Monday, March 12, 2018

Governor Robert Lucas and the Toledo War

 Governor Lucas 

Robert Lucas (1781-1853), of the Lucas family that settled Lucasville, Ohio, became the 12th Governor of the State of Ohio. He served from 1832-1836. During his second term, Lucas County, Ohio was established and named for the governor. This was done in defiance of the Michigan Territory, which also claimed the land around the mouth of the Maumee River, thus provoking what is known as the Toledo War. Thus, here is another link to Lucasville, Ohio, and national history.

What do you know about the Toledo War? Have you ever heard about this conflict? If you consider the lingering ill will between Ohio State University and Michigan University fans, you might consider the fact that bad feelings between the two states originated long before the pigskin rivalry. Like many disputes, this aggression occurred because of land – land that housed part of the Erie Canal, fertile loam soil, and the growing village of Toledo – a “strip”strategically and economically destined to become a prosperous commercial region.


Holy Toledo! Who Owns It?

The Toledo War (1835-36) was also known as the Michigan-Ohio War. It was an almost bloodless boundary dispute between the State of Ohio and the adjoining territory of Michigan. However, this battle between the states had the potential to be so much more. It was, indeed, a civil conflict with tremendous effects. (Note: Wisconsin was, at one point, part of Michigan territory, too. This resulted in their loss of a huge “compensatory territory on the northeast.”)

Poor geographical understanding of the Great Lakes helped produce conflicting state and federal legislation between 1787 and 1805, and varying interpretations of the laws led the governments of Ohio and Michigan to both claim jurisdiction over a 468-square-mile region along the border, now known as the Toledo Strip.

In 1820–21, the federal land surveys had reached the disputed area from two directions, progressing southward from a baseline in Michigan and northward from one in Ohio. For unknown reasons, Surveyor General Tiffin ordered the two surveys to close on the Northwest Ordinance (Fulton) line, rather than Harris' line, perhaps lending implicit support to Michigan's claims over Ohio's.

Thus, townships that were established north of the line assumed they were part of the Michigan Territory. By the early 1820s, the growing territory reached the minimum population threshold of 60,000 to qualify for statehood. When Michigan sought to hold a state constitutional convention in 1833, Congress rejected the request because of the still-disputed Toledo Strip – “seven miles and forty-nine chains wide.”

Ohio asserted that the boundary was firmly established in its constitution and thus Michigan's citizens were simply intruders; the state government refused to negotiate the issue with the Michigan Territory. The Ohio Congressional delegation was active in blocking Michigan from attaining statehood, lobbying other states to vote against Michigan.

The situation came to a head when Michigan petitioned for statehood in 1835 and sought to include the disputed territory within its boundaries. Both sides passed legislation attempting to force the other side's capitulation, while Ohio's Governor Robert Lucas and Michigan's 24-year-old "Boy Governor” Stevens T. Mason helped institute criminal penalties for citizens submitting to the other's authority. In a blatant act of defiance, Governor Lucas turned the disputed region into a county named after himself and appointed a sheriff and judge.

"Boy Governor" Mason

Despite interventionist by President Andrew Jackson (Ohio was a critical swing state.), his Attorney General held that until Congress dictated otherwise, the land rightfully belonged to Michigan. Still, a compromise in April 1835 a compromise was proposed – that the re-survey to mark the Harris Line commence without further interruption by Michigan and that the residents of the affected region be allowed to choose their own state or territorial governments until the Congress could definitively settle the matter. Ohio Governor Lucas “reluctantly” agreed to the proposal, but Mason refused the deal, and continued to prepare for possible armed conflict.

Both states deployed militias on opposite sides of the Maumee River near Toledo. Lucas said his militia numbered 10,000 volunteers. Soon, the Michigan press dared “the Ohio million” to enter at their own risk and “welcomed them to hospitable graves.”

“Here there confronted one another across the line the Governor of scarce twenty years and the veteran of over a half century. And behind each was an army as determined as its leader. Surely unless some intervention occurred the next step was war.”

Battle of Phillips Corners

But, besides mutual taunting, there was little interaction between the two forces. Still determined to continue establishing boundaries, Lucas sent out surveyors to mark the Harris Line. Permission had been granted by the federal government to do so.

The project went without serious incident until April 26, 1835, when Deputy Sheriff, Colonel William McNair of Tecumseh, Michigan led a party to intercept the survey group from Ohio. General Brown went along with the essentially civilian group as “special agent of the Territory to watch the Ohio situation” his official title per gubernatorial appointment.

McNair's orders were to arrest or run off enemy Ohioan territorialists found in the area. The group of Ohio surveyors were first approached by McNair and one other. Seeing the armed men, the Ohioans became nervous and reached for their weapons. It was here where the “battle” began (now known as Lyons, Ohio).

