The Great Toledo War

“Never in the course of my life have I known a controversy of which all the right so clearly on one side [Michigan] and all the power so overwhelmingly on the other. [Ohio]”

~ President John Quincy Adams

The Toledo war almost became America’s first civil war. This war is also known as the Ohio-Michigan War or the Michigan-Ohio war. It was a conflict between Michigan and Ohio over a small 468-square-mile strip of land, within this strip is the city of Toledo. 1

The origin of this conflict originated in 1787, when the Northwest Ordinance, also known as the Ordinance of 1787, established boundaries of future states in the North-Mid Western area of the United States. In the Ordinance of 1787, it established the Michigan Territory to begin as “an east-west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan.” 2

This Ordinance was passed, little did they know, however, that a war would arise from that simple plan. The problem with them setting the border of the state at “an east-west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan” was because they had no idea where the southernmost border was. In 1787 the border was assumed at most, near the mouth of the Detroit River.

Then, in 1803, when Ohio was becoming a state Congress set the boundaries of Ohio with an east-to-west line “drawn through the southerly extreme of Lake Michigan, running east… until it shall intersect Lake Erie or the territorial line.” 3 Assuming the southern point of Lake Michigan ran directly east and hit Lake Erie, they passed this ordinance, and Ohio became a state in 1803.

However, when Michigan became a territory in 1805, congress declared that the territory should end where it was described in the Northwest Ordinance. The main reason Congress didn’t fully understand the difference was because the map that was created in 1787 to describe the ordinance, was incorrect. It claimed that Lake Michigan wasn’t as South as it really was, according to a fur trapper who was in that area that stated this in 1803. 4

The Map created in 1787

In 1817 a survey was done to fix the issue of incorrect boundaries. 5 The only problem was that the man who surveyed it was a former governor of Ohio and therefor sympathized with Ohio. He ordered his surveying team not to survey it according to the Ordinance of 1787, but instead according to the Ohio constitution. 6 The reason for this was because of the important port town of Toledo. Ohio wanted Toledo however, Michigan legally had the rights to the city.

When it was figured out that the surveyors were playing favorites, Michigan declared for a resurvey. Therefore, again in 1817 another survey was done. This time they did a direct east to west measurement, and it put Toledo back into Michigan’s hands.

Then in 1825, the Erie Canal was finished. This Canal made it easier for shipping and created a path from New York to a port in Buffalo right on Lake Erie. This caused the squabble to intensify and cause Michigan and Ohio to argue for the Toledo strip even more.

The Toledo Strip

When Michigan was taking steps towards statehood, it had to cement its exact borders. Michigan offered that Ohio could have everything in the 468-square-mile strip of land, only if it could have the city of Toledo. Ohio declared that they weren’t willing to give up Toledo.

Infact, not only was Ohio not going to give up Toledo, they also would block Michigan from becoming a state. Ohio then made the Toledo strip a county called Lucas County named after the current Governor, Robert Lucas.

Michigan didn’t like to play those types of games, so they sent 1,000 soldiers on a crusade to take the city of Toledo led by General Brown. They burned Ohio flags and laws were passed by Michigan stating that anyone who claimed to be an Ohioan or participated in an Ohio election was to be finned and arrested. 8

 “We are the weaker party, it is true” Michigan Governor Stevens T. Mason declared, “but we are on the side of justice…we cannot fail to maintain our rights against the encroachments of a powerful neighboring state.”

Ohio responded by making a militia of 600 men and sent them to Toledo. Believe it or not, some propaganda was created on both sides. Many Ohioans would call Michigander’s “wolverines” because of how savage a wolverine was. The newspapers in Michigan said that Ohio was getting troops of a million men, to capture the Holy Land of Toledo. 7

Though there was a lot of tensions on both sides, there were very few actual fights. The Battle of Phillips Corners happened when a few surveyors were surveying the land for Ohio. Michigan troops caught them in the act and apparently fired it over their heads, though Michigan claims they only fired it in the air to scare the ones that refused to go. Those that did not leave after thirty to fifty shots were fires, were taken prisoner to Tecumseh, Michigan.

Laws were passed by Michigan stating that anyone who claimed to be an Ohioan or participated in an Ohio election was to be finned and arrested. 8

Then, on July 15, 1835, blood was spilled. In Monroe County, Michigan, Deputy Sheriff Joseph Wood went into Toledo to arrest Major Benjamin Stickney an Ohioan. He and his family refused to be arrested. When they were being arrested, Stickney’s two sons, One Stickney and Two Stickney resisted, and Two Stickney took his penknife, stabbed the sheriff’s leg, and fled to Ohio as fast as possible. (One Stickney and Two Stickney were the actual names… very creative.)

 The wound was small, and this is regarded as the only casualty of the Great Toledo War. 

Finally, President Andrew Jackson stepped in. He knew Michigan had full rights to Toledo, the only problem was that Ohio was a swing state, and if he wanted to win re-election, he would have to please Ohio. Jackson removed the young Michigan Governor Stevens T. Mason, who supported the crusades in Toledo. (He was however, re-elected as soon as another election took place.)

President Andrew Jackson made a deal: Ohio gets Toledo, and Michigan gets the Upper Peninsula. Michigan didn’t want the UP, because they said it was just a land of cold and woodland. However, Congress declared that they couldn’t become a state if they refused.

On January 26, 1837, Michigan became a US State, and ended the Toledo War. The only question is: who won? Ohio got what it wanted, Toledo. Michigan got 29% more land and found iron and copper years later, which triggered the copper rush Although the UP only holds about 3% of the total population of Michigan.9

Truely, economically, in the long run, Michigan was the winner. The true looser in the war was Wisconsin, even though Wisconsin was never in the war. The reason they were the true looser in the Toledo War was because they lost the Upper Peninsula.



Published by The Junglefowl

Hello, I'm a young man who likes to read, watch birds, and learn more about my creator. I believe that the Bible is truth (Psalm 119:160), and "a lamp unto thy feet and a light unto thy path" (Psalm 119:105) I also enjoy learning about many historical topics and things in Nature. You can check out my blog Hidden Discoveries, I hope you find some.... Hidden Discoveries! 😉

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