Cover image for Walkin' the line : a journey from past to present along the Mason-Dixon
Walkin' the line : a journey from past to present along the Mason-Dixon
Ecenbarger, William.
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Publication Information:
New York : M. Evans, [2000]

Physical Description:
222 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
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F157.B7 E29 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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If the Mason-Dixon Line could talk, here are the stories. It would tell. Pulitzerprize winning reporter and travel writer Bill Ecenbarger has walked the Mason-Dixon line - from its beginning on Fenwick Island, Delaware, to its end at Brown's Hill, Pennsylvania - diverting left and right to Interview the people who live along its border. The line was surveyed between 1763 and 1768 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to settle a dispute between Robert Penn and Lord Calvert, whose family owned what is now the state of Maryland. In 1780, Pennsylvania passed a law to abolish slavery, making the Mason-Dixon Line the divider between free and slave states. From that moment, it also became a lightning rod for racial conflict that continues to this day. This unique history/travelogue examines the influence of this great divider, which remains the most powerful symbol separating Yankee from Rebel, oatmeal from grits, North from South.

Author Notes

William Ecenbarger is a journalist with 40 years experience, who has worked with UPI, among others. He has been a staff writer for Reader's Digest for nearly twenty years, and was part of a team that received the Pulitzer Prize in 1980

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The Mason-Dixon Line was originally drawn in 1768 by two British surveyors, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, sent to settle a land dispute. The line later became the dividing point between the free North and the slaveholding South. Ecenbarger, a Pulitzer Prize^-winning journalist, walked the accessible parts of the 365-mile line and sought out people with stories to tell that would shed light on the line's historical and racial significance. Ecenbarger also cites Charles Mason's journal, courthouse records, and interviews with residents of Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania who live along the line. The Mason-Dixon Line represents racial tensions and mirrors animosities that have persisted through slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the civil rights era, and even today, with some towns practicing unofficial racial division. Highlighting this checkered history, Ecenbarger visited Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad and the site of reverse operation, where free blacks were sold into slavery in the South. This is an interesting look at a national landmark that is "embedded in the national psyche as a powerful racial symbol." --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1763, two astronomer-mathematicians, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, came to the U.S. from England to mark the border dividing Maryland and Pennsylvania and settle a land dispute. Their surveying project took more than four years to complete, and helped shape the course of American historyÄespecially in the early 19th century, when their Line came to symbolize the distinct ideologies of the slave South and the free North. Using the infamous Line as his guide, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ecenbarger travels across the region, investigating the history of race and culture in the U.S. Drawing on published sources and interviews, as well as his own observations of its architecture and geography, Ecenbarger tells the Line's often tragic story. Meanwhile, he introduces readers to the people who've lived along the dividing line, including Kay McElvey, an African-American teacher in Hurlock, Md., who traced the history of the local black community; Quaker Thomas Garrett of Wilmington, Del., a 19th-century abolitionist who wouldn't quit working on the underground railroad even after he was heavily fined for his activities; Daniel Logab, Garrett's ethical opposite, who made his living capturing runaway slaves and selling them south; and Sarah Bulah, an ordained minister, who lived on the Line and joined other blacks to fight segregated schools. (Her case became part of the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education case.) Part travelogue, part historical essay, this book is a well-written and dramatic examination of history, geography and race. B&w photos. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One THE TRANSPENINSULAR LINE ATLANTIC OCEAN TO MIDDLE POINT -- WESTWARD 35 MILES. "Traveler, There is no path. Paths are made by walking" --Antonio Machado, from Poesias Completas , 1917 Rain was turning to snow and temperatures were dropping on December 22, 1750, when a team of four surveyors, two from each colony, gathered at the Atlantic Ocean on Fenwick Island to begin the east-west line across the peninsula. John Watson and William Parsons represented the Penn family; John Emory and Thomas Jones represented the Calvert family. Even though he left the surveying party before the line was completed, Watson was the leader and, in early years, the work was called the John Watson Line. Had they had better equipment, better weather, and better luck, perhaps his name would have become a household word.     The surveyors' task was to run a transpeninsular line due west to the Chesapeake Bay, and then use this line to establish the middle point between ocean and bay. West of the line would be Maryland; east of the line would be Pennsylvania's so-called Three Lower Counties, which by this time had gained a separate identity as Delaware.     