Philadelphia, meet Sapperton...

Mike Hayward, Voluntary Area Coordinator for Gloucestershire, writes...

Many of you will remember that St Kenelm’s at Sapperton in Gloucestershire was the 350th church to be vested in The Churches Conservation Trust in 2016. Now, this remarkable, picturesque church has revealed a fascinating connection with Charles Mason, who, along with Jeremiah Dixon, surveyed the Mason-Dixon Line in the United States between 1763 and 1767. The survey, which took place to settle a border dispute in colonial America, mainly between Pennsylvania and Maryland, was an amazing achievement for the time. The 250th anniversary of the survey was celebrated by the BBC last year.

The story has already entered popular culture via the title song of the album Sailing to Philadelphia, by the former lead guitarist, lead singer and songwriter of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler, who also made a short film for the BBC on the topic.

Now it turns outs that Charles Mason has a direct tie to St Kenelm’s where his first wife, Rebekah is buried. It is also believed that Charles was baptized and married at the church. Our volunteers at Sapperton heard all about the connection from Andrea Witwer and her husband Steve when they visited from Pennsylvania on 24th January this year. She explained that Mason had been buried at  Christ Church, a historic Georgian church in Philadelphia.

Most of the Mason-Dixon Line is marked by mile stones carved and exported from England. Andrea has been researching the line for some years with the aim of getting it added to the US National Register of Historic Places.

Present for the visit were our volunteers Anne, who opens the church every day; Mary, local historian and author of the St. Kenelm’s guide book; myself, as Area Coordinator for Gloucestershire; Paul, Volunteer Photographer; Elizabeth, Sapperton’s Key Representative; Reverend Pepita Walker; and Councillor Mrs. Sara Taylor.

Before a lovely lunch in a local pub we enjoyed a tour of St Kenelm’s, both generously provided by Mary. Andrea gave us a fascinating explanation of how she had begun investigating listing the Mason-Dixon Line, inspired by a friend’s last wish. The plan now is to celebrate the connection by an exchange of rubbings of the brass plaque on Rebekah’s grave with a rubbing of the stone which marks the resting place of Charles at Christ Church. It is hoped that the two churches will do this simultaneously, following the listing of the Mason-Dixon Line in the National Register.

Since returning to the States, Andrea has already been in touch to tell us that the state of Maryland has now submitted a nomination to the National Register for a review. It is hoped that the stones marking the Mason-Dixon Line will receive the highest national historical significance in its entirety as a National Treasure.

In investigating the story of the Mason-Dixon Line, Andrea has come across a whole series of coincidences and stories about Mason which we will be exploring with her in the next few months as we prepare to celebrate the connection and listing of the line in the US. We’ll be updating you as this fascinating story develops!