Jeremiah Dixon

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Jeremiah Dixon
Born(1733-07-27)27 July 1733
Died22 January 1779(1779-01-22) (aged 45)
Nationality Kingdom of Great Britain
Known for Mason–Dixon line
Scientific career
Fields Astronomy, surveying
InstitutionsFellow of the Royal Society, 1758
Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

Jeremiah Dixon FRS (27 July 1733 22 January 1779) [1] was an English surveyor and astronomer who is best known for his work with Charles Mason, from 1763 to 1767, in determining what was later called the Mason–Dixon line.

Fellow of the Royal Society Elected Fellow of the Royal Society, including Honorary, Foreign and Royal Fellows

Fellowship of the Royal Society is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of London judges to have made a 'substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science, and medical science'.

Surveying The technique, profession, and science of determining the positions of points and the distances and angles between them

Surveying or land surveying is the technique, profession, art and science of determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional positions of points and the distances and angles between them. A land surveying professional is called a land surveyor. These points are usually on the surface of the Earth, and they are often used to establish maps and boundaries for ownership, locations, such as building corners or the surface location of subsurface features, or other purposes required by government or civil law, such as property sales.

Astronomy Universe events since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago

Astronomy is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It uses mathematics, physics, and chemistry in order to explain their origin and evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets. Relevant phenomena include supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, astronomy studies everything that originates outside Earth's atmosphere. Cosmology is a branch of astronomy. It studies the Universe as a whole.


Dixon was born in Cockfield, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, in 1733, the fifth of seven children, to George Fenwick Dixon and Mary Hunter. His father was a wealthy Quaker coal mine owner of the Northumberland Landed Gentry. His great grandfather was the theologian Robertus Dixon. His mother came from Newcastle, and was said to have been "the cleverest woman" to ever marry into the Dixon family. [2] Dixon became interested in astronomy and mathematics during his education at Barnard Castle. Early in life he made acquaintances with the eminent intellectuals of Southern Durham: mathematician William Emerson, and astronomers John Bird and Thomas Wright. In all probability it was John Bird, who was an active Fellow of the Royal Society, who recommended Dixon as a suitable companion to accompany Mason. [2]

Bishop Auckland Market town and civil parish in County Durham, England

Bishop Auckland is a market town and civil parish in County Durham in north east England. It is located about 12 miles (19 km) northwest of Darlington, 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Durham and 5 miles (8 km) southeast of Crook at the confluence of the River Wear with its tributary the River Gaunless. According to the 2001 census, Bishop Auckland has a population of 24,392, increasing to 25,455 according to the 2016 estimate.

County Durham County of England

County Durham is a county in North East England. The county town is Durham, a cathedral city. The largest settlement is Darlington, closely followed by Hartlepool, Billingham and Stockton-on-Tees. It borders Tyne and Wear to the north east, Northumberland to the north, Cumbria to the west and North Yorkshire to the south. The county's historic boundaries stretch between the rivers Tyne and Tees, thus including places such as Gateshead, Jarrow, South Shields and Sunderland.

Coal mining Process of getting coal out of the ground

Coal mining is the process of extracting coal from the ground. Coal is valued for its energy content and since the 1880s, has been widely used to generate electricity. Steel and cement industries use coal as a fuel for extraction of iron from iron ore and for cement production. In the United Kingdom and South Africa, a coal mine and its structures are a colliery, a coal mine – a pit, and the above-ground structures – a pit head. In Australia, "colliery" generally refers to an underground coal mine. In the United States, "colliery" has been used to describe a coal mine operation, but the word's usage is less common today.

Jeremiah Dixon served as assistant to Charles Mason in 1761 when the Royal Society selected Mason to observe the transit of Venus from Sumatra. However, their passage to Sumatra was delayed, and they landed instead at the Cape of Good Hope where the transit was observed on 6 June 1761. Dixon returned to the Cape once again with Nevil Maskelyne's clock to work on experiments with gravity.

Royal Society national academy of science in the United Kingdom

The Royal Society, formally The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, is a learned society and the United Kingdom's national academy of sciences. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as "The Royal Society". It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. The society fulfils a number of roles: promoting science and its benefits, recognising excellence in science, supporting outstanding science, providing scientific advice for policy, fostering international and global co-operation, education and public engagement. It also performs these roles for the smaller countries of the Commonwealth.

Transit of Venus astronomical transit of Venus across the Sun

A transit of Venus across the Sun takes place when the planet Venus passes directly between the Sun and a superior planet, becoming visible against the solar disk. During a transit, Venus can be seen from Earth as a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun. The duration of such transits is usually several hours. A transit is similar to a solar eclipse by the Moon. While the diameter of Venus is more than three times that of the Moon, Venus appears smaller, and travels more slowly across the face of the Sun, because it is much farther away from Earth.

Sumatra Island in western Indonesia, westernmost of the Sunda Islands

Sumatra is one of the Sunda Islands of western Indonesia. It is the largest island that is located entirely in Indonesia and the sixth-largest island in the world at 473,481 km2.