Reports of the battle are sketchy yet historians conclude “shots were fired but it was never clear if they were directed at the Ohio group or if they were for effect to flush them out of the cabins in which they were spending their Sabbath.” (Another report claims the surveyors were “resting in a field.”)

One historian states that the surveying group was attacked by “fifty to sixty members of General Brown's militia.” In any event, the incident is now known as the "Battle of Phillips Corners" (sometimes used as a synonym for the entire Toledo War).

While the details of the attack are disputed – Michigan claimed it fired no shots and had only discharged a few musket rounds in the air as the Ohio group retreated – the battle further infuriated both Ohioans and Michiganders and brought the two sides to the brink of all-out war.

Surveyors wrote to Lucas afterward that while observing "the blessings of the Sabbath," Michigan militia forces advised them to retreat. They wrote in the ensuing chase, "nine of our men, who did not leave the ground in time after being fired upon by the enemy, from thirty to fifty shots, were taken prisoners and carried away into Tecumseh (what is now known as Tecumseh, Michigan).” Most of the group escaped.

These prisoners were escorted back to Adrian where all but one were released. Engineer, Colonel Fletcher, was retained to “test the validity of the arrest.” Engineer Colonel Fletcher spent some months in custody in Tecumseh.

Although one person was injured and there was one fatality (a horse belonging to Lewis E. Bailey of Michigan) during the conflict, the Battle of Phillips Corner was not much of a battle by traditional standards. The single military confrontation of the "war" caused no human casualties.

Benjamin Baxter’s account of the events, found in Clara Waldron’s One Hundred Years – A Country Town, states that Fletcher was:

"a genial gentleman not suffering apparently from his term of incarceration, but sometimes subjecting us to the inconvenience of hunting him up when we had occasion to use the jail for some counterfeiter or horse thief, as he was likely to be found out riding with one of the sheriff’s lovely daughters, having taken the jail keys with him."

Throughout mid-1835, both governments continued their practice of “one-upmanship,”and constant skirmishes and arrests occurred. Citizens of Monroe County joined together in a posse to make arrests in Toledo. Partisans from Ohio, angered by the harassment, targeted the offenders with criminal prosecutions. Lawsuits were not only rampant, they served as a basis for retaliatory lawsuits from the opposite side. Partisans from both sides organized spying parties to keep track of the sheriffs of Wood County, Ohio and Monroe County, Michigan who were entrusted with the security of the border.

A "Stickney" Situation

On July 15, 1835, blood was spilled. Monroe County, Michigan, Deputy Sheriff Joseph Wood went into a tavern in Toledo to arrest Major Benjamin Stickney, but when Stickney and his three sons resisted, the whole family was subdued and taken into custody. During the scuffle, Two Stickney, son of the major, stabbed Wood with a pen knife causing a minor wound. Then, Two fled south into Ohio. A large force tried to apprehend him but failed. (Two of Stickney's brothers, “One” and “Three,” were also active in the fight – this is no joke. These are actual names. Imagine if the major had been even more productive.)

Wood's injuries were not life-threatening. Still, a warrant was issued for Two by Monroe County, but it could not be served, since Michigan had no authority in Ohio. When Lucas refused Mason's demand to extradite Two Stickney back to Michigan for trial, Mason wrote to President Jackson for help, suggesting that the matter be referred to the United States Supreme Court. At the time of the conflict it was not established that the Supreme Court could resolve state boundary disputes, and Jackson declined the offer.

Read for yourself an account of the incident as recorded in “Facts and Historical Events of the Toledo War of 1835, As Connected With the First Session of the Court of Common Pleas of Lucas County, Ohio” …

The partizans of Ohio were continually harrassed by the authorities of Michigan for the greater part of the summer of 1835. An attempt was made by the authorities of Ohio to retaliate in kind; but for some reason or other the accused would manage to escape into Michigan proper, or hide at home.

Whenever^the sheriff of Wood county attempted to make an arrest, there would generally be spies watching his coming and communicate the fact to the accused persons in time to hide, or make their escape out of the place. The town was kept in a great uproar much of the time in watching the movements of the Bailiffs of Monroe and Wood counties.

Major Stickney, George McKay, Judge Wilson and many others, of the Ohio partizans, were arrested and taken to the Monroe jail. When Major Stickney was arrested, he fought and resisted the officers valiantly, and was assisted by his whole family, who fought and resisted until they were overpowered by superior numbers.

