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Friday, April 01, 2011

BUYING SWAMPLAND

“Politics have no relation to morals”
Niccolo Machiavelli - “The Prince” - 1513
I would say that 1835 was, like most years, a revolutionary year in America. Inspired by gringo emigrants, Texas rebelled against Mexico. In Boston, five thousand bigots broke into a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, and dragged abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison through the streets at the end of a rope. In South Carolina 36 slaves and one 60 year old free-black carpenter were hanged for trying to organize a slave revolt. Down in Florida the Second Seminole War broke out when Native Americans refused to surrender their freedom and their homes. And along the shores of Lake Erie, free whites did their very best to start a war over possession of 268 square miles of swamp known as “The Toledo Strip”.
In truth, the Great Black Swamp was what film maker Alfred Hitchcock would call a "magoffin'. It was not what people were really fighting over, even tho it was what people were fighting over. It was not even much of a swamp by Louisiana standards. It was great only because it occupied a swath of land 40 miles wide and 120 miles long, in the northwest corner Ohio – which was a little far north for a swamp.
It was really a collection of ponds and marshes interspersed with hillocks, filled and drained by the 130 mile long Maumee River, which rose from the high ground around Fort Wayne Indiana and fed into Lake Erie. It's only claim to fame was that it formed a natural barrier between the state of Ohio and the territory of Michigan. The Black Swamp was certainly not desirable  farmland, but it provided a bumper crop of mosquitoes each summer, and they, and the malaria they carried, made life difficult for any intrepid surveyors who might set up their theodolites upon such soggy ground.
“Princes and governments are far more dangerous than other elements within society.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
The first real attempt to draw the border was made in 1817, when Michigan Territory hired surveyor William Harris. According to the “Harris Line” the mouth of the Maumee River was in Michigan, below the swamp. In 1818 Ohio responded by hiring John Fulton to survey the border, which he found five miles further north, avoiding the swamp by going above it. Taken together the two lines bracketed the Great Black Swamp. And while the desire of a surveyor to avoid all those mosquitoes was understandable, the residents of Ohio and Michigan were confused. They appealed to Washington. But abiding by the political rule that whatever you do will make somebody angry with you, the Federal politicians decided to do nothing. After all, nobody would fight for ownership of a swamp. Would  they?
Then in 1825 the Erie Canal opened, connecting the port of New York City with the Great Lakes. It proved to be such an economic revolution that plans were immediately drawn up for a port at the mouth of the Maumee River, and a canal up that river to Fort Wayne, Indiana (statehood granted in 1816), where it would connect to another canal to be built down the Wabash River, to the Ohio and thence to the Mississippi. Those canals would make the port at Toledo (which was established by Ohio in 1832) the hub of transportation for the entire center of the continent. A Toledo lawyer, John Fitch, noted that already it was the general opinion that “no place on the lake except Buffalo will rival it.” Quite a claim to fame - almost as big as Buffalo. The politically active residents of Michigan Territory became convinced that Ohio politicians were trying to steal Toledo from them. Which was true.
The politics finally solidified when hot-headed 23 year old Stephen Mason became Territorial Governor of Michigan. He was a gift from President Andrew Jackson, a man who appreciated hot heads. And under pressure from other hot heads in the territory, Governor Mason issued the “Pains and Penalties Act” of February 12, 1835, making it illegal for a non-Michigan resident to enforce Ohio law in Toledo, Michigan Territory.
The Cleveland, Ohio newspapers called the Michigan claim to Toledo “as absurd as it is ridiculous.” And on February 23, the defiant Ohio General Assembly, playing to their own base, voted to “run the border” of the Fulton Line, meaning to mark it again as Toledo, Ohio, with stone posts that clearly said so. Then on April Fool’s day Michigan held local elections in the Toledo Strip. On April 6th Ohio held competing local elections in the Toledo Strip. Somebody was going to have to disappoint their supporters..
“Before all else be armed.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
Two days later a Michigan Country sheriff and an armed posse of 40 men rode into Toledo to enforce the Penalties Act. Several men snuck into the home of Benjamin Stickney, who was an “Ohio patriot” or an Phio Nut - depending on which side of the border you lived on. He was also a major in the Ohio militia. Now, even allowing for how little humanity knew at the time about dysfunctional parenting, the level of strangeness displayed by Benjamin Stickney is staggering. This respected member of the Ohio community named his eldest son “Number One” and his younger son “Number Two”. Stickney also had a daughter, but for some reason we don’t know what he called her. I suspect it might have been “Light Sleeper”.
When the girl was awakened by a noise that night, she stepped into the hall to investigate. A creeping Michigan deputy clamped a hand over the startled child’s mouth, and held her silent, lest she shout a warning to her father. Alas, Benjamin Stickney would not have heard her, as he was not at home. So two of his house guests were arrested and taken north for arraignment. Two days later they were released on bail.
