Says "Cape May, Cumberland, Salem and part of Atlantic counties are all south of the Mason-Dixon line."

Raymond Bateman on Monday, April 9th, 2012 in an opinion piece on DailyRecord.com

Former state legislator claims Mason-Dixon Line crossed into New Jersey

New Jerseyans living in the northern and southern parts of the state already have plenty to divide them: politics, professional sports teams, and whether it’s called going "down the shore" or "to the beach."

Now former state legislator Raymond Bateman has added another point of division: the Mason-Dixon Line, best known for separating free and slave states in the period leading up to the Civil War.

Bateman, a Republican who served as a state assemblyman and senator for two decades before his failed gubernatorial bid in 1977, offered that historical claim in an April 9 opinion piece published on DailyRecord.com. The column focused on the split between northern and southern New Jersey in light of the fierce debate over merging Rutgers-Camden with Rowan University.

"The political and cultural divisions between North and South Jersey are historic and run deep," Bateman wrote. "Early in 1861, on a train route to his first presidential inauguration, Abe Lincoln stopped in Trenton and addressed a joint session of the New Jersey Legislature. He was roundly booed and bombarded with inappropriate catcalls.

"New Jersey’s North-South political landscape during the Civil War was definitely mixed — remember that Cape May, Cumberland, Salem and part of Atlantic counties are all south of the Mason-Dixon line."

But PolitiFact New Jersey found that the Mason-Dixon Line never entered the Garden State.

Although closely associated with the divide between free and slave states, the line was originally meant to settle a border dispute between the colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania, according to experts and historical records. The line runs north along the border between Delaware and Maryland, and then west along the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.

Bateman acknowledged his claim is inaccurate, but said the presence of the Mason-Dixon Line in New Jersey has been a commonly held belief.

"If I’m wrong, I’m wrong," Bateman, a Somerset County native, told us. "If that’s the authority, I stand corrected."

Let’s trace the history behind the Mason-Dixon Line.

The famous boundary gets its name from English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, called upon in the 1760s to establish the boundaries between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The Calvert family of Maryland and the Penn family of Pennsylvania had been engaged in a long-running dispute over their borders.

The resulting border separated Delaware, which was then part of Pennsylvania, from Maryland and Pennsylvania. The line was later extended westward to form the boundary between Pennsylvania and what is now West Virginia.

Matthew Crocker, a history professor at Keene State College in New Hampshire, said in an e-mail that "no part of N.J. was ever thought of being south of the Mason-Dixon Line."

Joseph Bilby, a member of the New Jersey Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee and the author of several books on the state’s history, told us myth-makers "have been drawing political conclusions from this make-believe line crossing New Jersey for some time."

"If you insist on drawing the line across from the Maryland/Pennsylvania border to the Atlantic Ocean, then yes, Southern New Jersey would be under that ‘line,’ although the line itself would be, of course, meaningless," Bilby said in an e-mail.

The symbolic importance of the Mason-Dixon Line as dividing free and slave states increased as Pennsylvania’s gradual emancipation act took effect during the 1780s and 1790s, according to Max Grivno, an assistant history professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

"Tensions over slavery along the border increased steadily beginning in the 1790s, but they reached a climax in the 1850s when there were several violent skirmishes between runaway slaves and slave catchers in southern Pennsylvania," Grivno said in an e-mail.

Our ruling

In an April 9 opinion piece, Bateman claimed "Cape May, Cumberland, Salem and part of Atlantic counties are all south of the Mason-Dixon line."

But historical records and experts confirmed that the Mason-Dixon Line never entered New Jersey. The boundary was first established in the 1760s to settle a border dispute between Maryland and Pennsylvania.

We rate the statement False.

To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.