A Brief History of the Transpenninsular Line

The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
Vol. 38, No. 4, 1914 pp.389-406. Article by John W. Jordan

A History of Cecil County Maryland pp.298-311.
Journal of John Watson, Assistant Surveyor to the Commissioners of the Province of Pennsylvania, 1750.

In 1732, John, Richard, and Thomas Penn, who by the will of their father had become joint proprietors of Pennsylvania, entered into a written agreement with Charles Calvert, the fifth Lord Baltimore, for the adjustment of the boundaries of the two provinces. It was stipulated by the parties to this agreement that the boundaries should be as follows; First a circle of twelve miles radius should be described around the town of New Castle (Delaware). Second, a due east and west line was then to be drawn across the peninsula from the eastern most part of Cape Henlopen to the Chesapeake Bay, from the middle of which a straight line was to be run in a northerly direction so as to form a tangent to the circular line. Third, that from the tangent point a due north line should be run until a point, fifteen English statute miles south of the most southerly part of Philadelphia, was reached. Fourth, that a due east and west line should be run from the last named point as far west as the two provinces extended. [The west line was to begin at the tangent point, if that point was found to be fifteen statute miles south of Philadelphia; otherwise the due north line was to be continued until a point fifteen miles south of Philadelphia was reached]. It was also stipulated that, if the due north line, beginning at the tangent point should cut a segment from the twelve-mile circle, that the said segment should belong to New Castle County. It was also agreed that each of the contracting parties should appoint, within two months, no less than seven commissioners, under whose supervision the lines were to be located. Commissioners were accordingly appointed, who met for the purpose designated, but owing to the indefiniteness of the agreement, the conference soon terminated.

Many Germans had settled on this “disputed territory” under Pennsylvania titles, but in order to avoid the payment of taxes in the Province, they accepted titles from Maryland and acknowledged the authority of Lord Baltimore. But, becoming apprehensive that adhesion to him might ultimately prejudice their interest, they formally renounced their allegiance and sought protection from Pennsylvania. This irritated the authorities of Maryland, and the sheriff of Baltimore County with three hundred men marched to eject them. The sheriff of Lancaster County (PA), with a large posse, came to their assistance, and induced the Marylanders to return without molesting the Germans on a pledge that they would consult together and give an answer to Lord Baltimore’s requisition to acknowledge his authority.

Soon after a period of border warfare erupted. Marylanders under Thomas Cresap formed an association to drive the Germans from their homes with the promise that the confiscated lands would be divided among the Marylanders. Cresap was captured and the “Maryland Monster” was taken into Philadelphia where he angered the crowd by shouting “Why, this is the finest city in the province of Maryland!” The Governer of Baltimore ordered reprisals to be made, and four German settlers were seized and carried to Baltimore County.

It was not until 1750, in the Chancery Suit Penn vs Baltimore, that the division of territories was actually begun. In September of 1750, the joint Commissioners met in New Castle Delaware to begin the process of dividing the territories. The commissioners representing Pennsylvania at this conference were William Allen, Thomas Hopkinson, Richard Peters, Thomas Cookson, Ryves Holt (of Lewes, Delaware) Benjamin Chew and Tench Francis in the place of John Kinsey deceased. WILLIAM PARSONS was appointed Chief Surveyor and clerk of the Commission; John Watson and William Killen, Assistant Surveyors and Chain bearers, and Theophilus Grew, mathematician; Surveyor General Nicholas Scull was also in attendance. The Commissioners representing Maryland, were Benedict Calvert, Edmund Jennings, Robert Jenkins Henry, John Ross, Benjamin Tasker, Jr. George Plater and Daniel Dulaney Senr. Thomas Smyth was appointed their clerk, Messrs. Jennings and Ross had served on an earlier commission.

The diary of John Watson shows that the commissioners had a long controversy about the manner in which the twelve-mile radius should be measured. The commissioners of Maryland contended that it should be measured upon the surface of the earth and those from Pennsylvania that it should be made by horizontal measurement, and not by following the inequalities of the earth’s surface.

