The Toledo War was a conflict that took place in 1835 between the State of Ohio and the Territory of Michigan. Both sides laid claim to a strip of land including the major commerce hub of Toledo. Tensions were high despite there being only minor military action. The individual conflicts ultimately prompted government intervention in the form of the President having to step in. The final solution to the conflict gave Ohio jurisdiction over Toledo, and gave Michigan statehood along with the addition of most the Upper Peninsula.
The Northwestern Territories of the early United States consisted of the modern-day states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In the extreme early nineteenth century, this land contained sporadic settlements spreading westward from the United States. Many of the settlements at the time were in strategic locations through which many people passed, making trade easy and convenient. The city of Toledo was located on lowlands at the mouth of the Maumee River where it emptied into the extreme western reaches of Lake Erie. Its location would inevitably make it not only a hub for trade and commerce, but a topic of conflict over what state the city would be part of.
In 1803, Ohio became the first state cut out of the previous Northwest Territories. Most of its borders were clear as they were bounded by other states or bodies of water. In the case of Ohio’s northern boundary, no line was specifically designated by Congress. In 1805, Michigan gained status as a territory with its southern boundary being defined as “territory which lies north of a line drawn east from the southerly bend or extremity of Lake Michigan until it shall intersect Lake Erie” (Way, 1869). This line was called the ‘Fulton Line’ and intersects Lake Erie to the east of the mouth of the Maumee River and therefore would place Toledo inside Michigan Territory. This line being used as a border for Ohio however did not make much sense since continuing the line east would eventually cut through three Ohio counties before intersecting with Pennsylvania. In 1817, congress sent surveyors out to resurvey the border upon request of Ohio. A new line was created called the ‘Harris Line’ which now contained all of presumed Ohio as well as the strip of land containing Toledo. In 1818, the state of Ohio adopted this line as its northern border creating a discrepancy between the opinions on the border of the states. This is where conflict arose.
Over the years between the surveys and the events of 1835, the citizens of Toledo leaned more towards aligning themselves with Michigan than Ohio. In fact, Wood county in Ohio had even attempted to tax people in areas they claimed to be part of their county, only to be refused payment by the inhabitants. In February 1835, the State of Ohio passed legislation stating their claim to the lands of the Toledo strip and requesting the included townships to elect officers so that they could participate as part of Ohio. Stevens T. Mason, the Governor of Michigan Territory at the time, responded almost immediately by passing legislature “to prevent the organization of foreign jurisdiction within the limits of Michigan Territory” (Way, 1869). This mutual and simultaneous claim over the ‘Toledo Strip’ left the citizens in confusion and fear of whether to choose one side over the other.
Battle of Phillips Corner and The Stabbing
The State of Ohio was looking to send a party to resurvey the ‘Harris Line’ in the spring of 1835. Michigan Territory had already threatened that the Ohioan surveyors would be apprehended during their attempt. The survey party, seeing no claim being made over the land by simply running a boundary line, proceeded to attempt their goal. While surveying through some property owned by the a Mr. Phillips near the town of Lyons, the party was approached by troops from Michigan. Most of the Ohioan surveying party was captured and taken back to Michigan as prisoners. The remaining surveyors ran back to Ohio. The Ohioans claimed they had been attacked and shot at. There were even unproven claims that balls from the rifles had passed through items of the surveyors clothing.
According to a letter sent from William McNair, the undersheriff, to Stevens T. Mason, an attempt had been made to peaceable arrest the Ohioans who had proceeded to arm themselves. Upon arming themselves, the Michigan men, who vastly outnumbered the surveyors, fired their rifles above the heads of the Ohioans. This was when many of the surveyors ran away and many more were captured. The captured Ohioans were taken back to be tried in court. McNair claimed in the letter than this capturing was not an act by any Military men, but instead by his own local law force. Despite this claim, a general from the Territory of Michigan was in attendance giving the impression that a military had been called on by Michigan.
In Michigan, response to the events at Phillips Corner varied. In a July 20th letter to Governor Mason of Michigan, a captain of the Detroit Rifle Corps wrote that if the “protection of our citizens [is] to require military aid from the arrogant encroachment of Ohio, [you should] be pleased to accept the… Detroit Rifle Corps, (and) their undivided services in defense of our rights” (Griswold, 1835). This letter was just one example of a Michigan military advocate being excited for war. However, there was no military call to arms in Michigan to any notable extent.
Response to this incident in Ohio was for the most part, excitement. This act by Michigan made them look like the aggressors in the incident. Ohio was certain that the conflict over the Toledo Strip was going to be resolved in their favor. On the 8th of June, Ohio passed an act of legislature saying that forcible abduction of citizens of Ohio was punishable by 3 to 7 years in prison. This was poking at the Michiganders by making what they did against Ohio law. A new county was also created in the northern portion of the prior Wood County. This was located in the disputed land and was another move by Ohio to say that they did not wish to give up their claim. Ohio proceeded to pass another act relating to a previous agreement with Michigan Territory. It read:
First, that Harris’ Line should be run and re-marked pursuant to the act of the last session of the legislature of Ohio, without interruption. Second, the civil elections under the laws of Ohio having taken place throughout the disputed Territory, that the people residing upon it should be left to their own government, obeying the one jurisdiction or the other, as they may prefer without molestation from the authorities of Ohio or Michigan, until after the close of the next session of Congress ; And whereas, the legislature is willing, from a desire to preserve the public peace and harmony, to observe the stipulations of the arrangement aforesaid : provided its observance on the part of Michigan be compelled by the United States, and the proceedings of Michigan in violation of that agreement be immediately discontinued and annulled. (Way, 1869)
The act Ohio passed stated that this agreement had been broken by Michigan’s assertion of control over the Toledo Strip. Ohio now felt it had full claim to the land due to the breech. Unfortunately for Ohio, Michigan authorities saw no reason to give up the land they felt was theirs.
