The Men

Charles Mason was born at Wherr in the parish of Bisley, Gloucestershire, in the early part of 1728. He was baptized at Sapperton Church on 1 May 1728. His father, also Charles, was a miller and baker. It is not known where Charles Mason, the astronomer, received his early training, but he may have been a scholar at Tetbury Grammar School and perhaps at the Naval Academy at Gosport.

In 1756, Mason was appointed Assistant Observer at Greenwich Observatory and he continued to work there until 1760.

Mason’s first wife, Rebekah, died on 13 Feb. 1759 at Greenwich, leaving two sons – William C. and Doctor Isaac. He remarried after his return from his “restless progress in America.” Mary, his second wife, was a sister of Robert Williams, a schoolmaster at Tetbury in Gloucestershire. Mason and his wife were living with Williams a few months before the birth of their first child.

Mason’s work for the Board of Longitude in the 1780’s was casual employment and it is apparent that he was finding it increasingly difficult to support his wife and a large family of eight children by 1786. This may have induced him to emigrate to America, as the new country seemed to offer more opportunities for him and his sons.

Mason arrived in Philadelphia with his whole family, but suffered from an illness which overtook him on his voyage to America. He died on 25 October 1786. He is said to have been buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground, although the grave is unmarked. and its exact location unknown.

Jeremiah Dixon was born at Bishop Auchland on 27 July 1733. His father was George Dixon of Cockfield (1701-1756) who owned and operated a coal-mine. The family of Dixon, Quakers in Durham County was an extensive one; it was a branch of the Longstaffs (Langstaffs) of Teesdale. Jeremiah received his early education at John Kipling’s school at Barnard Castle and it was here that her first became interested in mathematics and astronomy. His mother, Mary Hunter, who was said to have been the ‘cleverest woman that ever married into her husband’s family’. Studious to a degree, Jeremiah preferred to consider himself self-educated. When asked where his seat of learning was, he exclaimed ‘a pit cabin upon Cockfield Fell’. From the time he left school until 1760 he must have had some training in practical surveying work, for he afterwards adopted this work for his profession. At a very early age he made the acquaintance of many eminent men. It may have been John Bird who recommended Dixon to the Royal Society as a suitable companion to accompany Mason to observe the transit of Venus at Capetown, in 1761.

Dixon was a surveyor of outstanding merit and a good draughtsman. Among other places which he surveyed and measured was Lanchester Common or Moor, the largest in the County of Durham.

Jeremiah Dixon, a bachelor, died at Cockfield on 22 January 1779 and was buried at the Friends Buriel Ground, Staindrop, in County Durham.

Extracted from Thomas D. Cope and H. W. Robinson, “Charles Mason, Jeremiah Dixon and the Royal Society,” Notes and records of the Royal Society of London, volume 9, October 1951, pp. 55-78. excerpt from pp. 76-78.