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If You Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Forget Toledo

When Ohio became a state in 1803, breaking off from the Northwest Territory, parts of the border remained ambiguous. Three decades later, this ambiguity led to a conflict between Ohioans and Michiganders which became known as the Toledo War.

Map of the United States, with states shown by color. An unlabeled area shows the Northwest Territory, covering the areas of present-day Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota.

The United States in 1796. The large area north of Kentucky and west of Virginia and Pennsylvania is the Northwest Territory. A map of the United States of North America. A. Arrowsmith, 1796. Geography and Map Division.

In the state’s enabling act, the northern boundary of Ohio was defined as “an east and west line, drawn through the southerly extreme of Lake Michigan, running…from the mouth of the Great Miami [today the Maumee River] until it shall intersect Lake Erie or the territorial line.” Provisions were made for Congress to alter the northern border “at any time.”

Most contemporary maps of the Great Lakes region followed the conventions of a map by John Mitchell, published in 1755. Possibly the most well-known map of North America in the 18th century, it was used in the 1783 Treaty of Paris to establish the borders between the US and Great Britain.

Map of eastern North America. Colonies of the eastern seaboard and their land claims to the west are indicated by color.

A map of the British and French dominions in North America…. John Mitchell, 1755. Geography and Map Division.

Crop of Mitchell map showing all 5 Great Lakes

Detail of 1775 Mitchell map showing the Great Lakes region.

Ohioans in 1803 would have looked at Mitchell’s map and seen Lake Erie (or Oswego) scooping far south of the Ontario Peninsula, with Lake Michigan roughly its mirror in size. If the Mitchell map reflected reality, the northern border of Ohio would have run comfortably north of the Maumee River. Already in 1803 the map was known to be out of date, and the true shape and extent of Lake Michigan dubious.

As this key reference point had not yet been ascertained, a backup plan was inserted into the Ohio constitution: should the line running due east from the Lake Michigan’s southernmost point not intersect Lake Erie, or should it intersect east of the mouth of the Maumee, then the east-west line would be abandoned and the northern border would be defined by a line running from the southern end of Lake Michigan to the northern cape of the Maumee Bay.

Survey map showing the southernmost edge of Lake Michigan and the Grand Calumic River to the south

Ohio boundary, no. 1, south bend of Lake Michigan; map exhibiting the position occupied in the determination of the latitude of the extreme south bend of Lake Michigan. Andrew Talcott, 1835. Geography and Map Division.

Map of the southern portion of Michigan's lower peninsula, Ohio, and northeast Indiana, with counties labeled and colored. The region of the Toledo Strip forms the southern parts of Hillsdale, Lenawee, and Monroe Counties in Michigan.

The states of Ohio, Indiana & Illinois and Michigan Territory : from the latest authorities. Ezra Strong, 1836. Geography and Map Division. The Toledo Strip territory is included with Michigan.

The two potential border lines were not surveyed until 1817. Ohio promptly acknowledged the more northerly border. The territorial governor of Michigan, which had by this time organized north of the state of Ohio, ordered his own survey. This, perhaps inevitably, reinforced the southern line and Michigan’s control over what came to be known as the Toledo Strip. In 1832, Michigan put forth its own petition for statehood, officially claiming the contested area in addition to a small section of what became the Upper Peninsula.

The map below, published by the United States Engineers in 1835, shows the contrast between the two border claims. The disputed strip of land was small – only 468 square miles. The largest settlement, Toledo, was home to barely over 1000 inhabitants. And yet, this tiny town was a prize worth fighting for.

Map showing the border region between Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Two lines extend from southern Lake Michigan on the left to different points in the east. One is labeled "Boundary claimed by Ohio" and the other is "Boundary claimed by Michigan"

Map exhibiting the position of the several lines connected with the settlement of the Ohio boundary question. Andrew Talcott, [1835?]. Geography and Map Division.

Toledo’s location on Lake Erie was full of promise, particularly in the wake of the 1825 opening of the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal was an important shipping lane which connected the Great Lakes to the Atlantic, via the Hudson River and the pre-eminent port of New York City.

Black and white photograph of barges in a canal. A few people stand on the street above the canal, and several large buildings are in the background.

Barges on the Erie Canal. Erie Canal, Rochester, N.Y. Detroit Publishing Co., [between 1900 and 1906]. Prints and Photographs Division.

In the same year that the Erie Canal was finished, the construction of another canal was approved by the Ohio legislature. Beginning farther south, the Miami and Erie Canal would connect the city of Cincinnati with Lake Erie and all that lay to the east. The Maumee Bay was the ideal entrance to the lake, and Toledo lay just upriver.

Panoramic map of Toledo. The Maumee River takes up much of the center and is spanned by two bridges. Several ships are in the water and smoke rises from buildings on both sides.

This 1876 panoramic map of Toledo shows the Maumee River busy with commerce and industry. Toledo, Ohio 1876. A. Ruger and J. J. Stoner, [1876]. Geography and Map Division.

With covetous governors on either side of the Toledo Strip, and Michigan’s statehood petition sitting on Congressional desks in DC, tensions rose perilously. Militias were mustered in both states and sent to the border. A Virginia newspaper, the Lynchburg Virginian, reported in 1835: ”A letter from a respectable lawyer dated Detroit, Aug. 27th – says “we are on the eve of a border war with Ohio. Blood must be shed. I am this moment under marching orders.

Section of Sanborn map showing Stickney Av.

Stickney Avenue is shown running north-south in this detail of Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio. Sanborn Map Company, 1895, Vol. 2. Geography and Map Division.

But the only blood shed in what came to be called the Toledo War was that of Michigan deputy sheriff called Wood, who was stabbed (non-fatally) with a pen knife while arresting Two Stickney, a resident of the town of Toledo. When Stickney fled south, Governor Lucas of Ohio refused his Michigan counterpart’s request to extradite the young man. Stickney’s memory survives in Toledo in the name of Stickney Avenue, which ran along the family farm.

Meanwhile, official border negotiations continued, with fewer pen knives and – eventually – more results. At a convention in September 1836, Michigan rejected a proposal to give up the Toledo Strip in exchange for the western three-quarters of a large peninsula of land between Lake Superior and Michigan. Barely a month later, however, a separate convention approved the proposal. On January 26, 1837, the State of Michigan, now composed of two pleasant peninsulas, entered the Union.

Map of the state of Michigan with all counties and townships indicated by color

Official map of Michigan, railroad, township and sectional, prepared under the direction of the commissioner of railroads. Cram & Stebbins, 1885. Geography and Map Division.

Map of the western Upper Peninsula with areas labeled "Great Copper Trap Range" and "Gogebic Iron District"

Map of the mineral regions of the counties of Gogebic and Ontonagon, Michigan. J. M Longyear and J. M. Case, 1887. Geography and Map Division.

 

Like most Michiganders, I think we got the sweet end of the deal. The city of Detroit provided a port onto Lake Erie and grew much larger than Toledo. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula turned out to be full of mineral resources, some of which are shown on this map. The UP is also home to incredible wildlife, Michigan’s only real mountains, and beautiful windswept coastlines along Lake Superior, rightfully earning us the title of Great Lakes State.

Photograph of rocky cliffs with conifer trees on the shore of Lake Superior at sunset or sunrise. There is a small boat on the lake.

Upper Peninsula scenery. Pulpit Rock, Presque Isle [Park], Lake Superior. Detroit Publishing Co., c1898. Prints and Photographs Division.

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