Ohio-Michigan Boundary War, Part 2

This article is continued from the June 2004 issue.


Meanwhile, the ongoing Ohio-Michigan boundary dispute had finally reached its climax on March 31, 1835. Governor Mason called up his militia troops to serve under General Joseph W. Brown and Governor Lucas called up his militia troops to serve under Major-General John Bell. General Brown led his 800-1,200 Michigan militia troops to occupy Toledo. General Bell led his 600 Ohio militia troops, with 10,000 in reserve, to occupy Perrysburg.

President Jackson's appointed commissioners arrived in Toledo on April 3, 1835, and tried to settle this dispute, but reached no solution. On April 7, 1835, the commissioners did recommend that both the Harris Line be re-surveyed and that the citizens of the disputed area should have their own elections, under Ohio's laws, without any outside interferences.

Although many small skirmishes occurred between both sides of this dispute, there was very little violence. On April 8, 1835, Michigan's Monroe County sheriff arrived at the home of Major Benjamin F. Stickney and arrested Ohioans Dr. Naaman Goodsell and George McKay, who previously participated in Ohio's elections in the disputed area two days earlier. A few days later the sheriff and his posse returned to Toledo to make some more arrests but had discovered that the wanted persons had previously fled.

On April 1, 1835, Governor Lucas had sent a surveying party to re-survey the Harris Line. On April 25, the surveying party, after learning of oncoming Michigan troops, fled to two nearby cabins. On April 26, the Michigan troops arrived at the cabins. The occupants of one cabin, including the commissioners, had fled while the nine occupants of the other cabin, including the engineers, were arrested.

On June 20, 1835, Governor Lucas sent three appointed commissioners, William Allen, David T. Disney, and Noah H. Swayne, to Washington to discuss the matter with both President Jackson and Secretary of State, John Forsyth. Although the dispute was still not settled at this time, Michigan's Pains and Penalties Act of February 12, 1835, was declared illegal and the Harris Line was permitted to be re-surveyed unmolested.

Despite the numerous arrests during this dispute, the only blood spilled had occurred on July 15, 1835. Monroe County Deputy Sheriff Joseph Wood and Constable Lyman Hurd arrived at J. Baron Davis' tavern in Toledo to arrest Two Stickney and George McKay, Ohioan. After a brief scuffle, Two Stickney non-fatally stabbed the deputy with a penknife and then fled. Governor Mason later offered a $500 reward for Two Stickney's capture but Governor Lucas, who claimed the crime was committed in Ohio, refused to extradite him.

Two days later the Monroe County sheriff arrived and arrested Two Stickney's father, Major Benjamin F. Stickney, and George McKay. Major Stickney, who refused to go, was tied to a horse and taken back to Monroe County. The sheriff and his posse destroyed the Toledo Gazette's office and printing presses but failed to capture its Ohio editor, Andrew Palmer, who fled to Maumee after outrunning his captors.

On August 29, 1835, President Jackson, using his executive powers, finally intervened in this matter and removed Governor Mason from office. President Jackson then offered the governorship to Charles Shaler, who declined. President Jackson then offered it to John Scott Horner, who accepted.

Although both sides had armies encamped on each side of the Maumee River, neither side ever launched an attack on the other side. Both encampments were just a large show of force on each side to try to intimidate the other side.

Meanwhile, Governor Lucas needed to set up government in his newly created Lucas County by the first Monday of September in order to bolster Ohio's claim. At one o'clock in the morning of September 7, 1835, three Ohio judges, Baxter Bowman, Jonathan H. Jerome, and William Wilson, and other court officials, along with 100 Ohio militia troops under Colonel Mathias Van Fleet as escort, quietly slipped into Toledo and promptly set up the new government of Lucas County at a local schoolhouse. By three o'clock, the judges opened court and appointed Junius Flagg as sheriff, Dr. Horatio Conant as county clerk, and John Baldwin, Robert Gower, and Cyrus Holloway as the three county commissioners. With little official business to perform, except for writing the minutes of the meetings, the judges and all of the other county officials adjourned and all went to Munson H. Daniels' tavern to celebrate their new government.
During the celebration rumors had arrived of an impending attack by Michigan troops. Fearing arrest by these Michigan troops, the new county officials dropped their glasses, spilled their drinks, and all fled to Maumee. At one point in their flight, the county clerk dropped his hat after hitting a low tree branch. Because his hat contained the written minutes, the only written proof of this new local government, a few members of the party boldly returned to recover the hat and its contents.

