King James II. And King James wanted to fix the Delaware problem since he had a stake in it of course and also the issue of the 40th degree parallel. So King James referred this problem to the Board of Trade and Foreign Plantations who made their decision in November of 1685. They agreed that the land grant to Lord Baltimore according to his grant was for uncultivated land only and land that's only inhabited by savages not by Christians. So because the Christians aka the Dutch inhabited and cultivated Delaware before the grant he had no claim. So the decision of 1685 was that the land from the Delaware Bay to the Chesapeake Bay was to be divided in half by drawing a horizontal line at the latitude of Cape Henlopen from the Delaware Bay to the Chesapeake Bay.

Then they would divide that line in half and at that half point they would run a line tangent to the 12 mile circle around Newcastle and run up to the actual 40th degree latitude not the incorrect one of John Smith's map. The land east of that line would be James II to do with as he wished such as Lisa to his friend William Penn and the land west would belong to Charles Calvert the third Baron of Baltimore. The idea was Maryland would lose Delaware but would gain land in Pennsylvania. Also with this deal Philadelphia would still belong to William Penn in Pennsylvania and a decision like this where everybody wins should be good right?

Wrong. This all sounded good until the new problem arose which was called the glorious revolution. In 1688 King James II was removed from his throne and replaced by William and Mary. This caused political turmoil in England. So new lines were marked and Penn and Calvert were selling land to people in the same plot of ground not knowing who owned what and didn't pay attention to anything that the 1685 decision said. So in the land between the 40th degree parallel and Smith's incorrect 40th degree parallel people didn't know which colony they actually belong to and thus which colony do you pay taxes to? So when a Maryland tax collector came the landowner would claim that he was from Pennsylvania and then he'd throw the Maryland tax collector out because he said he pays Pennsylvania taxes but then when a Pennsylvania tax collector shows up the same landowner throws the Pennsylvania tax collector out and tells him I belong to Maryland I pay taxes to Maryland.

So in the end nobody really paid any taxes which is a problem for the proprietors of the two colonies. Thomas Cresop he was a land agent from Maryland and he was claiming and selling land for the Calvert family above John Smith's incorrect 40th degree parallel and he was selling all this for Lord Baltimore of course and in October of 1730 while operating his ferry across the Susquehanna River Cresop was involved in an altercation with Pennsylvanians where guns were drawn and he was forced to defend himself with his oar and his fists. Cresop escaped by leaping off of his ferry and swimming to shore unsatisfied with the judges of Pennsylvania prosecuting his attackers Cresop filed a suit in Maryland and refused to follow Pennsylvania law thinking that Pennsylvania was conspiring against him and he became a hardcore Marylander at that point. Cresop became an absolute pain to Pennsylvania as he continued to claim and sell a land in this disputed area between the fake 40th degree parallel and the actual 40th degree parallel. He was selling this land from Maryland but the land was claimed by Pennsylvania and Maryland so he actually sometimes would force Pennsylvania grant holders off of their own property and of course this started a whole chain of events with a border award. And you've been listening to Dakota Bricker tell one heck of a story about the Mason-Dixon line.

You know if you've ever had any property surveyed in your life you know how dicey a land dispute can get in a 20 acre development but imagine having a surveying line off by miles and miles you're talking about tens of thousands if not more acres in dispute and well the crown thought it had a settlement it divided it up Delaware got its piece Pennsylvania got its Maryland got it then came time for the tax collector and boy things got even dicier and when we come back more of the Mason-Dixon line the story behind the story here on Our American Stories. Luckyland Casino asking people what's the weirdest place you've gotten lucky? Lucky? In line at the deli I guess. Haha in my dentist's office more than once actually. Do I have to say?

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Netsuite.com slash stereo. And we continue with our American stories and with Dakota Bricker, who hosts the YouTube channel What in the History? Let's pick up where we last left off. William Penn died in 1718, and he passed his province on to his sons, the Penn brothers, and they got control of Pennsylvania. Charles Calvert, the third Baron of Baltimore, died in 1715, and he passed his province of Maryland on to his grandson, whose name was Charles. Also Charles Calvert, fifth Baron of Baltimore. And in 1731, Charles, the fifth Baron of Baltimore, petitioned King George II, who was the King of England at the time, and he petitioned him to order the proprietors of Pennsylvania to meet with Lord Baltimore to solve the border dispute once and for all. The King ordered them to come to an agreement within a year where the King himself would issue orders to solve the border dispute. Within the month, the Penn brothers and Lord Baltimore met to discuss the border.

During the discussion, it was decided to use a map to draw the border lines. And the map chosen to be used was one that Lord Baltimore happened to pull out of his pocket. And apparently unknown to Baltimore, this map was incorrect because the Cape Hen loop and marked on that map was actually 15 miles south of its actual location, 15 miles south of the most southern point of Philadelphia, which put it close to the John Smith false 40th degree parallel. So Lord Baltimore, after realizing the mistake, protested the mistake and refused to accept the agreement, and he claimed deception on the Penn's part. It is lost to history if the Penns actively deceived Baltimore, or if this was just a blunder on Lord Baltimore's part.