After the Major was arrested, the officer requested him to get on a horse and ride to Monroe. He refused. The officer, with the assistance of his posse, put him on by force. He would not sit on the horse. Two men, one on each side, held him while a third man walked ahead and led the horse. In this way they got him about half way to Monroe, when the men getting tired of holding him on, took a cord and tied his legs togethet under the horse's body, and in that manner conveyed him the balance of the distance.

This is the account the Major himself gave of his arrest and transportation. The deputy-sheriff of Monroe county, Joseph Wood, attempted to arrest Two Stickney, a son of Maj. Stickney. A severe scuffle ensued. Stickney got a small pen-knife out of his pocket and stabbed Wood in the left side, causing the blood to run pretty freely.

Wood let go his hold and Stickney made his escape into Ohio proper. Wood was carried home by his friends, as was said, in a dying condition, but really, was very little hurt. The grand-jury of Monroe county indicted Stickney for an assault on the sheriff with a dirk-knife.

A warrant was issued on the indictment, but could not be served, in consequence of Stickney fleeing into Ohio and remaining there. Governor Lucas refused to give him up, alleging that the offense, if any, was committed within the limits of Ohio and that the requisition of the Governor of Michigan was without authority of law.

Looking for peace, Governor Lucas began making his own efforts to end the conflict, again through federal intervention via Ohio's congressional delegation

Lucas announced his intentions to hold a court session in Toledo to establish his state’s rights to the land. In response, Michigan Governor Mason gathered 1,200 Wolverine militiamen and marched on the Toledo Strip. The Michiganders were prepared to use violent force to prevent the session from taking place, yet after arriving on September 7, they found they had been outsmarted: the Ohioans had already held a secret midnight court and then fled the area to avoid bloodshed.

President Jackson was fed up with Stevens T. Mason’s militancy and entered the fray. Jackson removed him from his post. And, Michiganders almost immediately voted the “Boy Governor” back into office, but by then tempers had cooled and the two sides had called off their militias. With the threat of civil war averted, Jackson and the federal government looked to settle the land dispute once and for all.

During the summer of 1836, Congress proposed a compromise whereby Michigan gave up its claim to the strip in exchange for its statehood and about three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula. The compromise was considered a poor outcome for Michigan. Voters in a state convention in September soundly rejected the proposal. But in December, the Michigan government, facing a dire financial crisis and pressure from Congress and President Andrew Jackson, called another convention (called the "Frostbitten Convention") which accepted the compromise that resolved the Toledo War.

Governor Lucas became a national hero for his stand in the war. In Robert Lucas by John C. Parish, the following account attests to his popularity:

Prior to Lucas no Executive of the State had ever held that office for three consecutive terms; nor has anyone since been accorded that honor. Having served with credit for four years (two terms), Robert Lucas determined before the State nominating conventions met that he would not again become a candidate, and so informed his friends.

The Democratic convention again remembered Jackson's victory at New Orleans and convened at Columbus on January 8, 183G. As their candidate for Governor they nominated Eli Baldwin. The Whigs, on the other hand, met on the anniversary of Washington's birthday and put in nomination Joseph Vance.

A meeting of the State Rights Association, however, passed resolutions in April agreeing to cast their vote for Robert Lucas as Governor. This called forth a protest from Lucas against the use of his name as a candidate. It was then explained that the resolutions were passed by the convention largely as a tribute which the Association desired to make to Governor Lucas.”

Although the Toledo War was a skirmish over a relatively small tract of land, it would have drastically altered the future of three states – Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin – and possibly even more of the surrounding area had the outcome been different. Governor Robert Lucas was most instrumental in effecting an outcome most favorable to the Buckeye state.

Was the compromise of the Toledo War a bad deal for Michigan? At the time, the Detroit Free Press dubbed the Upper Peninsula a barren wasteland of “perpetual snows,” but public opinion later shifted after the region was found to contain valuable deposits of copper and iron ore. I guess all's well that ends well.


Evan Andrews. “The Toledo War: When Michigan and Ohio Nearly Came to Blows.” November 21, 2016.

Facts and Historical Events of the Toledo War of 1835, As Connected With the First Session of the Court of Common Pleas of Lucas County, Ohio.;view=fulltext;q1=Ohio+--+Boundaries+--+Michigan. 1869

Galloway, Tod B. (1895). "The Ohio-Michigan Boundary Line Dispute". Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly. 4: 213.

John C. Parish. Edited by Benjamin F. Shambaugh. Robert Lucas. Iowa Biographical Series. 1907.

Sherman, C.E. & Schlesinger, A.M. (1916). Volume 1, Ohio-Michigan Boundary. Final Report, Ohio Cooperative Topographic Survey (Report).

