Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation

Overview

The Mason-Dixon Line’s history, replete with property disputes, persecution, and ideological conflicts, traverses our country’s history from its founding to today.

We live in a world of boundaries — geographic, scientific, cultural, and religious. One of America’s most enduring boundaries is the Mason-Dixon Line, most associated with the divide between the North and the South and the right to freedom for all people. Sibert Medal–winning author Sally M. Walker traces the tale of ...

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Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation

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Overview

The Mason-Dixon Line’s history, replete with property disputes, persecution, and ideological conflicts, traverses our country’s history from its founding to today.

We live in a world of boundaries — geographic, scientific, cultural, and religious. One of America’s most enduring boundaries is the Mason-Dixon Line, most associated with the divide between the North and the South and the right to freedom for all people. Sibert Medal–winning author Sally M. Walker traces the tale of the Mason-Dixon Line through family feuds, brave exploration, scientific excellence, and the struggle to define a cohesive country. But above all, this remarkable story of surveying, marking, and respecting lines of demarcation will alert young history buffs to their guaranteed right and responsibility to explore, challenge, change, and defend the boundaries that define them.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
01/20/2014
Walker (Secrets of a Civil War Submarine) presents an exhaustively researched account of the people and events surrounding the creation of the Mason-Dixon Line. The author goes back to 16th-century England when the Calvert and Penn families were granted charters for the Maryland and Pennsylvania colonies, respectively. Using the boundary metaphor extensively, the packed-with-facts narrative covers historical, political, religious, geographical, and scientific terrain. The bulk of the story takes readers step by chronological step through Charles Mason’s meticulous astronomical observation work and Jeremiah Dixon’s laborious ground survey in the 1760s as they delineate a boundary that would take on increased significance in the run-up to the Civil War. Thirteen chapters include breakout sidebars that thoroughly contextualize the Mason-Dixon Line, from information on celestial navigation and the Quaker religion to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and sidereal time. Scientific and mathematical concepts are clearly presented and well-defined, but may make for more challenging reading. Archival photos, maps, and diagrams supplement the text, as do extensive source notes, a bibliography, and an index. Ages 10–up. (Mar.)
Voya Reviews, April 2014 (Vol. 36, No. 1) - Rebecca O’Neil
The American colonies offered religious freedom to many, including the Calvert family (proprietors of the province of Maryland) and the Penn family (Pennsylvania). Once settling began, however, boundary disputes between these two adjacent colonies could not be resolved. Two astronomers, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, were hired for their surveying skills. Even with state-of-the-art instruments, the science of measuring latitude and longitude was still developing: “Imagine trying to draw a straight line from your home to the doorway of one specific building located eighty miles away with no reference points in between to guide your direction.” The terrain was often difficult and unsettled, and frontier tensions were high. The task was finally completed, however, and the book concludes with a reflection on the public perception of the Mason-Dixon Line as a larger boundary between the slave and free states. In Boundaries, nonfiction author Walker (Secrets Of A Civil War Submarine [Lerner, 2005/Voya June 2005]) discusses boundaries as a broad theme, from the early colonists’ religious persecution to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Readers familiar with the popular perception of the Mason-Dixon Line as the divider between the North and the South may be surprised to find the bulk of the book focused on the origin of the line: the much smaller boundary dispute between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Though primary sources abound, and there is plenty of excitement (the riot in Christiana stands out), lack of visuals make this a challenging read for those not especially interested in the topic. Additional maps would be helpful. This reviewer turned to the Internet at several points along the way. Still, it is a useful, informational text with strong science and math connections for middle and high school and public libraries. Reviewer: Rebecca O’Neil; Ages 12 to 18.
School Library Journal
03/01/2014
Gr 9 Up—With her book title reflecting both theme and structure, Walker begins with the English religious boundaries that drove the Catholic Calvert family and Quaker William Penn to seek religious freedom in their respective New World colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Conflicting royal land grants and imprecise surveys led to a disputed boundary between the colonies, eventually resolved by an accurate land survey conducted by British scientists Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Much of the book describes their work, one of the most technologically challenging surveys done to that point. The author concludes with a discussion of how their survey line became a physical and symbolic boundary that marked the divisions in pre- and post-Civil War America, concluding that it remains a representational historic link to contemporary physical and cultural boundaries. Walker's account, supplemented with numerous illustrations and maps, of the conflicts along the disputed boundary and Mason and Dixon's innovative methods of scientific surveying is comprehensive and objective but is occasionally dry, and some of the complex scientific and technical concepts will be too difficult for middle school readers. Her emphasis on the survey provides a perspective missing in titles such as John C. Davenport's The Mason-Dixon Line (Chelsea House, 2004), which focuses on the line's political and military role in the antebellum slavery debate and Civil War and the postwar cultural division between North and South. While the topic won't draw a large audience, its importance in American history makes this book a strong report choice about the boundaries that shaped our nation or science in early America.—Mary Mueller, Rolla Public Schools, MO
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-12-11
In this richly layered, thoroughly researched history of the Mason-Dixon Line, Walker crisscrosses the boundaries of geography, culture, economics, science, mathematics, politics and religion to reveal that drawing lines is as likely to cause conflict as settle it. The story of the boundary lines surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon is just one thread of this sweeping historical chronicle. The storied boundary is most associated with the divide between the North and the South and the bloody history wrought by that line, but Walker reveals a fascinating and complicated history of exploration, family feuds, persecution, ideological conflicts, scientific experimentation and advancement, and the forging of a national identity. Beginning in the 16th century and ending in the present, the account of the Mason-Dixon Line often serves as a window into some of the pivotal developments of American history. The author ably makes the case that "[t]he many boundary journeys found in the complete story of the Mason-Dixon Line are relevant today." Abundant use is made of quotations from primary sources, and many photographs and archival images enrich the narrative. A thoughtful, insightful, challenging and extensively researched chronicle of United States history and the shaping of national identity from a unique perspective. (maps, photographs, source notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)
From the Publisher
[A] richly layered, thoroughly researched history of the Mason-Dixon Line.... Walker reveals a fascinating and complicated history of exploration, family feuds, persecution, ideological conflicts, scientific experimentation and advancement, and the forging of a national identity. ... A thoughtful, insightful, challenging and extensively researched chronicle of United States history and the shaping of national identity from a unique perspective.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Walker’s account, supplemented with numerous illustrations and maps, of the conflicts along the disputed boundary and Mason and Dixon’s innovative methods of scientific surveying is comprehensive and objective... Her emphasis on the survey provides a perspective missing in titles such as John C. Davenport’s "The Mason-Dixon Line," which focuses on the line’s political and military role in the antebellum slavery debate and Civil War and the postwar cultural division between North and South. ... [The topic's] importance in American history makes this book a strong report choice about the boundaries that shaped our nation or science in early America.
—School Library Journal

