Land surveyors, astronomers and history buffs from all across America, England and as far away as Australia will gather at Philadelphia this summer, to mark the nearly-forgotten grave of renowned early surveyor & astronomer Charles Mason.
It was Mason who teamed with English colleague Jeremiah Dixon in the 1760s to lay out the famed Mason-Dixon Line, a colonial boundary that settled long disputes between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Decades later, after Pennsylvania outlawed slavery, their line became the quasi-legal division between slave states and free, in pre-Civil War America.
On August 31, 2013, in a ceremony open to the public, Charles Mason’s burial place will receive its first-ever grave marker --- 226 years after his death --- in the form of an authentic 1766 Mason-Dixon Stone, from the historic line the two Englishmen themselves placed upon the earth.
Mason died in 1786 and was laid to rest at Christ Church Burial Ground, in the shadow of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. His old friend Benjamin Franklin paid for the funeral --- but Ben was too ‘thrifty’ to include a tombstone. As a result, Charles Mason’s grave has remained unmarked for more than two centuries . . . an oversight finally to be corrected this coming August.
The event is part of “Surveyors Rendezvous 2013,” a large annual gathering of land surveyors, antique-instrument collectors and kindred enthusiasts hosted by Surveyors Historical Society. Last year the group ‘rendezvoused’ along the Missouri River route of Lewis & Clark, but this coming summer - August 28 to 31, 2013 - the surveying world will rendezvous in and around the Historic Area of Philadelphia.
Charles Mason’s gravestone isn’t the only noteworthy event occurring at Rendezvous 2013. Leading off the 3-day symposium will be a pilgrimage to one of the most hauntingly historic, but little-known, surveying sites in all America --- Mason & Dixon’s “Stargazer’s Stone.” This ancient field-stone monument, still standing in remote Chester County after 250 years, is where the pair determined latitude and longitude from the stars, then began measuring Due South with 66-foot Gunter’s Chains, 15-miles, to establish today’s line between Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Or so legend has always had it. Recent resurveys, done using Mason & Dixon’s original field notes and journals, have revealed that their real ‘Stargazing Spot’ was hundreds of feet south of the traditional historic stone --- much nearer the house where they stayed that winter (a colonial private home from the 1720s, still lived in.) The precise actual position of Mason & Dixon’s 1764 astronomical observatory has been located, and Surveyors Rendezvous 2013 will mark its exact point, with a colonial square-head iron spike and a new field-stone monument --- at yet a second ceremony open to the public, planned for the afternoon of August 29, 2013.
There will even be a third event --- the unveiling of a Historic Marker at South Street --- the southernmost edge of once-tiny colonial Philadelphia. Surveyors Historical Society welcomes everyone --- young and old, SHS members or non-members, surveyors and non-surveyors from every walk of life. All are encouraged to participate in these unique historic dedications. Additional information, including Rendezvous 2013 registration details, will be available soon.
We surveyors must never forget our storied past. In sweat and mud - and often blood – our surveying ancestors built this country. Mason & Dixon’s monumental boundary survey of 1763-68, guided almost entirely from the stars, was a scientific triumph of colonial times. On the 250th Anniversary of its beginning, land surveyors from near and far will celebrate that achievement, by adding our own new knowledge about it – carved in stone – to American history.
Everyone is invited to attend the public ceremonies, as well as the many other worthwhile activities of ‘Surveyors Rendezvous 2013’ . . . at Historic Philadelphia on August 28-31, 2013.
Surveyors Historical Society