The Toledo War

I hadn’t heard of this until today when I pulled the text out of a document created using StarWriter. It was part of a newspaper (remember those?) story about how the people of Ohio called the people of Michigan “mean as wolverines.” It happened during the war between the state of Ohio and the territory of Michigan. What war, you ask? And what were they fighting over?

Well it was the Toledo War. The loser, of course, had to keep Toledo.

Just kidding.

(See this PDF map.)

It turns out that a 1787 survey misplaced the southern tip of Lake Michigan, and the city of Toledo was within a 468 square-mile strip of territory running from the Indiana border to Lake Erie. Later surveys by Michigan corrected the error, while a survey mandated by the US Congress conveniently repeated it. Coincidentally, the surveyor general of the United States was a former governor of Ohio, and the surveyor he selected for the job was instructed to follow the Ohio line. The land, eight miles wide at the Indiana border and five miles wide at Lake Erie, was called the “Toledo Strip”. Both sides claimed the territory as their own, but nothing much happened until 1833.

That year, Michigan began preparing to apply for statehood. They naturally wanted the territory that the law unquestionably said was theirs. Ohio representatives blocked the admission despite the railing of former President John Quincy Adams, who was a Massachusetts representative at the time. Toledo was the planned end for the Erie and Miami canals, and Ohio wasn’t about to let the city go. Ohio, a state since 1803, had two Senators and nineteen Representatives in the US Congress. Michigan had one delegate who couldn’t vote.

Ohio governor refused to negotiate. Michigan’s Governor, young Stevens T. Mason, mobilized his militia and sent them marching toward the Toledo Strip to reclaim it by force. Ohio also sent troops to the front, but fortunately the “armies” spent most of their time lost in the cedar swamps of the vicinity and never battled each other. The Michigan troops arrested several Ohio surveyors, but the only casualty of the war was a Michigan sheriff who was stabbed in a tavern brawl.

President Andrew Jackson, running for re-election in 1836, worked to arrange a deal that would deliver Ohio’s electoral votes. Since Michigan had no electoral votes to offer, their influence was basically zero. In the end, Michigan’s application for statehood depended upon their surrendering the Toledo Strip. In return, Michigan received a large part of what is now the state’s Upper Peninsula.

So not really much of war. Ohio got Toledo, but Michigan got 9,000 acres square miles of great UP land filled with lumber, copper and iron.


  1. You are absolutely correct. It was 9,000 SQUARE MILES, , not 9,000 acres. I knew it but miswrote it. Fixed in the post now. Thanks for pointing it out.

  2. As an Ohioan by birth, and diehard OSU fan, I have always been in favor of another Ohio-Michigander war. I would like to see Ann Arbor razed to the ground. And I want them to take back Toledo. And force Steubenville on them while we’re at it. Then we can annex the upper peninsula, which is rather nice. Those sneaky Michigan people really screwed us on that one.