Americans celebrate the first Monday of September as Labor Day (declared a national holiday by President Grover Cleveland in 1894). But years earlier, the first Monday in September was a day of tense expectancy as Michigan militia, led by our “boy governor,” prepared to defend Michigan’s honor in the streets of a settlement called Toledo.
The fight for a town that Michiganians believed belonged to them – not neighboring Ohio – began in early 1835 as Michigan sought to join the Union as a state. Both Michigan and Ohio claimed Toledo at the mouth of the Maumee River. The dispute led to the Toledo War – a conflict that left no one dead, but caused much damage. During the spring and summer, Michigan posses assaulted and arrested Ohioans seeking to establish jurisdiction in the disputed territory.
The climax of the Toledo War occurred on the first Monday in September. On that day, the Ohioans planned to hold a session of court in Toledo, establishing once and for all that Toledo belonged to their state.
Michigan governor Stevens T. Mason responded to this plan by leading a force of one thousand armed Michiganians to Toledo. Twenty-one-year-old Michigan volunteer J. Wilkie Moore wrote that as they marched to Toledo they “had a vast amount of fun.” According to Moore, the farmers along the way “welcomed us enthusiastically because we were fighting for Michigan.” Despite the gaiety of the moment, Moore expected “bloodshed.”
When Mason’s men arrived in Toledo they found no Ohio soldiers or government officials. Instead, the Michiganians harassed pro-Ohio residents before returning home, thinking they were victorious. They were wrong. The Ohioans had held their court session quietly in the early morning darkness and crossed back into Ohio before the Michiganians reached Toledo.
The September “defense” of Michigan’s claim to Toledo brought the Toledo War to a close. Mason was fired as territorial governor and eventually Michigan was forced by the federal government to give up Toledo in exchange for the western Upper Peninsula and statehood. With no disrespect to present-day Toledoans, for Michiganians it was case where losing was actually winning.
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