How Michigan and Ohio Got Part of Their Shapes: The Toledo War

The Toledo War was a boundary dispute between the State of Ohio and Michigan Territory over the area known as the "Toledo Strip". It emanated from a poor understanding of the location of the Great Lakes, and vague interpretations of the border between Ohio and Michigan. The area shaded in pink is the land in question.

Image: Map by David Burr from U.S. House Report 380, 24th Congress, 1st Session, highlighting the contested land area between Michigan and Ohio territories (Wikipedia Commons)


The placement of the State Boundary would determine whether the City of Toledo, and thus its Port, would lie in the State of Ohio, or in Michigan Territory. When Congress passed the Enabling Act of 1802, which authorized Ohio to begin the process of becoming a U.S. state, the language defining Ohio's northern boundary differed slightly from that used in the Northwest Ordinance: the border was to be "an east and west line drawn through the southerly extreme of Lake Michigan, running east until it shall intersect Lake Erie or the territorial line, and thence with the same through Lake Erie to the Pennsylvania line aforesaid" (Wikipedia)

The "Mitchell Map" of the region, from the late 18th century, used to create the Ordinance Line of 1787. The southern tip of Lake Michigan is depicted as being farther north than Lake Erie.

The line is identified on United States Geological Survey topographical maps as the "South Michigan Survey", and on Lucas County and Fulton County road maps as Old State Line Road.

The "war" did not result in any deaths in either state, but skirmishes and uprisings on each side did occur. Nonetheless, the episode ended in 1837 when, in exchange for dropping the claim to the Toledo Strip, the State of Michigan was admitted to the United States as the 26th State. In return, it gained possession of the Upper Peninsula. Thought to be mostly worthless at the time, the UP became an invaluable resource for copper mining and timber. Michigan may have lost the battle to keep Toledo in the boundaries of its state, but ultimately I would say they easily won the war over time.

One interesting quirk about the result is that there is now an exclave of the State of Michigan known as "Lost Peninsula" that is only accessible on land through Ohio.

Further Reading: "The Toledo War: The First Michigan-Ohio Rivalry" by Don Faber 

Thanks as always for reading!

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