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Delmarva Heritage Series

* History Of Famous Line Between States

Salisbury Times - December 18, 1959

The Middle Point (1)

Students throughout the Unite States are acquainted with the Mason-Dixon Line, probably the most famous boundary line in the history of our nation.

But students usually associate this line with the slavery question believing that it was the boundary between the slave states and the free states. And, many individuals still believe that the line ran all the way to the Mississippi River so as to separate the states located across the mountains.

Even the people of the Delmarva Peninsula, to whom it should mean so much, know very little about the East-West Line between Maryland and Delaware, the Transpeninsular Line, Fenwick' Island, Cape Henlopen, the North South Line between Maryland and Delaware, the Tangent Line, and the New Castle Circle. These points and lines are really the bases fen the more famous northern boundary of the State of Maryland, the so-called Mason-Dixon Line.

THE MIDDLE Point, where Ma- son and Dixon in 1768 placed the crownstones (these were the stones with the coat of arms of the proprietors, in place of the letters "P" and "M"), is just about 10 miles from the heart of Salisbury and only a mile and a half north of Route 50 going west. This little plot of ground, which can be seen from your car (on the Mardela Springs - Delmar Road, Route 467), is the key-point of the Trans-peninsular Line, which is the oldest Maryland boundary.

The boundary dispute between Maryland and Delaware-Pennsylvania had its beginnings in the 1680's when William Penn was granted a charter to a tract of land which actually overlapped some of the land granted to Lord Baltimore in his charter of June 20, 1632. When Charles Calvert, the third Lord Baltimore, was notified of the Pennsylvania charter, he also received a letter from King Charles II requesting that he meet with the Penn agents "to make a true division and separation of the said provinces of Maryland and Pennsylvania, according to the bounds and degrees of our said letter patents by setting and fixing certain land marks where they shall appear to border upon each other for the preventing and avoiding all doubts and controversies that may otherwise happen con- cerning the same ... "

Although Lord Baltimore met several times in America either with William Penn personally and his agents, they could not reach an agreement and on one occasion there was actually a state insurrection along the northern boundary. In the meantime, William Penn, afraid that his Pennsylvania colony would not have access to the ocean by way of the Chesapeake Bay persuaded the Duke of York, who in three years was to become King James II of England, to transfer to him the territory west of the Delaware which is today the State of Delaware.

AT A MEETING between Penn and Lord Baltimore in May, 1683 at New Castle, the latter still insisted on the 40th parallel as his northern boundary and also his claims to the Delaware territory. Penn attempted to purchase enough land to assure Pennsylvania an outlet on the Chesapeake but Lord Baltimore declined the offer. However, time and influence were on the side of Penn for he had a chose relationship with the future James II and also the powerful Privy Council; whereas Lord Baltimore, living in Maryland, was out of touch with his authorities and men of influence back in England.

The controversy finally was referred to the Board of Trade and Foreign Plantations which in turn came to the conclusion that the problem centered around the phrase "hitherto uncultivated." These two simple words, which are found in the Maryland Charter caused the colony of Maryland many years of strife and worry, from the days of William Claiborne in the 1630's to those of William Penn in the 1680's.

Although during the Claiborne disputes it was more or less understood that the words "hitherto uncultivated" pertained to any land not previously settled by the English, the Board of Trade and Foreign Plantations in 1685 decided that Lord Baltimore's charter for "hitherto uncultivated" land did not include the territory given to Penn - the land between the Delaware and the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Chesapeake Bay on the west which had been inhabited by Christians before the issuing of Maryland's charter.

Although the committee recommended that the 40th parallel be accepted as Maryland's boundary it thought that the land between the two great bays should be di-r vided into two equal parts by a r line from the latitude of "Cape Henlopen" to the 40th degree north latitude. On Nov. 13, 1685, King James ordered that this division be made. The survey and boundary line finally run by Mason and Dixon in 1763 - 1767 was mainly - determined by this recommendation of 1685. Yet the argument between the Baltimores and the Penns continued and the settlers along the border kept up the controversy.