The provincial surveyors were instructed to mark each mile with a post and to set up stone markers every five miles. The monuments for marking the five-mile intervals were cut especially for this purpose from native stone. They were rectangular prisms, 41/2 by 8 inches, and about four feet long. On one side were inscribed the arms of Lord Baltimore and on the opposite side the arms of the Penns.     According to Watson's diary, they selected as a starting point "a cedar post standing on the northernmost part of the island near to the smallest of four mulberry trees growing together." They presumed the wooden stake was left from an earlier survey. But on December 28 they received a visit from John Bowden, a local resident, who informed them that the marker was not a surveyor's stake at all, but had been placed there by his father twenty years ago to straighten his fishing lines. Despite this new information, the surveyors proceeded as planned--apparently reasoning that any stake on Fenwick Island was as good as any other to start.     Next they built a cabin on the beach to provide shelter while they spent a few days making astronomical observations. Watson recorded that the first night "just as we were composing ourselves to sleep, some asleep and the rest partly so, a spark from the fire kindled in the covering of our cabin, by this time, become very dry, and instantly flashed up into a blaze, each of the company immediately withdrew and bore with us such of our clothing and blankets as we chanced first to lay hands on."     Although they had lost much of their equipment, the survey party left the beach on January 5, 1751, and moved westward. They ran a line about six miles long before a howling blizzard forced them to abandon their work until spring.     After resuming work in the spring of 1751, the survey party moved smoothly due west for thirteen miles to the Pocomoke Swamp, where they encountered one of America's first sit-down strikes. The diary for May 7 reads: "This morning our workmen combined together to extort higher wages from us and all of them except one, had obliged themselves under the penalty of O pounds 15 shillings not to work longer with us unless we would enlarge their wages; this stops us some time, but we were fixt as to that point, and after threatening the leaders and speaking fair-to others telling them the dangers of entering into combinations of this kind, several of them upon acknowledging their faults and promising not to do so again were taken again into service."     Getting through the swamp was brutal work, and it took them about ten days. The surveyors' notes recount wading in shoulder-high water, flies and mosquitoes, dangerous snakes, quicksand, poison ivy, and thorn-filled underbrush. There was no stable ground to set up instruments. A resurvey of the transpeninsular line by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1970 showed the surveyors veered off course several times in the swamp. They reached the fifteenth mile on May 14, but were unable to set up a stone and instead noted that a cypress tree stood "at the distance of fifteen miles from the Beginning."     Most of the land beyond the swamp was flat and tilled, and the surveyors moved rapidly. They reached the shore of the Chesapeake on June 15, 1751. It was nearly seventy miles from the Fenwick Island marker. But now the Penns and Calverts began haggling over just where the Chesapeake Bay began. Was it at the west end of Taylor's Island, some sixty-nine miles from the Atlantic? Or was it at Slaughter Creek, which separated the island from the mainland and was only sixty-six miles from the ocean? The Marylanders realized that the shorter the line across the peninsula, the better off they would be. Specifically, cutting off three miles by stopping at Slaughter Creek would give them an extra one and one-half miles of territory when the Middle Point was calculated. Not surprisingly, the Pennsylvanians took exception and argued that Taylor's Island was the proper starting point.     They argued for nine more years, until July 4, 1760, when a final agreement was hammered out. The west side of Taylor's Island was designated as water's edge--and once again, the Penns won. The Middle Point was then set at just under thirty-five miles from the ocean, and a white oak was set to mark the precise spot. Fenwick Island, Delaware: On Mile 0 A halo of yawping gulls encircles the top of the eighty-nine-foot high Fenwick Lighthouse. The steady roar of the wind is broken regularly by the basso thump! of breaking waves. Just outside the chain-link fence surrounding the lighthouse stands the first marker placed in 1751 by the colonial surveying team. The round-topped stone is whitewashed and protected by a chain. A sign misinforms me that "this is the marker from which Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon started the survey for the Mason-Dixon Line."     A sign on the lighthouse reads, "This structure is maintained by the nonprofit Friends of the Fenwick Lighthouse. For more information contact Paul Pepper." Pepper is tall and lanky, with sparse gray hair, his face a crisscross of wrinkles hammered in over eighty-nine years, and he thinks it's too bad that people move around all the time and don't stay in the same place very long. "I've lived here all my life," Pepper says. "My great-grandfather was the keeper, and my grandfather was the assistant keeper. I was the first president of the Friends of the Fenwick Lighthouse."     The lighthouse was put out of work by the development of on-board navigation equipment; in 1972, the U.S. Coast Guard turned it off. "But we liked seeing the light," Pepper says, "and we all got together, signed petitions, contacted politicians and eventually the state bought it and leased it to the Friends of the Fenwick Lighthouse for one dollar a year. The Coast Guard didn't want us to have the light on because it might confuse ships. We told them it wouldn't be a lighthouse without a light, it would be just another building. Besides, you can't see it from the sea anymore because of all the beachfront hotels. So we worked out a deal, and now it's on from dawn to dusk."     