Toledo War: Battle Between Michigan And Ohio

The most bizarre war in American history was the Toledo War, between Ohio and Michigan, which had no mortal casualties because the militias could not find each other. It involved a poorly drawn boundary line, a 19-year-old “boy” Governor, and armies that could not fight because they got lost in the swamps.

The genesis of this war was in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. This ordinance set the southern boundary of Michigan territory at the line drawn from the southern tip of Lake Michigan due east to where it meets Lake Erie.

One problem: The south tip of Lake Michigan was determined to be further north than where it is actually located. This made the boundary line too far north. A later survey in 1818 ordered by the territorial governor of Michigan established the true boundary, but it was too late. Ohio claimed the original line, which was drawn in error, giving Ohio the mouth of the Maumee River and the area that is now the city of Toledo. The gap between these two boundaries came to be known as the “Toledo Strip.”

For the next 15 years, this issue festered quietly. In 1833 when Michigan applied for statehood, the dispute over the Toledo strip came to the surface again.

To try to resolve this conflict, Michigan’s territorial government tried to negotiate with Ohio Governor Robert Lucas in 1835. Lucas rejected any compromise by setting up a county government in the disputed area of the Toledo Strip. The young hotheaded territorial governor of Michigan, Stephens T. Mason, who was appointed as governor at the age of only 19 by President Andrew Jackson, angrily responded by sending the Michigan militia south to claim the Toledo Strip.

How many people died in the Toledo war?

For a while, it looked as if there would be a major battle between the Ohio and Michigan militias in April 1835. Fortunately, bloodshed was avoided because the two armies got lost for a week in the swamps near Perrysburg, Ohio, and were unable to find each other.

In fact, the only bloodshed in this war was when the Michigan militia arrested the family of Major Benjamin Franklin Stickney of the Ohio militia. Major Stickney was subjected to the humiliation of being tied to his horse for a trip to a Michigan jail. Enraged, Major Stickney’s son, named Two (not to be confused with his older brother named One), lunged at a Michigan sheriff and stabbed him in the thigh, making Sheriff Joseph Wood the only casualty of the Toledo War.

Who won the Toledo War?

The dispute between Ohio and Michigan was resolved the following year when Congress, as a condition for Michigan statehood, made that territory give up its claim to the Toledo Strip. As compensation for its loss of Toledo, Congress awarded Michigan the Upper Peninsula. At the time, Michigan was enraged by this outcome, and Ohio was considered the winner since it was given to Toledo. However, nowadays, Michigan considers itself the winner of that War since it got the Upper Peninsula, while Ohio ended up with Toledo. 

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About the author
Growing up in Detroit, Lindsey is a Michigan State University alumnus. She feels incredibly lucky to live in Detroit, and much more, to spend her days promoting the Detroit area as a travel destination.