Michigan and Ohio almost waged war over... Toledo?

By Jana Irving
Published May 6, 2013

Toledo seems an unlikely causus belli. Here is the story...


Box from Toledo, Michigan.Copyright: Jeff Shannon | Wikimedia Commons
Toledo, Michigan?

It all started in 1787 with the creation of the Northwest Territory, which contained the future states of Ohio and Michigan.

Map of the Northwest TerritoryCopyright: Wikimedia Commons
Map of the Northwest Territory shown over current state borders.

The "Mitchell Map" on which the Northwest Territory borders were based, erroneously placed the southern tip of Lake Michigan much further north than its actual location. Before its statehood, Ohio found out that Lake Michigan was actually further south from a fur trapper. However, no one was available to check out the claim so they adjusted their constitution to make up for the possibility that its northern border may be different. This new border was north of the Maumee River watershed, which would later include the city of Toledo.

Mitchell Map.Mitchell Map from the late 1700s, depicting the southern part of Lake Michigan much further north than Lake Erie.

The real problem arose in 1805. While creating the Michigan Territory, Congress used the old borders from the Northwest Territory measurements. Michigan's new border differed from Ohio's recognized border.

The Toledo Strip"Toledo Strip," the area of contention.

The location of the border was contested throughout the early part of the 19th century. Ohio chose to keep its own definition, while Michigan followed the borders set by Congress. The northern boundaries of Ohio's definition was north of the Maumee River, while Congress' border was south of it. As Michiganders settled in the strip between the two borders and set up local governments (loyal to Detroit), Toledo officially entered the cross-hairs.

Why was Toledo so valuable? The area had amazing soil and easy access to the Great Lakes.

Cold war conflict continued for decades, but no violence erupted until 1835, when Michigan sought statehood. An escalation quickly followed:

Ohio called Michiganders in the area "intruders," setting up Ohioan local governments to usurp the Michigan ones. Michigan's hot-headed young governor, the 25-year-old Stevens T. Mason, answered by fining Ohioans for setting up local governments in the strip.

As Stevens and Detroit lobbied for statehood, Ohio delegates to Congress began lobbying in earnest against Michigan. As usual, Congress resolved to do nothing until the problem it had created was taken care of by someone else. Statehood for Michigan was temporarily off the table.

In response to Mason's fines and hostility, Robert Lucas (then-governor of Ohio) retaliated by sending his own militia to the Strip. The Toledo War officially had begun.

Stevens T. Mason
Michigan Territory Governor
Ohio Governor Robert Lucas

Lucas sent a survey party to mark the Harris Line, the northern border of the strip. On April 26, 1835, the surveying group was attacked by Michigan militiamen. This event is known as the Battle of Phillips Corners. The surveyors claimed that Michigan fired at them. Michigan claimed they just fired in the air; regardless, the event had no human casualties. Nevertheless, the gunshots brought the sides closer to full-scale war.

The location of the Battle of Phillips Corner, the only battle of the Toldeo War.Copyright: Wikimedia Commons
The location of the Battle of Phillips Corner, now on an Ohio farm.

President Andrew Jackson attempted to intervene. He called for a referendum to be held in the Toledo Strip, and let the people decide which state to join. Ohio actually did this the best that it could, but Michigan did not agree to Jackson's settlement. Instead Michigan actively harassed those who had partaken in the referendum (which of course had favored Ohio).

The only bloodshed of the war occurred when the Monroe County Sheriff from Michigan went to arrest members of the Stickney family who had voted in the Ohio elections on July 15, 1835. The sheriff was stabbed in the ensuing scuffle by a guy named Two Stickney (yes, that was his actual name). The wound turned out to be merely a flesh wound, but Stickney took off. Ohio refused to extradite the numbered assailant, and Michigan grew angrier.

Contentions continued for the next couple of years, the usual one-upmanship between Lucas and Mason; lawsuits, skirmishes and arrests. President Jackson tried to calm things down by removing Mason as territorial governor. That did not go over well with the locals who buried effigies of Jackson (arson as tradition) and pelted the new governor, John S. Horner, with vegetables when he came to town. In the October 1835 elections, Michigan voters approved the draft constitution for statehood and elected the ridiculously popular Mason as the state governor. However, Michigan was denied statehood yet again.

Jackson signed a bill on June 15, 1836 allowing Michigan to become a state only if it gave up its claim to the Toledo Strip. Only after a deep financial crisis did Michigan relent, in order to receive some cushy federal money. The Toledo War officially ended when the terms were agreed upon in Ann Arbor on December 14, 1836. Michigan officially entered the union the next month; it became the 26th state on January 26, 1837.

So did Michigan lose the Toledo War? Nope. Wisconsin did.

Yep, Wisconsin. Ohio ended up winning its claim to Toledo, due to heavy pull in the House of Representatives and Stevens T. Mason's raging douchebaggery. As a consolation prize, Michigan received the western half of the Upper Peninsula (which was to go to Wisconsin) which was considered worthless wilderness at the time. A couple years later, the largest copper deposits on earth were found there; iron and gold would be found in time.

What Michigan stole from Wisconsin after the Toldeo War.Copyright: Wikimedia Commons
What Michigan stole from Wisconsin.

Michigan and Ohio today still have a rivalry although it has been largely channeled into college sports. Many probably would not have imagined that this rivalry really started over a little city called Toledo.

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Jana Irving is an archaeology and history fanatic, traveling the world to discover the past.
Check out all of Jana's articles »





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The school disaster you've never heard about (it's still the deadliest).

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Check out where the shanty boys went to play, drink and fight at the height of the Michigan Lumber Boom.


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