Pepper says he likes to think of the Lighthouse as the beginning marker of the Mason-Dixon Line. His eyes narrow in thought. "The Line heads out that way. The next marker's five miles away. Get on West Line Road and look for a pasture. The ten-mile stone is near Selbyville right along the main highway. They didn't put one at fifteen miles because it's right in the middle of the swamp. Then look in Line Mountain Cemetery for...."     I walk due west from the Lighthouse, past the Mason-Dixon Motel. Delaware, to my right, has done a reasonable job of keeping beach development semirespectable, but to my left looms the vast geometry of high-rise hotels, condominia, roller coasters, and Ferris wheels that is the skyline of Ocean City, Maryland     It's the off-season, cold and windy, and the Commander Hotel at 14th Street is empty. It was at this point during the first half of the twentieth century that a wire was strung out into the water and blacks knew that they could swim only north of that wire. They were only allowed on the Ocean City boardwalk for three days every year in September. This time was known as "Colored Excursion Days," and it attracted blacks from as far away as Baltimore and Washington.     At the southern end of Ocean City, Henry's Hotel is boarded up for the winter. The 100-year-old three-story shingle building is now a rooming house, but from the 1920s to the 1960s it was where blacks stayed when they had business in Ocean City. Noted guests included Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie, who could perform at major hotels but not sleep there.     West of Assowoman Bay the Line goes through sandy soil and scruffy pines. I get directions to the five-mile marker from a convenience store in Williamsville, Delaware, and I quickly find it in thick woods just outside a pasture. It's green with moss but well-protected by trees. Both coats of arms are visible after two and one-half centuries. I walk the Line for several miles where it coincides with West Line Road. There is a field full of cannibalized motor vehicles--the husks of cars, vans, and pickups, the detritus of our motorized society. Selbyville, Delaware: On Mile 10 The 10-mile marker is just south of Selbyville, along Route 113 (the Dupont Highway) next to an industrial park--just where Paul Pepper said it would be. It was placed here on May 3, 1751, by the transpeninsular surveyors. They noted in their diary that there was a schoolhouse nearby. Today the stone is worn and mossed, but it's flanked by two cypress trees standing erect as pencils. The ground around it is trimmed and neat. At the Mason-Dixon Shopping Center, I talk to five old men sipping coffee at the McDonald's. One of them says the site of the marker is cared for by Boy Scouts and other community groups.     Like many Delaware towns, Selbyville got started before the Revolution as a grist mill and blacksmith shop. The lack of navigable water kept it from growing until 1871, when D. J. Long bought some strawberry plants and started growing them. The railroad came through a few years later and soon Selbyville became one of the strawberry centers of the nation. Blacks began arriving from Southern states to work as pickers.     The strawberry business peaked in 1918 when some 250,000 crates were shipped from Selbyville, but as early as 1910 John G. Townsend, a strawberry broker, became distressed by the railroad freight rates. He told Thomas Coleman du Pont, president of the E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, that Delaware needed better roads. Not only did du Pont agree, but he paid four million dollars of his own money to build a road between Wilmington and Selbyville. When the Du Pont Highway opened in 1924, the stage was set for the chicken business. Today the Delmarva Peninsula is the hub of America's poultry industry, and in the rural areas around the Mason-Dixon Line the chicken house--with its lights shining all night to encourage gluttony via automatic feed pans--is a familiar sight.     In the beginning, blacks filled the lowliest jobs in the industry. They worked as members of "catching crews" that would round up the birds for transportation to the processing plant. They would handle three and four chickens at a time in each hand, and they were entitled to take home for their own use any birds injured in the process. White women held most of the processing plant jobs until after World War II, when they left for better-paying work and were replaced by blacks. Beginning in the 1980s, Hispanics began supplanting blacks in the plants. Cutting and deboning chickens is hard, dangerous work. Knife wounds are frequent, the floors become slippery with blood and poultry fat, and repetitive motion injuries are common.     Just outside the Selbyville processing plant, I find a group of men and women wearing green hardhats, green rubber gloves, and plastic ear coverings waiting for the 8 A.M. shift to start. One of them speaks English and tells me most of the group is from Guatemala. I ask him if he likes working here. A glint of suspicion narrows his eyes, and he says everyone likes the work because the pay is so good. "I can do thirty-eight chickens a minute," he adds. Berlin, Maryland: South of Mile 11 Berlin has a restored Victorian town center--red brick buildings with compatible roof lines, and proportionate windows and doors. The streets are lined with well-maintained magnolias, poplars, and sycamores. The old Atlantic Hotel at Main and Broad still has its full front veranda and rocking chairs. The Globe theater has been spruced up. The first floor has a bookstore, gourmet deli, and restaurant. The second floor balcony, where blacks had to sit until the 1960s, has been converted into an art gallery. These balconies, which were called "nigger heavens," originated in churches and were carried over to movie houses.     