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Drawing the Line
After four years and 231 miles of relentlessly making their way west through the wilderness, the intrepid surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon had almost completed their task of mapping the boundary line between Pennsylvania and Maryland. On October 9, 1767, Mason and Dixon met with the chief of the Mohawks who let them know that no Indian escort would proceed with their party one step farther west. Mason and Dixon pled their case to at least push on through the remaining distance to Pennsylvania’s western border, but to no avail. Although there were many months of hard work ahead of them, Mason, Dixon and their team had reached the end of the line which also ended, to all parties’ eventual satisfaction, the longest legal dispute in British history.
Mason and Dixon spent Christmas day in Philadelphia, meeting with the commissioners in charge of their project. They were given some additional tasks, one of which was to draw a map of the line. They chose to do so at the Harlan family farm in Chester County, the place where they spent every winter. Over the years, Mason, Dixon and the Harlan family had all become friends and this painting depicts the surveyors seated at a country table, surrounded by members of the Harlan family, drawing the line. In this congenial atmosphere, Charles Mason sits with quill pen in one hand, poised over the map and holding a bottle of ink in the other. With everyone listening intently, he describes a subtle point of surveying or perhaps he is relating a hair-raising adventure they survived in the wilderness. Jeremiah Dixon, a skilled draftsman and the primary map maker, seems to be bringing his friend’s attention back to the job at hand. The audience pictured in this drama is perhaps beginning to suspect the great historical significance of what Mason and Dixon have accomplished and that they have witnessed.