In handbills and letters to Ohio newspapers Major Stickney inflated the posse to 300 men “armed with muskets and bayonetts”, claimed that the deputies had tried to gouge out his eyes (he wasn't there)  and had “throttled” his daughter. He urged his fellow buckeyes to “turn out en masse to protect their northern border and restrain the savage barbarity of the hordes of the north.” Ohio Governor Robert Lucas, another Jackson Democrat, sent 40 men to guard his surveyors and ordered the 100,000 members of the state militia to assemble in the tiny town of Perryville, Ohio, just down the Maumee River from Toledo. Only 10,000 actually responded and most of them never got to Perryville, because they got lost in the swamp.
Meanwhile a Michigan posse, 30 strong, caught the Ohio “line runners” relaxing in camp on Sunday, April 21st . Most of the buckeyes broke for the woods, but nine of the protecting militia were caught in the open. When the Michigan posse fired a volley over their heads they wisely surrendered. All seven were unharmed but were arrested for violating the “Pains and Penalties Act”, and on Monday morning six were granted bail and two were released after a warning to behave. The only Ohioan who remained in jail was Jonathan Fletcher, a hot head who refused to post bail “on principle.” In the annals of Michigan this encounter was memorialized as the “Battle of Phillip’s Corner”, since the encounter had occurred in a field owned by Eli Phillips, who supported Michigan.
“The distinction between children and adults, while probably useful for some purposes, is at bottom a specious one, I feel. There are only individual egos, crazy for love.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
The smell of gunpowder had brought a degree of sanity back to Governor Mason, and in the spirit of good will he suspended enforcement of his Pains and Penalties Act. But now it was the Ohio legislature’s turn to appease their base. Kidnapping was already illegal in Ohio, but buckeye politicians felt it necessary to pass a new law providing hard labor for kidnapping anyone from Ohio. And they made Toledo the capital of a new Ohio county.
In Toledo one observer noted “Men (were) galloping about – guns getting ready – wagons being filled with people and hurrying off, and everybody in commotion “ The little town of just 1,250 citizens had become a magnet for every nut case, political hot head and pugnacious drifter in the Midwest. In July, two Michigan deputies tried to hold an auction of property siezed for non payment of Michigan taxes, and a gang of Ohio “patriots”, led by Number Two Strikney, broke up the auction. So, on July 12th a Michigan arrest warrant was issued for the son-of-a-patriot, for disturbing the peace. Number Two, upon learning of the warrant, sent a message to the Michigan Sheriff to stay out of Toledo, if he wanted to live.
That threat set Michigan Governor Mason off again. He ordered 250 men into Toledo, under Deputy Sheriff Joseph Wood, to arrest Number Two and his "gang". Most of the Ohio “patriots” ran safely for the border, but Number Two didn’t make it. Sheriff Wood physically grabbed him and Number Two pulled what in Ohio was called a pen knife and in Michigan became a “dirk”. “Two” stabbed the sheriff in the leg and disappeared across the Maumee River. The wound was minor and the sheriff was able to ride back across the border that night, having paused to arrest Number Two’s father, Major Stickney, and drag him back to Michigan, tied to the back of a horse. But before leaving town the Michiganders also smashed the offices of the pro-Ohio Toledo Gazette, behaving, claimed the paper, worse than an “Algerian robbery or Turkish persecution.” It seemed the residents were finally running short of hyperbole. What was left but gunpowder?
“A wise ruler ought never to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interests.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513.
It was at this point that Andrew Jackson finally stepped in and on August 29th, 1835 removed Mason as governor of Michigan Territory. Jackson also let it be known that Michigan would only be allowed to become a state after they accepted that Toledo was a town in Ohio. It was a hard pill for the Badger rabble to swallow, particularly after all that rabble rousing, but as a sop for hurt feelings, the federal government granted Michigan the additional territory known as the Northern Peninsula. Michigan was finally admitted into the union, sans Toledo, on January 26, 1837.
So Ohio won. The canals were dug, and the buckeyes benefited from the taxes paid by the port at the mouth of the Maumee River. In 1842 1,578 barrels of flour and 12,976 bushels of wheat were shipped through Toledo, Ohio, and taxed.  By 1852 the totals were a quarter million barrels flour and almost two million bushels of wheat. But Toledo did not become the transportation hub for the Midwest, because canal technology was superseded by railroads, and Chicago superseded Toledo; none of which the Ohio patriots could have predicted in 1835.
Meanwhile, in 1844, a party of surveyors was marking out the second place prize for Michigan, the Upper Peninsula,  when they found their compasses spinning wildly. This was caused by one of the largest concentrations of iron ore ever found on the planet Earth, the Marquette Range, which was surrounded by one of the largest concentrations of copper ore ever found on the Earth. Beginning in 1847 and continuing over the next one hundred years and fifty years, over a billion tons of iron and several billion tons of copper were removed from those hills. None of the Michigan patriots could have predicted that, either.
The truth was the future contained a bounty beyond the imagination of the patriots who willing to kill each other in 1835, all for possession of a swamp – and not a great swamp at that. Does that make any sense?
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