Berlin is the hometown of Charles Albert Tindley, who was born into slavery around 1855 and moved to Philadelphia at the age of seventeen to find a better life. He educated himself through correspondence courses, became a minister, and headed one of the largest African American Methodist congregations in Philadelphia. He fought for civil rights, cared for the poor, and found time to write forty-five gospel hymns; his "I'll Overcome Someday," is better known as "We Shall Overcome."     When James Purnell was growing up in nearby Snow Hill, Maryland, his family would come to Berlin to shop and see movies. In the Forties and Fifties, blacks had to park their cars in one designated lot and were restricted to one dirty restroom. When Purnell was twelve years old, he was standing in front of the Atlantic Hotel with his nine-year-old sister, Patricia; a policeman came along and said, "Niggers, get off the corner!"     "I guess we didn't move fast enough," says Purnell, his eyes going wide with the memory, "because he took out his club and smacked my sister in the stomach." Purnell ran and got his father, who found Patricia doubled over in pain. He went to the police and demanded an apology. He got it, but that wasn't enough. Purnell's father contacted white friends and business associates over the next few days, and pressed his complaint until the policeman was fired.     "That taught me something about being persistent in sticking up for your rights," Purnell said. "Even today you have to keep bangin' on the door and keep it open. If you don't, they'll close it on you and go back to business as usual."     Jim Crow was a constant childhood companion for Purnell. He walked several miles to the segregated school, where he was handed textbooks discarded by the white school. Often there were pages missing. There was no gym, and the basketball team had to practice outside. He recalls going to Ocean City on Colored Excursion Days. "Most of the stores and rides were closed. We were allowed to swim above 14th Street, but the water was usually too cold."     In his mid-forties, Purnell became an activist. He led the fight against a smelly landfill placed in the middle of the black section of town by the white establishment. He marched on the Ocean City boardwalk for better jobs at the beach resorts. In 1986 he became president of the Worcester County branch of the NAACP. He fought a long, bitter legal battle with the county over minority representation on the county commission body--a battle that was finally resolved in his favor by the U.S. Supreme Court. He was elected to the county commission in 1994 and re-elected in 1998 with the help of white votes and white financial support.     At sixty-two, Purnell is nearly bald and built like a Russian war memorial. Clad in a tank top and jeans, he sits in front of a glowing kerosene heater in his home in the black section of Berlin. "There's been some integration, but basically the whites live on the west side of Route 113, the blacks on the east. Up until a few years ago there was a street named Maryland Avenue that suddenly changed into Branch Avenue. We discovered that the town fathers did this so it would be clear exactly where they wanted to exclude blacks from owning and renting. It was right there in the official minutes that way. We got them to change the name officially, but a lot of maps still have it the old way." Pocomoke Swamp: On Mile 12 I stand near the Line along an unpaved, sandy road in the middle of the Pocomoke Swamp. There are no signs announcing the change in jurisdictions, and I am using a hand-held global positioning system to determine the approximate location of the border. Fog has bleached the landscape. Big ferns lining the roadway give way to a thick forest. There are pine, holly, gum, cedar, and an occasional bald cypress. This spring's rain and last fall's dead leaves give off a putrefaction that is fecund and not unpleasant.     The first European to come here probably was Giovanni da Verrazano, the Italian navigator, who anchored his ship, the Dauphine , off Fenwick Island in 1524 while on a mission for the King of France. He led a party of twenty men inland to the swamp, where he marveled at the luxuriant plant life--"wild roses, violets, lilies and many sorts of plants and frequent flowers different from our own," he wrote in a letter to the king. He found the local Indians friendly and the women beautiful.     But a century later, the Maryland charter authorized Lord Baltimore to raise troops and wage war on the "barbarians" and other enemies who might threaten the new colony, "to pursue them beyond the limits of their province," and "if God shall grant it, to vanquish and captivate them; and the captives to put to death, or according to their discretion, to save."     When English colonists began moving onto Maryland's Eastern Shore in the eighteenth century, the colonial government tried to protect the Indians by setting aside land for their exclusive use. But the authorities couldn't control their own land-hungry people, and the Indians kept getting pushed inland. Their frustration boiled over, and in the spring of 1742, the Nanticokes and other tribes gathered in the swamp at a secret place called Winnasoccum to plot against the whites.     Several hundred men, women, and children assembled at the Winnasoccum powwow. Illuminated by campfires, the local chiefs stepped forward one by one and enumerated their grievances. They had been driven from their villages. English hunters killed indiscriminately, and fur-bearing animals were becoming scarce. Pleas to the English authorities to forbid traders from giving intoxicating liquor to the Indians went unheeded. Then an outsider, the Shawnee chieftain Messowan, urged them to join forces with him to drive the English out. It was agreed, and as a first step plans were made to poison the drinking water of the colonists.     