Nameplate of Devon and Cornwall Railway's 56312 Jeremiah Dixon Jeremiah Dixon 56312.jpg
Nameplate of Devon and Cornwall Railway's 56312 Jeremiah Dixon

Dixon and Mason signed an agreement in 1763 with the proprietors of Pennsylvania and Maryland, Thomas Penn and Frederick Calvert, sixth Baron Baltimore, to assist with resolving a boundary dispute between the two provinces. They arrived in Philadelphia in November 1763 and began work towards the end of the year. The survey was not complete until late 1766, following which they stayed on to measure a degree of Earth's meridian on the Delmarva Peninsula in Maryland, on behalf of the Royal Society. They also made a number of gravity measurements with the same instrument that Dixon had used with Maskelyne in 1761. Before returning to England in 1768, they were both admitted to the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge, in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania State in the United States

Pennsylvania, officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state located in the Northeastern, Great Lakes, and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The Appalachian Mountains run through its middle. The Commonwealth is bordered by Delaware to the southeast, Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, Lake Erie and the Canadian province of Ontario to the northwest, New York to the north, and New Jersey to the east.

Maryland State in the United States

Maryland is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east. The state's largest city is Baltimore, and its capital is Annapolis. Among its occasional nicknames are Old Line State, the Free State, and the Chesapeake Bay State. It is named after the English queen Henrietta Maria, known in England as Queen Mary, who was the wife of King Charles I.

Thomas Penn son of William Penn, founder of the Province of Pennsylvania

Thomas Penn was a son of William Penn, founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, the English North American colony that became the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Thomas Penn was born in Bristol, England after his father returned there in 1701 because of financial difficulties. Thomas Penn's mother was his father's second wife, Hannah Callowhill Penn (1671–1726), daughter of Thomas Callowhill.

Dixon sailed to Norway in 1769 with William Bayly to observe another transit of Venus. The two split up, with Dixon at Hammerfest Island and Bayly at North Cape, in order to minimize the possibility of inclement weather obstructing their measurements. Following their return to England in July, Dixon resumed his work as a surveyor in Durham. He died unmarried in Cockfield on 22 January 1779, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Quaker cemetery in Staindrop.

Norway Country in Northern Europe

Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic country in Northwestern Europe whose territory comprises the western and northernmost portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula; the remote island of Jan Mayen and the archipelago of Svalbard are also part of the Kingdom of Norway. The Antarctic Peter I Island and the sub-Antarctic Bouvet Island are dependent territories and thus not considered part of the kingdom. Norway also lays claim to a section of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land.

William Bayly (1737–1810) was an English astronomer.

Hammerfest Municipality in Finnmark, Norway

Hammerfest is a municipality in Finnmark county, Norway. Hammerfest is the northernmost town in the world with more than 10,000 inhabitants. The administrative centre of the municipality is the town of Hammerfest. Some of the main villages in the municipality include Rypefjord, Forsøl, Hønsebybotn, Akkarfjord i Kvaløya, Akkarfjord i Sørøya, and Kårhamn.

Although he was recognized as a Quaker, he was known to break the rules by dressing in a long red coat and occasionally drinking to excess. [3]

It is possible that Dixon's name was the origin for the nickname Dixie used in reference to the U.S. Southern States, even though Dixon was actually affiliated with the Northern side of the line. [4]

Jeremiah Dixon is one of the two title characters of Thomas Pynchon's 1997 novel Mason & Dixon . The song Sailing to Philadelphia from Mark Knopfler's album of the same name, also refers to Mason and Dixon, and was inspired by Pynchon's book.

An exhibition about the life and work of Jeremiah Dixon was mounted at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle in England in 2013. Titled Jeremiah Dixon: Scientist, Surveyor and Stargazer, it was scheduled to run from 27 April to 6 October.

In September 2013, a locomotive operating on the Weardale Railway in County Durham was named after Jeremiah Dixon. The locomotive now operates in the Willesden area of northwest London.

See also

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The Mason–Dixon line, also called the Mason and Dixon line or Mason's and Dixon's line, was surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in the resolution of a border dispute involving Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware in Colonial America. It is still a demarcation line between four U.S. states, forming part of the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia. Later it became known informally as the border between the free (Northern) states and the slave (Southern) states. The Virginia portion was the northern border of the Confederacy, the only place where the Union and the Confederacy shared a land border. It came into use during the debate around the Missouri Compromise of 1820, when the boundary between slave and free states was an issue. It is still used today in the figurative sense of a line that separates the North and South politically and socially.

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Star Gazers' Stone located on Star Gazers' Farm near Embreeville, Pennsylvania, USA, marks the site of a temporary observatory established in January 1764 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon which they used in their survey of the Mason-Dixon line. The stone was placed by Mason and Dixon about 700 feet (213 m) north of the Harlan House, which was used as a base of operations by Mason and Dixon through the four-and-a-half-year-long survey. Selected to be about 31 miles (50 km) west of the then southernmost point in Philadelphia, the observatory was used to determine the precise latitude of its location. The latitude of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border was then set to be 15 miles (24.1 km) south of the point in Philadelphia. The farm, including the house and stone, were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 9, 1985.

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  1. Derek Howse, ‘Dixon, Jeremiah (1733–1779)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 22 April 2013
  2. 1 2
  3. "Jeremiah Dixon (1733–1779) – A biographical note" (PDF). The Mason & Dixon Line Preservation Partnership.
  4. "A Plan of the West Line or Parallel of Latitude". World Digital Library . 1768. Retrieved 1 July 2013.