Lecture to the Darlington Historical Society on March 18, 1998, by George W Dixon JP, 4th Gt Grandson of George Dixon, elder brother of the famous Jeremiah Dixon, who with Mason mapped out the MD Line:
Charles Mason & Jeremiah Dixon
Many people will have heard of the famous Mason-Dixon Line, and of America’s southern states referred to as Dixieland in songs and poetry. But what is not so well known is that the Dixon in question was a local boy, who began his life and ended his days in Cockfield in the Durham Dales.
Jeremiah Dixon (1733-1779) was a man of many talents: scientist, mathematician, surveyor, cartographer, astronomer and artist. He was chosen by the greatest scientists of the day to travel with Charles Mason to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun in June 1761. Their intended journey to Sumatra, a sea-voyage of six months, was fraught with danger from storms and the French.
They were almost immediately involved in a ferocious battle with a French frigate. The delay for repairs meant they could no longer reach Sumatra, so instead they went to Cape Town where they made excellent observations of the transit.
In 1763 Mason and Dixon were approached by Thomas Penn and Lord Baltimore to survey an accurate boundary between their respective territories of Pennsylvania and Maryland in America. This demanding project, which became known as the Mason-Dixon Line, took more than four years, much of which was spent hacking through virgin forest supported by a team of Native Americans.
In 1769 the Royal Society sent Jeremiah Dixon to observe a second transit of Venus, this time in Hammerfest, inside the Arctic Circle.
For the rest of his life Jeremiah lived in Cockfield, working as a surveyor for the Raby estates and surveying Auckland Castle Park and Lanchester Moor. A quieter end to a life of adventure.
An exhibition about the life of Jeremiah was held at The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle in 2013 to mark the 250th anniversary of the start of drawing the Mason Dixon Line. It included the telescope he used to view the transit of Venus, model ships, surveying equipment and historic maps.