But the Maryland authorities learned of the Winnasoccum plot, and the leaders were arrested. A special board of inquiry convened at Annapolis, and new treaties were signed with each tribe. The English would choose the official tribal representatives with whom they would deal. The Indians were forbidden to carry guns and to entertain foreign Indians in their towns. The Nanticokes were singled out for special treatment. They could not assemble to choose an emperor, which destroyed a political structure that had coalesced them for centuries. It was the beginning of the end for the Nanticokes.     Throughout the colonial period, there were white men in the Pocomoke Swamp making cypress shingles that were used for roofs and siding. Much of the hard work, including the felling of the trees, was done by black slaves. By the time of the Civil War, most of the timber was gone, but layers of fallen cypress were found in the peat of the swamp and could be dug out during rainy weather. Because cypress resists the rotting process, these fallen trees were as good for shingles as the living ones. Inexorably, drainage and drought had lowered the water level and, in 1930, a fire raged out of control for months and burned off about ten feet of the now-dry peat, including most of the remaining cypress. It will take several thousand years for the swamp to completely regenerate itself.     The swamp has always been a refuge--for British sympathizers during the Revolution, for Civil War draft dodgers and deserters, for runaway slaves, for criminals, and for moonshiners. The headwaters of the Pocomoke River are in the swamp, and in the fifty years preceding the Civil War it was called a "flowing underground railroad" because it was an escape artery for slaves heading for freedom in the Philadelphia area.     In his 1884 novel, The Entailed Hat , George Alfred Townsend wrote some vivid descriptions of the swamp and its use by fugitive slaves. One of the principal characters is the slave Virgie, who flees her master in Maryland and is guided through the swamp on a shingle trail by Hudson, a free black. The swamp increased in depth and solemnity as they drew near the rushing sluices of the Pocomoke, and kept along them, the trail being now a mere ditch and chain of floating logs where no vehicle could pass, and the man himself seemed frightened as he led the way from trunk to float and puddle to corduroy, sometimes balancing himself on a revolving log, or again plunging nearly to his waist in vegetable muck; but the light-footed girl behind had the footstep of a bird, and hopped as if from twig to twig, and seemed to slide where he would sink; and the man often turned in terror, when he had fallen headlong from some treacherous perch, to see her slender feet, in crescent sandals, play in the moonlit jungle like hands upon a harp. He stared at her in wonder, but too wistfully. The cat-briers hung across the opening, and grape-vines, like cables of sunken ships, fell many a fathom through the crystal waves of night; but the North Star seemed to find a way to peep through everything, and Virgie heard the words from Hudson.... "Jess over this branch a bit we is in Delaware!" The mighty swamp now grew distinct, yet more inaccessible, as its inner edges seemed transparent in the line of fires, like curtains of lace against the midnight windowpanes. The Virginia creeper, light as the flounces of a lady, went whirling upward, as if in a dance; the fallen giant trees were rich in hanging moss; laurel and jasmine appeared beyond the bubbling surface of long, green morass, where life of some kind seemed to turn over comfortably in the rising warmth, like sleepers in bed. Suddenly the man took Virgie up and carried her through a stream of running water, brown with the tannin matter of the swamp. "We is in Delaware," he said, soon after, as they reached a camp of shingle sawyers, all deserted, and lighted by the fire, the golden chips strewn around, and the sawdust, like Indian meal, that suggested good, warm pone at Teackle Hall to Virgie. She put her feet, soaked with swamp water, at a burning log to warm, and hardly saw a moccasin snake glide round the fire and stop, as if to dart at her, and glide away; for Virgie's mind was attributing this kindly fire to the presence of Freedom. Virgie eventually makes her way to Wilmington, Delaware, and the home of Thomas Garrett, the real-life Underground Railroad conductor who guided fugitive slaves across the Mason-Dixon Line to Philadelphia. Millsboro, Delaware: North of Mile 13 The parking lot outside the Indian Mission Methodist Church near Millsboro, Delaware, is filled, and nearly all the vehicles carry license plates that begin with "NIA"--Nanticoke Indian Association. It's cold and raining, but men and women inside are greeting each other by their first names, shaking hands, hugging, and saying, "Peace be with you." The minister, a white woman, leads the faithful in the Lord's Prayer. There is an unwavering sense of faith here that Moses parted the Red Sea just as the Bible says and that Adam and Eve were historic figures.     The church was founded in 1888 in a dispute within a group that considered themselves to be direct descendants of the original Nanticokes. Some of the lighter-skinned members objected to being considered Negroes and formed the new church. Before the schism, there had been fisticuffs and the threat of gun fights between the rival groups. To further achieve distinction from blacks, the breakaway group incorporated itself as the Nanticoke Indian Association. Today it has some 500 members, but the federal government has refused to recognize them as a tribe because scholars believe them to be a mixture of white, black, and Indian blood.     