Dixie Didn’t Come from Down South



“Dixie” has been another name for the US South since the before Civil War. It usually means the states of the Confederacy plus Arkansas and Kentucky, which did not join the others. 

“Dixie” comes from two British surveyors who in the years 1763-1767 laid out the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland. The surveyors were Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon (1733-1779), and their line was sometimes called the “Mason Dixon Line.” Both men were highly experienced astronomers and surveyors.

They might have been just a footnote to regional history, but in 1859 one Daniel Decatur Emmett wrote a minstrel song, which seems to have been titled “Dixie’s Land,” although several different titles exist. 

This once popular American form of entertainment, the minstrel show, often featured white entertainers performing in blackface, and Dixie the song emerged in this context. It became wildly popular at the same time that the country split apart. Minstrel shows often traveled by steamboat to give shows in towns and cities along the Mississippi and other rivers.

Dixie became the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy, and “Dixie” as a noun came to refer to the whole US Southeast. Authorship of the song remains contested. The blackface entertainment that Dixie was written for has long since vanished. 

Dixie in its various forms, from song to regional identification is now deeply embedded in American culture. The song still retains a hint of rebellion. Jeremiah Dixon would be amazed.

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