Throughout the summer of 1835, the citizens of Toledo were harassed by Michigan authorities. One such harassment took place when major Ohio partisans made up of Major Stickney, George McKay, Judge Wilson, and more were arrested and taken to Monroe, Michigan for trial. In the attempt to arrest Major Stickney, he and his family fought to hold back the officer from Michigan. The Major was eventually arrested and taken to Michigan.
Due to the resistance the Stickney family had put up, The Deputy-Sherriff of Monroe County went to arrest Two Stickney, one of Major Stickney’s sons. Two put up a fight and used a pen knife he had in his pocket to stab Joseph Wood, the Deputy-Sherriff. Wood survived and Two fled to Ohio. A warrant was issued for Two by Monroe County, but could not be served, since Michigan had no authority in Ohio. This incident was however the only time during the entire conflict of the Toledo War when blood was shed.
Another major reason that Ohio wanted control over Toledo had to do with a canal that had already been partially constructed. This canal was to go from Cincinnati, on the Ohio River, to an undetermined terminus on Lake Erie. This would have connected the Mississippi waterway with the Great Lakes and bring prosperity to all cities along the route, particularly at the terminuses. Ohio preferred to use the already navigable portions of the Maumee river as an exit for the canal, thus making Toledo the terminus. As stated in an 1837 newspaper from the nearby town of Maumee, “some underhanded game could easily be played whereby the State might be duped into the unnecessary expense of constructing fifteen or twenty miles of worthless canal” (Maumee Express, 1837). This statement meaning that in order to keep the canal in the state in the case that Michigan had control over Toledo, essentially worthless canal would have had to be cut over to Sandusky or Port Clinton instead of using the Maumee river.
In order to make sure that Ohio retained control over Toledo, arrangements were made through letters to the office of President Andrew Jackson allowing Ohio to resurvey the Harris Line without interruption by authorities from Michigan. Michigan’s refusal, however to give up claim on the territory let Governor Lucas of Ohio to feel that taking the land by force would be his only resort. Michigan’s governor Mason’s stubbornness ultimately led President Jackson to remove him from office with a new man in his place. The new Governor Shaler had more conservative views and was likely to end the conflict in a way that didn’t use violence. This was an attempt by Jackson to deescalate the conflict. The President’s solution was that the Toledo Strip should go to Ohio because they were the ones who had status as a state: “The President said that Michigan was right in her claim, but that she ought to be polite and respectful to Ohio as a full grown sister in the Union” (Way, 1869). Michigan was of course not happy with this feeling that they should be deprived because of their ‘age’. Despite the remaining unrest, the conflict settled down as the President had requested.
Michigan’s refusal to let Ohio control the territory left the people living in the disputed area under their own control for the remainder of the year. It was not until the next session of Congress on June 15th, 1836 that the dispute was finally settled. Michigan was admitted to the Union with its southern boundary located where Ohio had resurveyed the Harris Line. Michigan had plenty of reasons to accept the deal to become a state at the time because the government had announced it planned to give $400,000 dollars to the states. If Michigan had remained a territory it would have missed out on this government money.
Also as part of this deal, Congress awarded Michigan with the western 2/3 of the Upper Peninsula, giving them control over the entire Upper Peninsula. This was to compensate for them ceding the Toledo Strip to Ohio. At the time, the lands of the western Upper Peninsula were seen as a large area of land with pretty much nothing in it. Later into the nineteenth Century all that would change when the western Upper Peninsula would turn out to be extremely profitable through mining of metals such as iron and copper. This area would become America’s first great mining region and end up being far more prosperous for the state of Michigan than Toledo would be for Ohio.
The Toledo War began over a small amount of misinformation on the relative latitudes of lakes Michigan and Erie. The Toledo War ended with the State of Ohio gaining a city and small strip of land it had felt was theirs all along, while Michigan gained statehood and highly profitable mining land in the Upper Peninsula. In between, tensions were high and small incidents even occurred defining the relationship between these two great states. Ohio may have got what they wanted at the time while Michigan had to wait a while before their gains paid off, but in the end both states won this war. They didn’t only win by the gains the took from the war, but more so by the fact that nobody died and both sides were able to deescalate the conflict before it turned into a real war.
1: Griswold, George R. 1835 “RG 56-26: Secretary of State Report of the Toledo War :: Early Documents.” National Archives, Early Documents. Washington, D.C..
2: Maumee express. (Maumee City, Ohio), 21 Oct. 1837. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
3: Way, W. V. The Facts and Historical Events of the Toledo War of 1835: As Connected with the First Session of the Court of Common Pleas of Lucas County, Ohio. Toledo: Daily Commercial Steam Book and Job Printing House, 1869.
4: Mittenhistory. “The Frostbitten Convention; Or, How Michigan Ended the Toledo War and Became a State.” Mitten History., 26 Jan. 2015.
5: “The Toledo War.” The Mitten (n.d.): Seeking Michigan. Michigan History Magazine.
6: “Toledo War.” Toledo War. Randall Schaetzl,.
7: Wanger, Eugene G. An Annotated Toledo War Bibliography: With Accompanying Paper. Lansing, MI: E.G. Wanger, 1997.
- “Toledo War.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Mod. 1 Dec. 2016.