Until 1962, the group had its own school system through the eighth grade, and to continue their education they would have to go to an Indian school in Lawrence, Kansas. White people regarded the group as Negroes; they could not attend white public schools and were subjected to all Jim Crow laws and traditions. During World War II, two of the members were drafted into the Army and assigned to segregated black units. They objected strenuously and eventually persuaded the Selective Service that they were not Negroes.     Today the minister intones the final prayer and bids the congregation to rise. They open their red United Methodist Hymnals and sing a capella a well-known black spiritual: "This little light of mine ... I'm gonna let it shine ... let it shine, let it shine, let it shine...." The music swells and fills the room.     In the parking lot, standing beside a car bearing the license NIA-1, is Kenneth Clark, honorary Nanticoke chief also known as Red Deer. "We are Nanticokes," he explains. "We have nothing against black people. We're just proud of being Nanticokes."     The question of racial identity was difficult and confusing right from the beginning. White men mated almost at their whim with Indian women, and before long fair-skinned children appeared in Indian families. These births were never recorded because a 1695 law required reports to authorities only on children born to white women. Children born to blacks and Indians were not recorded--even if the father was white. Whaleyville, Maryland: South of Mile 13 On the southern edge of the swamp, Whaleyville once was a lively center of the shingle industry. Today it's a husk of a town, and I search in vain for the old African Methodist Church that was expanded in 1926 with the help of a white friend, P. Dale Wimbrow, an entertainer who called himself "Old Pete Daley of Whaleyville." Wimbrow later gained a measure of fame as a national radio performer, but in 1926 he decided to help out the church after a hometown recital was attended by "only eight people, including the dog under the stove." Years later, Wimbrow remembered the event fondly: Those colored people plastered posters from Curtis's Chapel to Sugar Hill. Every telephone pole shouted in red letters that, "The real Honorable Mister Peter Dale Wimbrow Esquire" would entertain at Whaleyville Schoolhouse--looked as if I was running for sheriff in a Democratic primary. On the night appointed they came from Parsonsburg in buses, from Jenkins Neck in carryalls, from the swamp in oxcarts and one-lung jalopies. They were jammed in the schoolhouse and standing about fifty deep outside.... So I uked--and New York never heard that much uking from me. I sang, danced, whistled, told stories, and did impersonations for a solid hour. When I had to sign off, limp and wet with sweat ... up came the master of ceremonies, all worried, and whispered: "what we gonna do about all de folks dat couldn't git in?" So I told him to clear the hall and let in another helping. There was a second show from start to finish, and a third. The money they raised not only put the new wing on the church--it painted the whole works. Line Methodist Church: On Mile 20 The church is in Delaware, but its cemetery is in both states. A highway marker informs me that the land for the church was purchased in 1785 and the present building went up in 1874. The tombstones in the cemetery lean this way and that, jostled by the alternating winter frosts and spring thaws of a century. The first one I see hints at tragedy. "Isaac H. Truitte. Born June 10, 1882. Died March 25, 1883. Budded on Earth to Bloom in Heaven." It takes me fifteen minutes to find the Line marker, which is hiding our among the tombstones. The colonial surveyors placed it here on May 18, 1751, noting that it was "near a hickory." It is twenty miles from the Fenwick Lighthouse. There is a large hickory tree nearby, and I wonder if it's the very one.     A woman is placing fresh flowers on a grave. She straightens up and looks down with unwinking, reptilian concentration. "These are my two boys," she says without me asking. "They died in a house fire. One was two, the other three. Happened in 1977." I extend my sympathy and say such an event must be difficult to accept. "You find a place for it somewhere, and then you go on," she says. Snow Hill, Maryland: South of Mile 20 The manumission of slaves began on Maryland's Eastern Shore in the early nineteenth century, and a free black community developed in Snow Hill. As it grew and thrived, whites became alarmed by the increased numbers of freemen, especially because it belied the cherished theory that blacks could not survive outside the institution of slavery. These blacks owned property and held jobs; many of them worked as oystermen. But in 1835 the Maryland legislature passed a law that said only whites could navigate any vessel working in state waters. This effectively removed the blacks from the oyster industry.     Some black Snow Hill families relocated to New York's Staten Island, where they got back into the oyster business. Others moved to New Jersey and established a town named Snow Hill (which was later renamed Lawnside). Others emigrated to Liberia with the help of the Maryland Colonization Society.     Many blacks stayed, and during this period touring Southern plantation owners came to Snow Hill and other nearby communities to purchase slaves and take them back home. At least once a year some fifty slave dealers came to Snow Hill, carrying thick wads of cash. Newspapers would announce their imminent arrival. Each dealer claimed to offer the "highest cash price" and some bought as many as one hundred slaves at a time. Competition among the dealers was keen. Local slave dealers were everywhere--taverns, county fairs, general stores, auctions, estate liquidations--anywhere slaves might be available.     Farm supply firms carried slaves right along with harrows and lime. Planters going out of business advertised their slaves for sale in newspapers, and fraternal organizations sold slaves by lottery to raise funds.     