Americas,  ER,  United States

The Michigan Ohio War

Mitchell Map from 1787 Photo Credit- Mental Floss
Mitchell Map from 1787 Photo Credit- Mental Floss

When I say the War Between the States, most people think of the American Civil War, which began in 1861.  However, that is not the first time states in the union were at odds with each other.  An example of this was the conflict between Michigan and Ohio in 1787.

The United States enacted the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, which defined the border between Michigan and Ohio as “an east and west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan.”  The goto map at this time to outline territorial borders was the Mitchell Map.  Unfortunately, John Mitchell had no formal training in as a geographer and lived in Britain at the time.  As a consequence the map was wrong.  However, it was the authority used to draw up the border between Michigan territory and Ohio.  This put most of Lake Erie’s coastline including Maumee Bay, where the Maumee River emptied into the lake, in Ohio.  Before the advent of railroads, waterways were how people and goods were transported.  The bulk of Lake Erie’s coastline and the Bay gave Ohio a great trade advantage over Michigan.

However, there was a problem.  In 1803, the Mitchell Map was found to be incorrect.  The line should have been drawn so that Ohio would not have any of the coastline of Lake Erie or Maumee Bay.  This was a significant blow for Ohio, and they tried to fudge the boundary such that it now ran northeast from the tip of Lake Michigan to Maumee Bay.  During this time, the Erie Canal was completed connecting New York City to Buffalo, NY and they Great Lakes.  It upped the amount of commerce coming through the Great Lakes to and from the Eastern seaboard.  There was a lot of money flowing down the canals and lakes.

Map showing the Toledo Strip- Photo Credit- Google Images.
Map showing the Toledo Strip- Photo Credit- Google Images.

No one noticed the fudged border until 1833, when Michigan territory applied for statehood.  The Toledo Strip, as it came to be known, was claimed by both Michigan and Ohio.  Then things got ugly.  To try to get Michigan to relinquish its claim on the Strip, Ohio’s governor, Robert Lucas, used his political connections to deny Michigan statehood.  Michigan governor, Stevens Mason, struck back and cranked through the Pains and Penalties Act in February 1835.  This law said anyone in the Toledo Strip supporting the state of Ohio could be jailed for up to five years and fined $1,000, which is $25,000 in today’s money.  To back up the threat, he sent in a Michigan militia of 1000 men.  Governor Lucas countered by sending in an Ohio militia of 600 men.  It was a powder keg waiting for a spark.

Skirmishes took place in the Strip and both side tried to occupy Toledo, but no one was hurt.  It was just a lot of posturing until  the Michigan militia attacked a Ohio surveying party at the Battle of Philips Corners.  There is a dispute as to what happened.  The Ohio party said the Michigan militia fired at them, but Michigan said they just fired into the air.  Whatever happened, it just ratcheted up tensions between the two.  There was no bloodshed until July when Michigan sheriff, Joseph Wood, attempted to arrest Major Benjamin Stickney for voting in an Ohio election.  Stickney, along with his creatively named sons One and Two, resisted arrest.  This ended up with Sheriff Wood being stabbed by Two Stickney with a pen knife.  Not exactly a high casualty rate.

However, it was enough to send the two sides to the bargaining table and troops were withdrawn.  MIchigan and Ohio could not come to an agreement until December when Andrew Jackson stepped in.  He wanted to keep Ohio’s electoral college votes in the Democratic column, so he gave the Strip to Ohio but gave Michigan the consolation prize of the Upper Peninsula.  Sweetening the deal was the $400,000 surplus, $231 million in today’s dollars, that would be divied up between the states and not the territories.  Basically, if Michigan didn’t take the deal and become a state, they would miss out on the cash.  

The war ended with ended on December 14, 1836 after both sides accepted the deal proposed by Jackson at the Frostbitten Convention in Ann Arbor.  It was not without controversy as many Michigan citizens felt  the Upper Peninsula was wasted space.  However, vast mineral deposits were discovered in the UP and Michigan became the top producer of copper by the time of the Civil War and its top source of iron by the end of the century.  Ohio and Michigan still act out their war in the annual college football games.


Sources available on request