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SHS Print Collection -- Mason and Dixon at the Stargazer's Stone

Mason and Dixon at the Stargazer's Stone
by Brian F. Tucker

The painting of "Mason and Dixon at the Stargazer's Stone" has been commissioned by The Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors and The Mason and Dixon Line Preservation Partnership. Proceeds from the sale of the print will be used to protect and preserve the stones that mark the Mason and Dixon Line. One thousand five hundred prints are available, signed and numbered by the artist, Brian Tucker. This is the second painting created by Mr. Tucker depicting a scene from the Mason and Dixon Survey. Prints of the first painting "Running the Line - 1766" are no longer available. This print is 12"x18" on 16"x20" paper.

Please note that an order for this item will be filled by the Surveyors Historical Society and shipped separately from the SHS office in Indiana.

Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were in Philadelphia for several weeks meeting with the commissioners and making astronomical observations of various stars. The observations were made to determine the latitude of the southernmost point of Philadelphia. According to the agreements reached between the proprietors of Pennsylvania and Maryland. the east-west line dividing the two provinces was to be a line of latitude located 15 miles south of the southernmost point of Philadelphia. With their observations arid calculations complete, Mason and Dixon traveled west about 31 miles to find a place in the "forks of the Brandywine" (Brandywine Creek) having the same latitude as the southernmost point of Philadelphia After making some preliminary observations with a quadrant, they decided that the farm of John Harland lie very near the same latitude as their position in Philadelphia.

Charles Mason made the following entry in his journal on January 11, 1764:

"The observatory taken down and put with the rest of our instruments into the wagons, except the telescope, etc., of the sector which was carried on the springs (with feather bed under it) of a single horse chair."

On January 14. 1764. Mason and Dixon "Arrived at Mr. Harland's and set up the sector in his garden (enclosed in a tent), and in the evening brought the instrument into the meridian, and took the following observations.." The remainder of January and all of February was spent observing various stars to determine the latitude of this position.

The date is April 2, 1764. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon are located approximately 31 miles west of Philadelphia in the "forks of the Brandywine" on the farm of John Harland. They have completed their astronomical observations of numerous stars to determine the latitude of their position in relation to the southernmost point of Philadelphia. Mason and Dixon had employed several local men to clear a "visto" on the meridian line southward to allow them to measure the 15 mile line. The men had begun the work of clearing the line on March 17 and at the present time, five men were employed in that regard. It had taken 13 days to clear the visto and they were now ready to begin the measurement of the line.

Five men were employed to assist in the measurement of the line. The measurements would be conducted using a Gunther's Chain, which was a brass chain, 66 feet in length. It consisted of 100 "links" each of which was 0.66 feet (7.92 inches) long. These links were interconnected by a brass ring. The measurements were made by stretching the chain along the meridian line and recording the number of "chains" and "links" between fixed points, such as a stake, stream or road.

The section of the line immediately south of the Stargazer's Stone is relatively flat, therefore the chain was used to measure the line for the first 634.26 feet. At this point, they reached a steeper down slope along the banks of the Brandywine Creek and were forced to use wooden levels which were 22 feet in length (imagine a contractors framing level). This allowed the surveyors to measure the horizontal distance on the line by leveling the wooden levels and measuring the line 22 feet at a time. The wooden levels were used for 264 feet and the ground leveled out again and they returned to using the Gunther's chain. The 22 foot levels were soon found to be difficult to use and were replaced by 16 foot levels which were found to be more manageable.

The instrument used by Mason and Dixon which is depicted in the painting is a Transit and Equal Altitude Instrument. This instrument was constructed by John Bird and is the only piece of equipment known to still exist from the survey. It was later used by the American Philosophical Society for the observations of transits of Venus and Mercury in 1769. It is presently owned by the city of Philadelphia and is at times displayed at Independence Hall.

The painting depicts Jeremiah Dixon at the instrument aligning the chainmen while Charles Mason records the observations in the journal. The Zenith sector, which had been used to conduct the astronomical observations, has been carefully packed and placed in a single horse chair with a feather bed under it. Mr. and Mrs. John Harland are shown observing the surveyors and the Harland house is shown in the background. The Harland house remains standing and is located at the intersection of PA Route 162 and Stargazer's Road near Embreeville in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The Original Stargazer's Stone is located in a stone wall enclosure approximately 600 feet north of the Harland house. The Stargazer's Stone is depicted very much as it appears today.

Every effort has been made to depict the scene as accurately as it may have occurred. Some artistic license has been taken in order to present a pleasing scene. As an example, it is possible that the Observatory constructed for the purpose of conducting the Astronomical observations had not been dismantled at the time the survey of the Meridian line was undertaken. Also, every Surveyor that views the scene will suggest that the instrument would have been set up directly over the stone. It was decided however, that in order to show the Stargazer's Stone as clearly as possible, the instrument should be placed behind the stone.