After the slave trade was abolished in 1808, the fear that the supply of slaves would be exhausted was so great that the Eastern Shore became a systematic breeding ground, and slave holders encouraged mating in every possible way. Experiments in slave rearing were carried on just as intensely as experiments in new irrigation techniques or soil management.     As the Civil War approached and tensions rose over the slavery question, Snow Hill's free blacks were viewed with suspicion and considered the allies of the remaining slave population. For protection, they began to segregate themselves on the southwest side of Snow Hill, and this area became known as Freetown. Ironically, a century earlier, as the number of Indians dwindled, several tribal fragments had banded together near Snow Hill. The area was called Indiantown.     One of the black families that remained in Snow Hill was the Johnsons, and on October 26, 1900, William (Judy) Johnson was born here. He was one of the best baseball players who ever lived, but he spent his career playing for teams like the Madison Stars, the Chester Giants, and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Johnson retired before Jackie Robinson broke the white-only barrier in major league baseball. In 1974 Johnson joined Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell as the first Negro League players to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Pittsville, Maryland: South of Mile 20 As is often the case, a road coincides with the Line for many miles. When the surveyors came through in 1751, they hacked down trees and brush to facilitate their work. This "visto," or line of sight, evolved first into a pathway, then a trail, and finally a road. I walk the Line for about a mile, then head south towards Pittsville, the erstwhile "Strawberry Capital of the World."     Because of the railroad, strawberries could be picked in Pittsville in the morning and placed on the shortcakes at the du Pont mansions around Wilmington by dinnertime. On a single day in 1923, sixty-one rail cars filled with strawberries--that's about 400,000 quarts--left Pittsville.     Black farm workers were allowed to come into Pittsville during the day, but the farmers warned them to be out before dark or there would be trouble from whites. As more and more blacks moved in to work as pickers, a school was built for their children on Glass Hill Road, but a woman in a store tells me that it's no longer there. "They tore the colored school down. It was falling apart," she says. Delmar, Maryland & Delmar, Delaware: On Mile 28 State Avenue, the main street in Delmar, is the Mason-Dixon Line, and the civic boast is that it's "the town too big for one state." Grammar school students attend classes in Delmar, Maryland, while secondary school students matriculate in Delmar, Delaware. Each side elects its own town council, and the two bodies meet separately and jointly once a month. There's only one Town Hall, and it's in Maryland. That means that the mayor of Delmar, Delaware, meets with the council of Delmar, Delaware, to conduct the town's business in Maryland. Each side has its own zip code, but there's only one post office. Delmar police have jurisdiction in both states.     Such cooperation wasn't always the case. Until the schools of the two towns were consolidated in 1949, there was intense rivalry. People in Maryland didn't speak to blood relatives in Delaware. There were fistfights when a Marylander strayed over into Delaware at night. They couldn't even agree on the time of day. Maryland observed daylight saving time. Delaware did not. One legacy of these days is that numbered streets don't connect. Heading south on Sixth Street in Delaware, I have to take a short detour east on State Street to find the continuation of Sixth Street in Maryland.     Delmar is an old railroad town that today serves primarily as a bedroom community for larger towns and cities north and south of the Line. The sign over the post office, which is in Maryland, says "U.S. Post Office, Delmar, Maryland-Delaware." Most of the businesses are in Delaware, which doesn't have a sales tax. There are no parking meters downtown, and the business district consists of the post office, a funeral home, barber shop, furniture store, and, with a big OPEN sign, Linda's Railroad Cafe.     Linda herself takes my order for a cup of coffee and brings back a steaming mug. There are big-bladed ceiling fans overhead, and a sign on the counter indicates today's luncheon special is chicken and dumplings plus two vegetables for $3.95. It's too early for lunch though, and I glance over my shoulder at a noisy whirlpool of men--baseball-capped, bespectacled, overalled, suspendered. George invites me over. Fred, Jim, Sam, Dick, Brian, Bill, Bill, and Paul nod their blessing. They are downing 2,500-calorie breakfasts that are the special of the day for $1.99--scrambled eggs, home fries, sausage, toast, and jelly.     "This is the Liar's Club," George says, who wants me to know he's usually called Tweety Bird. "We meet here every morning for about two hours. We've had as many as sixteen, seventeen at this table. We begin arriving at 4 A.M."     "They're waiting at the door before I open," Linda shouts across a row of freshly baked pies on the countertop.     They are all former railroaders. "They're retired; I'm just tired," jokes Dick. One of the Bills points at Dick. "He's an outsider. He's only bin here forty years." Brian says if you get a speeding ticket on the Delaware side, the fine goes to the state, but if it's on the Maryland side, it goes to the county. "As usual, you're almost right," says Sam. "The fine goes to the town, not the county."     