George J. Tanber. “Benjamin Franklin Stickney: His remarkable life and times.” Toledo Blade. December 23, 2000.

Way, Willard V. (1869). Facts and Historical Events of the Toledo War of 1835. Toledo: Daily Commercial Steam Book and Job Printing House.

Wittke, Karl (1895). "The Ohio-Michigan Boundary Dispute Re-examined". Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly.


Here is some edited information about the interesting Benjamin Franklin Stickney of Toledo War fame. It is taken in part from Tanber's article in the Toledo Blade ...

“Benjamin Franklin Stickney was brilliant and a man of numerous talents – Historian. Linguist. Author. Mineralogist. Land speculator. Spy. Postmaster. Justice of the peace. Indian agent.

“He was born around 1773 in Pembroke, N.H. His mother, Ruth Brown Coffin, was a favorite niece of Benjamin Franklin, whom she named her son after. In 1802, at the then-advanced age of 29, Stickney married Mary Stark, daughter of Gen. John Stark, a notable Revolutionary War figure.

“When war with Britain appeared eminent in late 1811, William Eustis, Secretary of War in the Madison administration and a friend of General Stark's, asked Stickney to sneak into Canada and scout the strengths and positions of British and Canadian troops. His report confirmed what Mr. Madison had already assumed: U.S. troops could not mount an invasion of Canada.

“Stickney's success earned him another assignment from Mr. Eustis. In March, 1812, he was named Indian agent at Fort Wayne in the Indiana Territory. In all he knew 20 Native American dialects.

“By the time he arrived in Fort Wayne, Stickney already had fostered a reputation as an odd personality and independent thinker. The eccentric rap came largely from Mr. Stickney's decision to name his sons One and Two.

“His apparent reasoning, according to legend, was that the boys could name themselves when they grew older, but they never did. Stickney had wanted to name his three daughters after states, but his wife forbid it for the first two. He won out after the birth of his last child, born at Fort Wayne in 1817. He called her Indiana.

“By 1815, Stickney's family had joined him in Fort Wayne. At that point, he was at odds with most of his colleagues, who tried to get him removed from office by raising bogus charges against him involving fraud and deceit. He was exonerated at a court hearing and retained his position - but not for long.

“While he had few friends among the whites, Stickney was respected by the area's various Native American tribes, who were impressed with his knowledge of their language and his concern for their well-being.

“Perhaps Stickney's most significant achievement at Fort Wayne had nothing to do with his job. In 1818, in an article published in Western Spy, Mr. Stickney claimed that by flooding a seven-mile low-land prairie between the Wabash and Maumee rivers, it would be possible to sail from the St. Lawrence River through the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Stickney contacted Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York, who at the time was overseeing construction of the Wabash and Erie Canal. DeWitt wrote Stickney: "I have found a way to get into Lake Erie and you have shown me how to get out of it. You have extended my project 600 miles."

“The Stickneys moved in 1820 to the Maumee Valley, where Benjamin Stickney was named subagent for the Ottawas. He had already become involved in real estate two years earlier when he bought property in Port Lawrence, one of two settlements that now comprise downtown Toledo.

“Stickney's main interest was Governor Clinton's canal project, which he later described as "the great object of my life." It was the canal that also sparked, beginning in 1820, the greatest controversy of Mr. Stickney's life, adding to his eccentric reputation.

“The state of Ohio had been charged with building the canal's Ohio segment. It eventually became clear that the likely terminus would be at north Toledo, which would greatly enhance the value of Mr. Stickney's property.

Stickney asked Port Lawrence residents to change their mind and return to Ohio or lose the canal and all the revenue it would bring. The resulting aye vote ticked off the Michigan territory authorities and launched a squabble that lasted 13 years. The bickering intensified in the mid-1830s as the canal construction neared.

“Meanwhile, Benjamin Stickney worked to solve the border dispute, largely through a lengthy letter-writing campaign. He persuaded the Ohio Legislature to create a new county in the disputed territory - it was named for then-Gov. Robert Lucas - and helped guide the process that resulted in Ohio gaining official jurisdiction over the county. Stickney was present in Washington in 1836 when Congress ruled in favor of Ohio, settling the dispute for good. To appease Michigan authorities, the territory got the Upper Peninsula and statehood the following year.

"Everything that happened was orchestrated by Stickney," says Mr. Dickson. "I think the guy saw the opportunity and went for it. Just like today, that's how wealth was being created, in land speculation."

“Once victory was achieved and the canal terminus was set for Toledo, Stickney began living in Washington. He returned to his Toledo home only in the summer to escape the oppressive heat there. By that time, he had become wealthy from the sale of his now-valuable lands to immigrants the Stickney family helped draw to the area.”

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