Michigan Territory

Territory of Michigan
Organized incorporated territory of the United States


Location of Michigan Territory
Separation of the Wisconsin Territory from Michigan Territory in preparation for Michigan statehood. The combined red and blue areas form the Michigan Territory at its maximum extent.
GovernmentOrganized incorporated territory
 • 1805–13William Hull
 • 1813–31Lewis Cass
 • 1831–32Stevens T. Mason (acting)
 • 1832–34George B. Porter
 • 1834-35Stevens T. Mason (acting)
 • 1835–37John S. Horner (governing from Wisconsin land not to be included in the Michiganian state)
LegislatureLegislative Council of the Territory of Michigan
 • Organic Act effectiveJune 30, 1805
 • Statehood of MichiganJanuary 26, 1837

The Territory of Michigan was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from June 30, 1805, until January 26, 1837, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Michigan. Detroit was the territorial capital.

History and government

The earliest European explorers of Michigan saw it mostly as a place to control the fur trade. Small military forces, Jesuit missions to Native American tribes, and isolated settlements of trappers and traders accounted for most of the inhabitants of what would become Michigan.

Early government in Michigan

After the arrival of Europeans, the area that became the Michigan Territory was first under French and then British control. The first Jesuit mission, in 1668 at Sault Saint Marie, led to the establishment of further outposts at St. Ignace (where a mission began work in 1671) and Detroit, first occupied in 1701 by the garrison of the former Fort de Buade under the leadership of Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac. Soon after their arrival, his troops erected Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit and a church dedicated to Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary. As part of New France, the upper Great Lakes had first been governed from Michilimackinac, then Detroit; this was essentially a military regime that reported to the governor-general at Quebec. Its role was to supply the needs of the fur traders and discourage any settlements not directly supportive of that effort. After the surrender of Montreal in 1760, British troops under Robert Rogers occupied Detroit and its dependent posts. In 1763, Pontiac's Rebellion saw the fall of Fort Michilimackinac to the northern tribes, and a lengthy siege of Fort Detroit. The siege was lifted in 1764, and rule under a British lieutenant-governor at Detroit followed soon thereafter.

The Province of Quebec in 1774

Due to the Quebec Act of 1774, Michigan was governed during the Revolution as part of the Province of Quebec. Although the 1783 Treaty of Paris gave the fledgling United States a claim to what is now Michigan, British policy was to hold on to Detroit and its dependencies at all costs. In 1784, Baron von Steuben would be sent to Canada by the Congress of the Confederation in a diplomatic capacity to address the question of Detroit and the Great Lakes, but Frederick Haldimand, the Governor of Quebec, refused to provide a passport, and negotiations collapsed before they had begun. Starting in 1784, the British administered their Michigan holdings as part of the District of Hesse along with what is now Western Ontario; in 1791 the Province of Quebec was split into Lower Canada (today's Province of Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario), and the districts of Upper Canada were renamed the next year, with the Hesse District designated as the Western District.

In addition to the British remaining in the region, several states also held competing claims on the future state of Michigan. In 1779, Virginia established Illinois County with boundaries that encompassed all of the land east of the Mississippi River, north of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachian Mountains. For all practical purposes, however, the county government never exercised actual control beyond an area limited to a few old French settlements along the major rivers. The overwhelming majority of the northwestern lands were controlled by the native tribes. New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts also claimed portions of what was to become Michigan, but were even less able to enforce their pretensions, given Britain's control of the Great Lakes and the hostility of the tribes.

Virginia surrendered its claim to lands north and west of the Ohio River effective March 1, 1784. Coincidentally (or not), this was the same day that the findings of a Congressional committee on the western lands, chaired by Thomas Jefferson since the previous October, were reported. Jefferson's recommendations became the basis for the Land Ordinance of 1784, which established that new states equal in all respects to the founding thirteen would be erected in the territory, that they would forever be a part of the United States, and that their governments would be republican in form. The Land Ordinance of 1785 would go further by establishing a procedure for land sales in the new territory. However, the Ohio River remained an effective boundary between the United States and the Northwest tribes for a few more years.

The other states with claims in the Northwest eventually followed Virginia's example, and in 1787, the Continental Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance, which created the Northwest Territory.[1] The first settlement under the Northwest Ordinance was at Marietta (Ohio) in 1788.