There's a five-minute legal argument that ends in irresolution. Then I ask about racial relations in Delmar. A cathedral hush comes over the room. Everyone starts eating with wolfish gusto. The silence stretches tauter and tauter, threaded by the ticking of the clock, and if it goes any longer it will be hard to break. But Paul looks up. "We didn't know we had racial problems until Washington told us. Things were fine until the bureaucrats got into the act. Now we get along pretty well. Some of the white churches have joint services with Negro churches for Thanksgiving and Christmas. There used to be a black guy come in here once in awhile. Not for a couple of years now...." The silence returns and the ticking clock takes over. Tweety Bird rubs his chin. "I forgot to shave this morning."     "Yeah, and you look like shit," Linda says. * * * Sam Bynum lives in an unassuming house on the Delaware side of Delmar about fifty yards from where he was born sixty-eight years ago. He sits in front of a muted television that is flickering phosphorescent images of the Redskins versus the Cardinals. The living room is filled with photographs of his seven children, and he's not sure how many grandchildren.     "My father was a railroad man. He filled the kerosene lamps they used to light their signals all up and down the line. He'd hop the train to Laurel, then walk back the seven miles filling each lantern. When he wasn't doing that he laid track."     Bynum went through Delmar's segregated school system, but he didn't know how much he had been shortchanged until his children began attending the newly integrated schools in the 1960s. Other aspects of a segregated society were more obvious to him as a child. "We could go inside the train station to buy our ticket, but then we had to wait outside, even if it was raining. Before the family would go out anywhere, mom and dad would make us go to the bathroom because away from home we weren't likely to find one we were allowed to use."     Bynum escaped Jim Crow while serving in the Army in Germany from 1951 to 1953, and when he got back to Delmar he helped form the Dixie Democratic Club, a group of local blacks who began to press for changes. "The white people would say, `We've given you everything. What more do you want?' But the textbooks they gave us were thirty years old and dragged out of the basements of the white schools. Our high school team played football with any kind of ball--baseball, softball, basketball--and sometimes we used an old sock filled with dirt. That's what they gave us." The changes came grudgingly, but in 1988 Bynum was elected mayor of Delmar by a huge majority that included many white votes.     He was too young to remember the night they lynched Matt Williams in Salisbury, but when he was fourteen and working as a bellboy at the Hotel Wicomico, an older man took him up to the roof and showed him the tree where Williams was hanged.     "I do remember hearing about a nasty white fella. Drank a lot. He cut Williams' toes off and took them home. He used to brag about it and show them to people. One day he got hit by a freight train and died, so I guess he got what he deserved. They cut the tree down a couple of years ago, bat the courthouse is still there. Go look for yourself." Salisbury, Maryland: South of Mile 29 Old men, black and white, sit in front of the red-brick Victorian Gothic courthouse, nurturing their idleness. A plaque says it was built in 1878. Just across Main Street is the Hotel Wicomico, where Sam Bynum worked; it has been converted into an office building called One Plaza East.     On December 4, 1931, Daniel J. Elliott, a popular white lumber merchant, was shot and killed in his office in Salisbury. Police quickly arrested Matthew Williams, a former black employee, who confessed that he killed Elliott because "he only paid me 15 cents an hour." Then Williams attempted to kill himself with his gun, but he failed and was hospitalized with a minor wound. As word of the killing spread, a crowd gathered in the courthouse square. With shouts of "Let's get the nigger!" a mob of 300 men surged toward the hospital a few blocks away.     They snatched Williams from his hospital cot and began dragging him to the square. Whenever he faltered, a man would jab him with an ice pick. When they arrived at the courthouse, there was a crowd of 2,000 people standing under battery-operated flood lights. Williams was mutilated and tortured. Men cut off his ears, fingers, and toes and held them up for display. While this was going on, police directed traffic around the courthouse square to avoid any interruption in the lynching. When he was finally hanged, the crowd applauded as he strangled.     The body was cut down and dragged to Salisbury's black residential section where it was doused with gasoline and burned amid curses and hoorays. Lights went out that night all over the black section, and children were sent to churches for protection. That following Sunday, no clergyman, white or black, mentioned the incident in their sermons.     The Wicomico County Grand Jury investigated the crime, but not a single person could be found who could identify any of the lyncher-torturers. "Absolutely no evidence," said the report of the Grand Jury to Judge Joseph L. Bailey and Judge Robert F. Duer, of the First Judicial Circuit Court, "can remotely connect anyone with the instigation or perpetration of the murder of Matthew Williams." Copyright (c) 2000 William Ecenbarger. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsp. 9
Author's Notep. 11
Introductionp. 13
Prologuep. 15
Chapter 1 The Transpeninsular Line: Atlantic Ocean to Middle Point--Westward 35 Milesp. 19
Chapter 2 The Tangent, Arc, and North Lines: Middle Point to Newark, Delaware--Northward 87 Milesp. 39
Chapter 3 The New Castle Circle: Newark, Delaware to Delaware Bay--South and East 22 Milesp. 87
Chapter 4 The West Line: Northeast Corner to the Susquehanna River--23 Milesp. 117
Chapter 5 The West Line: Susquehanna River to the Appalachian Mountains--77 Milesp. 145
Chapter 6 The West Line: Appalachian Mountains to Dunkard Creek--130 Milesp. 179
Epiloguep. 217