Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to the Rev. James Madison and Robert Andrews, 31 March 1781

To the Rev. James Madison and Robert Andrews

Richmond March 31st. 1781


The principles on which the Boundary between Pensylvania and this State is to be run having been fixed it is now proposed by President Reid that Commissioners proceed to execute the work from the Termination of Masons and Dixons Line to the Completion of the five Degrees of Longitude and thence on a meridian to the Ohio.

We propose that the extent of the five Degrees of longitude shall be determined by celestial Observations. Of Course it will require one set of Astronomers to be at Philadelphia and another at Fort Pitt. We ask the favor of yourselves to undertake this business, the one to go to the one place, the other to the other, meaning to add a Coadjutor to each of you. Good Instruments can be furnished no doubt at Philadelphia; but for the Pittsburg observations we must sollicit the proper Instruments from your Corporation which we will undertake to return in good order, or if injured to replace them. I therefore beg the favor of you to sollicit the Loan of those Instruments. With Respect to yourselves we shall furnish Money for your necessary and comfortable Expences. The covered Waggon which conveys the instruments will take any baggage necessary for your Accommodation. And we will give you moreover 150 ℔ of Tobacco a Day each dischargeable in current Money at the rate affixed by the grand Jury at the General Court next preceding paiment. It will be necessary to proceed in this Business as soon as the general Mode shall have been agreed between the two States. Perhaps a meeting of the Commissioners at Baltimore may be previously requisite to settle particulars. I am to request an immediate Answer to this as I delay proposing to President Reid this mode of locating the Boundary until I know whether we can get the Execution of it undertaken by Gentlemen who will do us Credit and Justice. I am &c.,

T. J.

FC (Vi); at head of text: “The Reverend James Madison & Robert Andrews.”

On 31 Mch. the Council took under consideration Joseph Reed’s letter to TJ of 26 Feb. proposing that Virginia appoint commissioners to meet with those designated by Pennsylvania, and thereupon advised TJ to ask Madison and Andrews to serve and to “determine the extent of the five degrees of Longitude by celestial observations” (Va. Council Jour. description begins Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia, ed. H. R. McIlwaine description ends , ii, 324). The idea of running the line in this manner must have originated with TJ, a proposal accepted by Pennsylvania “not only as determining the present question with more certainty, but as it tends to solve a problem both useful and curious to the Learned World” (Reed to TJ, 14 May 1781).

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