Nobody knows. Maybe they got him drunk. Between 1732 and 1736, Thomas Cressup became the main antagonist against Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania land claim owners as he threatened lives, burned down property, and bullied Pennsylvanians living between the actual 40th degree parallel and the John Smith false 40th degree parallel. And he was bullying them because they were Pennsylvanians settling on what he considered Maryland land. In fact, Cressup claimed his own land that he was granted by the Calverts in his own.

He actually claimed it by building his house within feet of the Pennsylvanian who occupied the same land on a Pennsylvania grant. So this became such a problem, it was called the Cressup War. And in 1736, the Sheriff of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, led a posse of 24 men to Cressup's home on the opposite side of the Susquehanna River, and they actually were coming to capture what was called the Maryland Monster. The Sheriff actually set fire to Cressup's home, offering to put it out if Cressup would surrender. Cressup would not surrender, but he and his men and his very pregnant wife, by the way, would start shooting at the posse as the house burned down around them. He even positioned his own children in the windows so the lawmen wouldn't shoot through the openings and his wife went into labor during the battle.

As the floor was about to cave in, Cressup and his men ran from the house while firing at their attackers. Cressup was wounded and apprehended and taken to a jail in Philadelphia. While being paraded through the streets of Philadelphia, below the actual 40th degree parallel, the prisoner would cry out, damn it, this is one of the prettiest towns in Maryland. So due to all the violence and the border dispute that was erupting in the 1730s, with Cressup being the main antagonist, there was others involved too, but this led to the creation of a temporary line. The King actually ordered on May the 25th, 1738, that a temporary line would be run 15 and a quarter miles south of Philadelphia on the east side of the Susquehanna River and 14 and three quarter miles south of Philadelphia on the west side of the Susquehanna until the boundary of the two colonies would be permanently fixed.

And this was actually relatively close to the current line. In a suit filed in English court by the Penn brothers in 1735 against Lord Baltimore, they tried to force Lord Baltimore to adhere to the 1732 agreement that he signed, but refused to follow because of the incorrect map and terms that he did not agree with, but he signed anyhow. Fifteen years after they filed the suit, which would bring us to 1750, Lord Hardwick of England presented a verdict in this suit, which was as follows. The agreement of 1732 had to be carried out. Delaware's southern border would be determined by the false Cape Henlupen designated on the map that was incorrect when the agreement was done.

And the Penns made out like bandits. Charles Calvert died in 1751. The province of Maryland went to his son, Frederick Calvert, 6th Lord Baltimore. Now Frederick Calvert had no interest in Maryland like his father did, but he only wanted it for one use.

As a source of income for his family, he was living for his exotic lifestyle, which included leisurely writing, harems of women on multiple continents, drug use, and turning his large estates into a Turkish palace. Frederick Calvert fought against the 1750 decision with hopes of undoing his father's mistakes and gaining more land that he could sell to sustain his lavish life. In 1760, the British court upheld the 1750 decision, and then with a royal decree by the king himself, resulted in a new agreement signed on July 4th, 1760 that upheld the 1732 agreement. And it was required that the provinces of Pennsylvania and Maryland would pay to have the line surveyed between their two provinces. So enter Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Due to the difficulty of running the tangent line along the western border of Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania hired two mathematicians named Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. And in 1763, they were assigned to assist with the border survey. Mason and Dixon were astronomers who were world-renowned for their observations to help pinpoint longitudinal locations at sea for ships. This method was the most accurate way to survey a long distance borderline at the time and was used up until the creation of modern GPS technology.

So this method was used to survey the entire line from the false cape head looping in southern Delaware to Indian country in western Pennsylvania. They were forced to turn around once their Indian guides would not cross into enemy Indian territory. Now in 1767, which was the tail end of their survey and everything, they had to mark the line. So they had wooden stakes everywhere, but it didn't have a hard line marker. So they set stones at every mouth marking the border so it could no longer become an issue. These stones were actually not from America. They were made in England in English quarries and the mouth stones had a P for Pennsylvania on one side and an M for Maryland on the other. The five-mile markers had the family crest of Penn on one side and the royal family crest on the other.

And so thus these markers every five miles became known as crownstones. The Mason-Dixon line has a very colorful and confusing story that spanned decades and generations. A story that goes way beyond what you may have been taught in high school or college.

Though the division of the Civil War is what is usually thought of when we think of the Mason and Dixon line, that generalization masks the true enlightening story of palace intrigue in war and why it pays to dig deeper into the subject rather than just disregard hearing it in a country salt or reading it in a textbook. And a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Greg Hengler. And a special thanks to Dakota Bricker who hosts the YouTube channel, What in the History? And please go to YouTube and check out his work.

It's terrific. And what a story he told about the Mason-Dixon line. I knew nothing about this. And my goodness, these disputes, these were battles. These were mini wars. And then ultimately in comes the king to settle things out. He wants to draw a temporary line and get these parties to agree or King George II will do it for them. But of course, King George dies and the battle goes on until finally Maryland and Pennsylvania hire a couple of crackerjack surveyors, state-of-the-art surveyors, astronomers indeed, Mason and Dixon to settle the border and the border dispute once and for all.

The story of America's most famous dividing line between North and South in America's greatest and worst tragedy, the civil war here on Our American Story. TCL Roku TV offers premium picture and sound quality. So you'll feel like you're right in the action. Find the perfect TCL Roku TV for you today at go.tcl.com slash TCL Roku TV.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-21 04:24:12 / 2024-02-21 04:32:49 / 9

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