It all started in the County Durham village of Cockfield, in 27 July 1733. Jeremiah Dixon was born a Geordie lad, the fifth child of a wealthy Quaker Mine Owner.Originally working as a surveyor on the nearby Raby Estate, he mixed with the intellectuals of southern County Durham. Notably, the mathematician William Emerson, the mathematical instrument maker from Bishop Auckland, John Bird, and philosopher Thomas Wright.
It seems the circles he moved in were destined to take him from County Durham and it is believed that John Bird, already a Fellow of the Royal Society introduced Dixon to the astronomer Charles Mason.
Whilst probably best known for the drawing of the Mason-Dixon Line, surveyed 1763-1767, the partnership would first take Geordie Jeremiah Dixon and Gloucestershire born Charles Mason to the Cape of Good Hope in 1761, to observe the transit of Venus.
In Mark Knopfler’s song, Sailing To Philadelphia, the first line of the lyrics reads:
I’m Jeremiah Dixon, I am a Geordie Boy.
A glass of wine with you sir, and the ladies I’ll enjoy.
Now originally this confused me. After all a Quaker would not be drinking or enjoying the ladies. Was it a little poetic licence to make the lyrics scan? Perhaps not. A biographical note on the Mason-Dixon Line Preservation Partnership website states the Quaker Minute Book of Raby has an entry of 28 October 1760:
Jerry Dixon, son of George and Mary Dixon of Cockfield disowned for drinking to excess.
So perhaps he was not the clean living lad we though he may be?
Cockfield still remains a village to this day and I will try and get some photographs the next time I find myself over in that direction.