From John Watson’s Journal:
9 month 14 [1750]
“got up and Bought a Silk Cap a [?], and a [?] sleve Buttons 2 Memorandum Books ½ a Quire of paper and stick of sealing wax. £1.5.9—set forwards towards Chester about ½ hour after 1. Rode smartly and reach’d Chester about Sun set lodged at one Mather all night in Company with Nick. Skull, Theo Grew, Thomas Hopkinson, Tench Francis, WILLIAM PARSONS, one Markham—a gentleman from Maryland, Spent this Evening in some philosophical Discourses, concerning Diseases, the propagation of them, the admirable properties of them [worn]…

15th Set out abt 9 for New Castle where we came abt 1 in the evening or afternoon. Dined at one Bogges I think they call the L.Lord with WILLIAM PARSONS, Nicholas Scull, Saml Peters and [worn] After Dinner got in readiness to try to find a Meridian whch was essayed after this manner a Candle being placed in a Lanthern on the Top of a Chimney and a plumet suspended on a kind of Gallows raised for that purpose it was carefull observed at what time the last Star in the Tail of the Little Bear and Aliot in the Tail of the Great Bear came together with the candle placed as ab came into the same Azimuth circle at which time viz a 8 ho 30 pm the stars were on the Meridian.

9mo 16: This day in the forenoon we spent chiefly in walking about the town observing the Marylanders who began to measure the length of several of the Streets of the Town as was supposed in order to make some estimate of the Situation of the Center thereof…..This day was cloudy for the most part but cleared up without Rain in the Evening and the Gentlemen while we were about the Maryland survey made a second observation to find a Meridian which they found exactly corresponding with that made last night. N.B. for the Greater Accuracy in Observation, they Obscured part of the Lanthorn. Which Agreement of Observations it seems one Leeds A Mathematician chosen on Behalf of Ld Baltimore took as a Reason that the Method made us of by Our Mathematician for Discovery of a Meridian Line was false—O horrendum dictu!

17th: I also made a plan of said Survey in wch was prickt off the place in wch the Court House Stood as taken down in the notes as also the center of said town in respect of East and West and N and South and found the same about 9 P to the Northward of the courthouse and 1.25 P to the Westward, which plan was presented to our Commrs wth this Title a plan of a survey of the Town of New castle as made by Mr. Emory and other Surveyors on the part of the Ld Baltimore. This Title was Drawn by WM PARSONS, a very ingenious gentleman. Yesterday the Comrs met in the Court House where their Coms were read today they met again and after some debate agreed that the center of the Court house should be taken for the Center of New Castle then arose a Question Between them whether the 12 Miles mentioned to be run westard from said town should be superficial measure or horizontal. In the plan of the survey present to our comrs by the Maryland Surveyrs they only made a punct. In the plan wch we found to be designed for the Situation of the Court House. This day was spend very chearfully and pleasantly they Gentlemen & all concerned on Our part being high Glee. A fine Day. Got shaved in the Evening paid 6d.”

Afterwards, Watson learned that the Marylanders had intended the beginning of the radius in New Castle to be determined as such:
“The commissioners of Maryland had constructed an exact plan of the town of New Castle upon a piece of paper, and then carefull pared away the edges of the draught until no more than the draught was left when sticking a pin through it they suspended it thereby at different places until they found a place whereby it might be suspended horizontally which point or place they accepted as the center of gravity.”

“24th: The secretary came into our Room after Supper and acquainted me that the Comrs on Part of the proprs of Pennsylvania had apptd me to assist WILLIAM PARSONS in running a Line from Cape Henlopen a cross the Peninsula and withall told me to meet him to Morow Morning @ his chamber about sun rise & that I must Consult WILLIAM PARSONS and y Maryland Surveyors respecting the time of Setting out on the Expedition. Soon after WILLIAM PARSONS came in and told me the time appointed for the Surveyors Meetg at the Cape was the 20th of December next.

Novr 25th 1750: This morning I arose early and went to the Secretary according to his Direction & he paid or rather presented me with a very competent sum of money in consideration of my attendance at New Castle for these 9 or Ten days past—returned again to my lodg and immediately got ready to return to Philadelphia. Set forward @ abt 30’ after nine—recht Christean Ferry 30’ after 10 at Chester @ 1 ½ oclock ferrage 3d ½ dined there fed my creature--& at about 2 oclock set forward to Philada—a little above Derby met a wagon with the corps of a man rolld up in a bed lying thein, kill’d yesterday by a cart wheel runing over him as he was returng from marked—came to Wm Greys@ the conestoga wagon@ about 5 where I lodged. Gave the hostler when I left Boggs at Newcastle in the morng 1s and paid for my ferrage at Schuylkill 2d. ….Set out of Philadelphia between 2&3 clock in company of my Kinsman Ezekiel Potts who came up with me as far as Benjamin Armitages and falling into Discourse concerning the small Pox. He told me that never any person was more fearful & terrified with the fear of that Distemper than himself had been, being 30 years of age and upwards when he had them, that he had determined with himself to build a Cave in a piece of woodland, far from any House and there to remain until the Distemper was abated.