End of Toledo War
In response to Ohio's actions, Michigan troops retaliated by raiding the home of Major Stickney and a few other residents, killing some hogs and fowl, and destroying some gardens and orchards.

By September 10, 1835, the militia units from both sides had disbanded and returned home. The heaviest casualties of this little war were probably two noble horses, one on each side. President Jackson also enforced a truce until Congress could finally settle this boundary dispute. This finally ended the "Toledo War."

On September 21, 1835, John S. Horner began his new job as Governor of the Territory of Michigan. Governor Horner was on friendlier terms with Governor Lucas and was willing to let Congress solve the dispute. He also pardoned all Ohioans detained in Michigan jails and dropped all indictments against all Ohioans, except for Two Stickney.

Unfortunately, the residents of Michigan had disliked Governor Horner from the start. He was both pelted and hanged in effigy by the residents. On October 5, 1835, they re-elected Mason back into the governor's seat.

On April 2, 1836, Congress began the admission process for Michigan's statehood after the settlement of the boundary dispute. On June 15, 1836, Congress passed the Clayton Act as a compromise for both sides. The bill not only established the Harris Line as the final boundary but had also compensated Michigan for her losses.

When Michigan became our 26th state on January 26, 1837, she had ceded both Toledo, which was finally incorporated on January 7, 1837, and about 1,100 square miles of land to both Ohio and Indiana. In return for this cession, Michigan received approximately 9,000 more square miles of land, approximately 2/3 of the land, from the Upper Peninsula. (The Michigan territory had actually owned the eastern tip, approximately 1/3, of the Upper Peninsula since 1805.) Although Michigan had lost much agricultural land and the Port of Toledo, she had gained even more land that was rich in timber and had major deposits of copper and iron ore.

Although Michigan did not really want the Upper Peninsula, many residents of the Upper Peninsula did not want to be part of Michigan, either. They felt isolated and neglected from the lower part of Michigan. They really wanted to become the Huron territory with Sault Ste. Marie as their capital. Unfortunately, Congress ignored their request.

During this long dispute, both Ohio and Michigan, using the Rectangular Survey System, had surveyed some of their lands for eventual settlement.

So … Who Won?
Ohio had located its Base Line near latitude 41 degrees N and had located its First Principal Meridian at the Ohio-Indiana boundary. Ohio's northwestern townships were surveyed north of its Base Line and east of its First Principal Meridian. Ohio's northwestern townships at that time had ended at the Fulton Line.

Michigan's surveyed townships began from its own Base Line and from its own Michigan Meridian. Michigan's Base Line began near the latitude of 42 degrees and 30 minutes N, which is the boundary between Oakland and Wayne Counties, north of Detroit, and ran due west to Lake Michigan. (This line even ran across Lake Michigan to become the boundary between Illinois and Wisconsin.) The Michigan Meridian began at the boundary between Clinton and Shiawassee Counties, east of Lansing, and ran due south to the Fulton Line and due north to Lake Huron. Because the United States had sided with Michigan during at that specific time, Michigan was permitted to survey its townships as far south as the Fulton Line. This is why the townships in the "Toledo Strip" are numbered from Michigan's base line, instead of from Ohio's base line.

As to which side really won this dispute is still a matter of conjecture. Obviously, the biggest loser in this dispute was the Wisconsin territory, which was created in April of 1836. Michigan's newly acquired Upper Peninsula had previously been part of the Wisconsin territory. Wisconsin had already lost about 8,000 square miles of prime agricultural land to Illinois when their common boundary was moved 61 miles north from the southern tip of Lake Michigan to its present location near latitude 42 degrees and 30 minutes N. (Wisconsin would later lose even more land when all of her land west of both the St. Croix and the St. Louis Rivers would become part of Minnesota.)

Had it not been for the persistence and the stubbornness of Ohio's state government, there would probably be a Toledo, Michigan! If that were so, then perhaps the present-day Port of Detroit might be smaller and the present-day Port of Sandusky might be larger.

About the Author

  • Gordon Mitchell
    Gordon graduated from Ohio State University in 1973 with a B.S. in Natural Resources. He is employed by the Columbus Metropolitan Park District in the area of Resource Management where he is involved in eradicating invasive vegetation and restoring prairies and wetlands. He has a strong interest in both natural and cultural history of Ohio and adjacent states and is a contributing writer for the magazine.

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