Saturday, July 14, 2012

How We Got To Be the U.P.: The Story of the Toledo War

Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas

Dear George,
Michigan is a strange place.  It’s the only state in the Union that is split into two physically separate land masses. The lower peninsula contains all the state’s bigger cities and most of its manufacturing industries.  The U.P. is mostly rural.  It has 29% of the state’s land area, but only 3% of the population.  Growing up in Menominee, we always had a nagging sense that we were more connected to Wisconsin than to the lower peninsula (and physically, of course, that was true).  Menominee is a border town located at the southernmost tip of the U.P. and only a half mile across the river from its twin city of Marinette, Wisconsin.  We spent lots of time in Marinette and did more of our shopping there because the business district was larger and there was no state sales tax.  When our families went to a big city for shopping or entertainment, it was nearly always in Wisconsin – to Green Bay or Milwaukee.  Football fans in Menominee were crazy about the Green Bay Packers (rather than the Detroit Lions); local baseball fans rooted for the Milwaukee Braves (not the Tigers).  I don’t know that any of my teenage friends had ever visited Lansing or Detroit (nearly 500 miles away), and only one or two of them had even stepped foot in the Lower Peninsula.  Access wasn’t easy.  There was a ferry at St. Ignace, but the Mackinac Bridge which now connects Michigan’s two peninsulas wasn’t built till I’d left home for college.  It took twenty more years after that for I-75 to be completed, providing an Interstate highway route from the Bridge to Detroit. You’d think it would have been more logical for the U.P. to have been a part of Wisconsin.  As it turns out, we U.P. folk got to be part of Michigan pretty much by accident, i.e., because of a long forgotten war between Michigan and Ohio. 

Historically, the land comprising the U.P. was originally part of the Northwest Territory. The Northwest Territory was created by Congress in 1787, included over 260,000 square miles, and covered the modern states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota.  The British had ceded the area to the United States after the Revolutionary War.  At the time of its formation, the Northwest Territory was inhabited by about 45,000 Native Americans and 4,000 British and French traders.  American settlement first began at Marietta, Ohio, in 1788 with the arrival of 46 pioneers.

Ohio became a state in 1803.  Shortly afterward Congress dissolved the Northwest Territory.  As part of that restructuring, the Michigan Territory was created.  It consisted of the Lower Peninsula and the eastern tip of what is now the U.P. (see map above).  The western two-thirds of the U.P., on the other hand, was part of the Indiana Territory which also included present-day Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. When Michigan was preparing for statehood in the early1830s, a small-scale war broke out between the Michigan Territory and the state of Ohio because of a border dispute that had simmered for decades. When the state of Ohio was established, Congress had declared that Ohio’s northern boundary was marked by an eastward line drawn from the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan.  The Ohio legislature believed this line to run north of the Maume River at the site of present-day Toledo.  However, when a fur trapper returned from the wilderness area and reported that existing maps were erroneous and that Lake Michigan extended ten miles further to the south than previously believed, Michigan legislators claimed that their territory extended south of the Maume River.  As a consequence, Michigan and Ohio disagreed about who owned the “Toledo Strip”, a five to eight mile wide strip of land that ran east-west along the Michigan-Ohio border.  The land was viewed as having high future commercial and agricultural potential.  Congress had failed to resolve the border dispute, precipitating thirty years of conflict between the state of Ohio and the Michigan Territory about who owned the land.  When Michigan was applying for statehood in 1835, the Ohio legislature, fearing loss of the area, created a new Ohio county there and blocked Michigan’s statehood efforts in Congress.  The hot-headed 24-year-old governor of the Michigan Territory sent a militia of 600 men to the north bank of the Maumee River in preparation to take the disputed area by force.  In response, the Ohio governor sent his state militia of 1000 men to the Maumee’s south bank.  Representatives of President Andrew Jackson tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution, but it was clear that both groups were inclined to settle the matter by violence.

In April 1835 the Ohio governor sent in a surveying team which was attacked by 50 to 60 men from the Michigan militia in what is known as the Battle of Phillips Corners.  According to Ohio accounts, the Michiganders fired 30 to 50 shots at them in the process of taking prisoners, though Michigan men reported that they only fired their muskets in the air as the Ohioans were fleeing.  In either case, this was the sole episode of gunfire in the Toledo War.  President Jackson removed the Michigan governor from office because of his noncooperation, and the respective authorities were finally able to hammer out an agreement.  Ohio received the disputed Toledo strip, an area of 400 square miles of land, and the Michigan Territory received an additional 9000 square miles which now constitute the bulk of the Upper Peninsula, including the current locations of Menominee, Escanaba, Marquette, Iron Mountain, and many other towns and villages.  Note that the pink area in the map below was initially part of the Indiana territory, proximal to the Wisconsin territory. but was not initially part of the Michigan territory.  

Land Ceded to Michigan (pink area), Ending the Toledo War

At the time Michigan was considered the loser in the decision since the Toledo land was regarded as far more valuable than the U.P.  A federal report of the day described the U.P. as “a sterile region on the shores of Lake Superior destined by soil and climate to remain forever a wilderness.”  This, of course, wasn’t the end of the story.  Within a decade rich copper and iron deposits were discovered in the northwestern U.P.  Though not initially profitable, the U.P.’s mines would eventually produce more mineral wealth than the California Gold Rush.  By the 1860’s, the U.P. supplied 90% of America’s copper.  Then mines at Iron Mountain and Iron River made the U.P. the nation’s largest supplier of iron ore by the 1890’s.  And Michigan’s lumbering boom reached the U.P.’s vast pine forests in the 1880’s, turning the U.P. into the site of the world’s largest logging industry.

Contemporary historians conclude that both Ohio and Michigan were winners in the Toledo War.  The Toledo area became a major industrial center for the state of Ohio, and the mineral and timber resources of the U.P. were immensely valuable to the new state of Michigan.  If there were a loser, it would have to be the state of Wisconsin, which, if it hadn’t been for the Toledo War, would have likely acquired most of the land and natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.  As an aside, we Menominee natives were winners too.  On the one hand, we got to live in and enjoy Water Wonderland, and, on the other, we were next-door neighbors of the nation’s Dairy State with all that free-flowing cheese and ice cream.   Who could wish for more than that? 

SOURCES: (“U.P. History); (“Toledo War”); (“History of the UP”);  (“Indiana Territory”, “Michigan Territory”, “Northwest Territory”, “Toledo War”, “Upper Peninsula of Michigan”)



    Captain John Clarke was my GGG Grandfather & helped in writing the State Constitution.

    1. Great connection. Glad you read the story.
      Dave L.

  2. Very interesting and I did not know this about the UP and the Toledo skirmish. Thank you!
    Ann Arbor

    1. Linda,
      Thanks for your comment. As an ex-Ann Arborite, I'm happy to hear from you.
      Dave L.

  3. This Is a Very Interesting Piece Of History! Thank You So Much For Sharing. I Never Knew That Part Of The U.P Was Originally Ohio!