But while he thought of these things, one of his family was siezed with the infection, he therefore went immediately to Dr. Bond and got himself inoculated and about the 7th day begain with the Distemper attended with pain the the back pain in the head and oyr the common symptons of a cold taken. That his fever was low & not much exceeding that of drinking a glass or 2 of wine, extraordinary. That the Pocks came out at times and then again retired upon which he sent to advise with Dr. Bond concerning taken imflamatory Liquors in order to promote their coming out; upon which the doctor paid him a visit told him there was all the signs of a well conditioned Pock, and stricktly forbad the taking any Spiritous or Inflamatory Liquors affirming that an indiscreet use of them in the hands of old women had been the death of many patients, who as he said unlike the doctors who having killed one by mismanagement took particular care to destroy no more the same way for the future but they (the old Women) not instructed by the slaughter of one nor of ten still persisted in the same unhappy method of forcing an unnecessary no of the pocks out, and thereby greatly increased the fever at their turning which had proved fatal to may and therefore will him to be content with his proper share, which he observed, and had but a very inconsiderable number & came thr’ them easily. Hence it may be observed it is not the Fate of all who greatly fear the Small Pox to die with them or even to have them severely. He also told me that a few drops of cold water now or then dropt into the eyes of any person afflicted with them would infailably preserve the sight from the danger attending this distemper. That such as took them in the ordinary way—were hove down on the 13th & the inoculated on the 7th Day after. I reacht home about 9 oclock PM.”

Watson soon after the meeting at New Castle started for Cape Henlopen on horseback. He had occasion to spend a night at a hotel in St. Georges and notes in his diary that the mill-dam at that place, was the resort of large flocks of water fowl. Watson gives an account of the difficulties and inconveniences the surveyors experienced in the prosecution of their work, from which it appears that they were in imminent danger of being drowned by the tide overflowing Phenix Island (now called Fenwick’s Island) upon one occasion. On an other occasion, the cabin in which they were lodging caught fire and they had a narrow escape from death, one of them losing his shoes which were burned to a crisp, from which we are to infer that their loss was a more serious affair than it would be at the present time. However, after much discussion and wrangling, they began the survey of the line, which they traced for a few miles but on the 8th of January, 1751, were obliged to quit because the swamps and lowlands were covered with ice, which made it impossible to continue the work. Watson states that their horses were continually getting mired in the swamps, into which they sank up to the middle of their legs and that it was in his opinion only practicable to complete the work in the summer months when the swamps were drier than at other times.

The work of locating the transpeninsular line was resumed the next spring under Edward Jennings, Robert Jenkins Henry, George Plater, John Ross, William Allen, Richard Peters, and Robert Holt, commisioners appointed to superintend the work. The names of the Surveyors employed by them were as follows: John Emory, Thomas Jones, WILLIAM PARSONS, William Shanklin and William Killen. The surveyors began work near Fenwick’s Island on the 29th of April 1751 and met with nothing unusual until they had completed the thirteenth mile of the line, when they enter in their journal on the 8th of May that the men who were assisting them, had struck for higher wages. This caused some delay, but the surveyors being unable to procure any other assistance, were obliged to make the best terms they could with their men, all of whom agreed to continue to serve them. They lived in tents and were often at a lost to find a suitable place to locate them, on account of the swampy condition of the country. They completed the line of the 15th of June 1751, having traced it to the Chesapeake Bay a distance of sixty nine miles and two hundred and ninety eight perches from the place of beginning on Fenwick’s Island.

The commissioners would probably have completed the other portions of the work had their labors not be suddenly brought to an end by the death of Charles Calvert, the Proprietor of Maryland, between whom and the heirs of Penn the agreement had been made. Frederick, Lord Baltimore, the heir and successor of Charles was a minor, and his guardians resisted the execution of the decree; but in 1754, the Penns took measures to revive the Chancery suit, with the view of carrying out and enforcing the original agreement. Court battles and negotiations were continuous, however, work was not restarted until 1760. The surveyors at that time included: John Frederick, Augustus Briggs. Thomas Garnett, Arthur Emory, John Watson, John Stapler, and William Shanklin.

This survey was eventually completed by Mason and Dixon.

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