This thoroughly researched account of the Mason–Dixon Line encompasses a broad span of time and place, from sixteenth-century England to twentieth-century America. ... Walker’s latest book offers a good deal of pertinent information on the subject at hand, as well as some interesting sidelights on American history.
—Booklist

A useful, informational text with strong science and math connections for middle and high school and public libraries.
—VOYA

In characteristic fashion, Walker delves deeply into her topic, providing meticulous detail not only about surveying but also about colonial-era sociopolitics. She ends with a discussion of the cultural relevance of the Mason-Dixon Line to the North and the South, and modern-day interest in the preservation of its history. ... The immersive story may inspire the next generation of geographers, cartographers, and astronomers.
—The Horn Book

Scientific and mathematical concepts are clearly presented and well-defined.
—Publishers Weekly

Many history books for youth gloss over science and math in favor of a strictly human-interest approach, but Walker embraces the fields and walks readers through both the theory behind the calculations and the exhausting (and expensive) fieldwork it took to get results. Plenty of maps and diagrams support the text, and even math-resistant readers may find themselves learning more than they expected. The most appreciative audience, though, will be the kids who doodle in their notebooks through history class, just waiting for the bell to ring for math.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763656126
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 3/11/2014
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 467,014
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Lexile: 1190L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Sally M. Walker is the Sibert Medal–winning author of Secrets of a Civil War Submarine as well as many other nonfiction books. She lives in Illinois.
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