BY THE 1730'S the difficulties of collecting taxes and dealing with the settlers of the disputed regions demanded that the proprietors of Maryland and Pennsylvania reach an understanding. Both sides were now ready for an agreement so as to end the border feuds and at the same time establish their claims in order to gain revenue from the people in the disputed territory.

Many meetings were held by the Board of Trade and Plantations whereby both sides produced maps denoting the way the boundaries should be laid out. One of the major problems was whether the northern line should be 15 or 20 miles south of Philadelphia; for at the beginning of the controversy the Marylanders laid claim to that famous Quaker city. Later the Penns claimed that it was Lord Baltimore's map which had been used, while Lord Baltimore, claimed that was false and to the advantage of the Penns. On the map which the Board of Trade used, Cape Henlopen, a major point in the order of 1685 and also in the agreement of 1732, was located on Fenwick's Island 15 miles south of the Present Cape Henlopen.

The adjustment made in 1732, called for a boundary line to run due west from "Cape Henlopen" the one then on Fenwick's Island, to a point midway on the peninsula. From this middle point a line was to run northward to where it would become tangent to a cir- cle 12 miles from New Castle. From the tangent point the line would continue north until it intersected a line 15 miles south of the southernmost point of Philadelphia. From this last point the boundary line would follow the parallel; westward and thus divide the two proprietary colonies. The Penns by this arrangement obtained just about all their claims and desires except for the outlet on the Chesapeake.

Under the Agreement of 1732 seven commissioners could be appointed by each of the two parties and any three would constitute a quorum however, if the quorum of either side failed to a tend the meetings, the defaulting party should pay the other 5,000 pounds. The commissioners were to mark the said boundaries an carry out the work with fairness: The line was to be marked not only with natural objects but also designated by stone markers bearing the coat of arms of the proprietors facing their respective possessions.

The commissioners first met at Newtown (present day Chestertown), and later met four times at New Castle, once at Joppa, Md, and once at Philadelphia. The principal problems at these meetings concerned the circle to be drawn What should be the center of the circle? What should, be the size of the circle? Should the circle be 12 miles in circumference or a radius of 12 miles from New Castle? Finally the commissioners signed a joint statement that they could not reach an agreement.

ONCE AGAIN the King was called upon to settle this dispute. King George II forbade anymore disorders along the boundary lines and stopped the proprietors from making any more grants of land in the disputed areas. Lord Baltimore and the Penns then agreed to leave what each possessed as it was and that the disputed land be under the jurisdiction of both until the boundary line was settled. The King at the same time ordered temporary boundary line to be drawn.

In the meantime both Lord Baltimore and the Penns had suits before British courts, which began in 1735 and did not end until May 1750. The court ruled that the Agreement of 1732 be carried out and at the same time decided the question which had caused the most difficulty in attempting to carry out the decision of 1732. It was ruled that the center of the circle was to be the center of New Castle; the circle was to have a 12 mile radius; and that "Cape Henlopen" would be the one located on the map used in 1732, in other words, the point on Fenwick's Island.

At a meeting of the commissioners from the two colonies at New Castle on Nov. 14, 1750 it was decided that the courthouse was the center of New Castle. Although the men could not agree now upon the type of measurement to be used, two surveyors were sent to "Cape Henlopen" on Fenwick's Island where they took observations and succeeded in running the line westward six miles. Because of the winter season the work stopped at this point until the follow April.

In the spring the work was continued and by June 12, 1751 the survey party had reached Slaughter Creek which divides Taylor's Island from the mainland of the Eastern Shore. Three days later they had crossed the island and reached the Chesapeake Bay. Now they were faced with a problem which many like to discuss and argue today. The Marylanders contended that the survey line should end at Slaughter Creek which would make it 66 miles from the point of origin. This would make a shorter line and thus place the middle point farther east and give Maryland more territory. The Pennsylvanians claimed that as Slaughter Creek was only two feet deep at low tide it should not be considered part of the Chesapeake and the line therefore should extend to the open bay. Under the Pennsylvania plan the line would be 69 miles and 298 perches long. This dispute was important as it would determine the middle point. It was referred to the British High Chancellor who later decided in favor of the Penns.

Part II

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