Sit back and relax: New Castle Courthouse

Digital Originals

NEW CASTLE, Del. (WHTM) — New Castle was founded in 1651 and served as first the colonial capital, then the state capital of Delaware until 1777. This courthouse, built in 1732, is where the legislature met.

The town and the courthouse played an important — if somewhat confusing — role in setting the boundaries between the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland.

In 1632 King Charles I granted George Calvert (Lord Baltimore) a charter for what became the colony of Maryland, with the northern border at 40 degrees north latitude, aka the 40th parallel.

In 1681 King Charles II granted William Penn a charter for the soon-to-be colony of Pennsylvania, with the 40th parallel as the southern border.

However, Penn’s charter also said the border would be established from twelve miles distance, Northwarde of New Castle Towne,” and by a circle drawne at twelve miles, distance from New Castle Northwards, and Westwards vnto the beginning of the fortieth degree of Northerne Latitude”. Everyone thought the 12-mile line and circle would intersect the 40th parallel.

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It didn’t.

Somehow, one of the first surveyors of the area misplaced New Castle by miles, and this mistake was on the maps used to define Penn’s charter. The town is actually about 25 miles south of the 40th parallel; there is no way a 12-mile line could reach it.

End result: the boundary claims of the Penns and the Calverts overlapped by about 28 miles.

When the argument was finally settled many decades, many court hearings, and a few shootings later, the boundary was fixed at 39 degrees, 43 minutes latitude, sort of splitting the difference. It was also decided the 12-mile circle would be measured from the New Castle Courthouse.

And so every survey, resurvey, check, and recheck of every borderline between the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware includes taking measurements from the courthouse in New Castle, Delaware.

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