Jeremiah Dixon – From County Durham to Philadelphia

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Jeremiah Dixon. It’s a name you may be familiar with, but not 100% sure why.

Mark Knopfler in concert

Image via Wikipedia

Personally, I first came across the name in the lyrics of a song by Mark Knopfler, featuring vocals by him and James Taylor, Sailing To Philadelphia.

I’m Jeremiah Dixon, I am a Geordie boy.
A glass of wine with you sir and the ladies I’ll enjoy.

The line following that segment gives away the occupation of Dixon, “All Durham and Northumberland, was measured up by own hand”.

He was born in the village of Cockfield, near Bishop Auckland in south western County Durham in July 1733, and after attending school in Barnard Castle Dixon he became a surveyor.  Despite his father being a coal mine owner, Dixon set out to pursue his love of mathematics which led to him developing a technique of measuring long distances accurately.

This ability to measure long distances accurately may have been the primary reason why Frederick Calvert, then Baron Baltimore, and Thomas Penn, son of the hereditory proprietor of Pennsylvannia, to work with Charles Mason, to settle a boundary dipute between the two men and hence, states.

Establishing the 230 mile boundary between the two areas took Mason & Dixon four years to complete. The boundary, 39°43′20″ N in latitude to this day, is still referred to as the Mason-Dixon Line and is commonly regarded as being the boundary between the north and south United States of America.

On completion of the Mason-Dixon line, he returned to his roots to share his brother George’s house in Cockfield, though his travels were far from over as he pursued his interest in astronomy, attempting to calculate the distance of the sun from the earth.

Dixon died, unmarried and as he was a Quaker, he was buried in an unmarked grave as was the tradition, in the Quaker burial ground in Staindrop, not far from Raby Castle.

Who would have a thought, a humble son of County Durham would be known across the world and immortalised in a song written over two hundred years after his death.

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