The region that became Michigan was initially unorganized territory and essentially remained under British control; that did not stop Arthur St. Clair, the first Governor of the Northwest Territory, from establishing a structure of government for the area, if only on paper. Knox County was established on June 20, 1790 with boundaries that included the western half of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and roughly the middle third of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In 1792, the boundaries of Hamilton County were expanded to include the eastern portions of Michigan not included in Knox County.

American claims to Michigan were frustrated by Britain's refusal to evacuate the forts at Detroit, Mackinac and elsewhere. Britain's tacit support for the Northwest tribes during the Northwest Indian War was dependent on Detroit remaining out of American hands. But the position of the British and their allies in the Northwest deteriorated after the signing of Jay's Treaty and the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, and after negotiations, the British evacuated Detroit on July 11, 1796. The United States had finally established a presence in Michigan. Fort Mackinac was turned over soon after but Drummond Island remained as part of Canada until 1828.

Beginnings of American rule

By proclamation of acting governor and territorial secretary Winthrop Sargent, the "first" Wayne County was established from Knox and Hamilton counties on August 15, 1796, and included most of the area that later became the Michigan Territory, as well as portions of what are now Ohio and Indiana.

In 1800, the western half of the Lower Peninsula and most of the Upper Peninsula were attached to the Indiana Territory when it was established as a separate government from the Northwest Territory. Wayne County was thereby reduced to the remainder of the two peninsulas, and continued under the government of the Northwest Territory. St. Clair County, another Indiana Territory county, was also expanded at this time to include the western portion of the Upper Peninsula and a small sliver of the Lower Peninsula along the shore of Lake Michigan.

When Ohio was admitted as a state in early 1803, the eastern half of Michigan was incorporated into the Indiana Territory. One of the first acts taken that year by the Indiana government under William Henry Harrison was to reorganize Wayne County under Indiana law, adding territory from Knox and St. Clair counties. Michigan's first county now encompassed all of the Lower Peninsula, much of the Upper Peninsula, and those portions of today's Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin that drained into Lake Michigan. In many respects, the change from the government of the Northwest Territory to that of the Indiana Territory had little effect on Wayne County's limited operations. By Governor Harrison's proclamation of January 11, 1803, the courts of Wayne County—common pleas, orphans, and quarter sessions—kept their organization under the new territorial government, with almost identical composition.

But the logistics of government went from difficult to almost impossible, with the mail between Detroit and the capital at Vincennes being routed at one point through Warren[2] in northeastern Ohio. The deciding factor may have come when an election was called by Governor Harrison for September 11, 1804,[3] to decide whether Indiana Territory (which by this time was responsible for not only the settlements in Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, but the newly acquired District of Louisiana as well) should progress to the second stage of territorial government. But word failed to reach Detroit until after the date had passed,[4] and the settlers of Michigan petitioned Congress in December 1804, asking that Wayne County be set off as an independent territory.[5]


From 1805–1818, the western border was a line through Lake Michigan.

Michigan Territory was established by an act of the United States Congress on January 11, 1805, effective June 30 of that year.[6] The act defined the territory as "all that part of the Indiana Territory, which lies North of a line drawn east from the southerly bend or extreme of lake Michigan, until it shall intersect lake Erie, and East of a line drawn from the said southerly bend through the middle of said lake to its northern extremity, and thence due north to the northern boundary of the United States." A historical marker at a roadside park, approximately three miles east of Naubinway at 46°05′50″N 85°23′51″W / 46°05′50″N 85°23′51″W / 46.09722; -85.39750,[7] commemorates the northernmost point of Lake Michigan, which is located approximately one mile west of the park.[8]

The first territorial governor, William Hull, abolished Wayne County and established new districts of his own making, which proved to be short-lived. Lewis Cass became governor in 1813 and promptly undid Hull's work and re-established a third incarnation of Wayne County that included all lands within Michigan Territory that had been ceded by Indians through the 1807 Treaty of Detroit.

During the War of 1812, following General Isaac Brock's capture of Detroit on August 16, 1812, the Michigan Territory was at least nominally a part of the Province of Upper Canada. On August 24, Colonel Henry Proctor proclaimed the continuation of civil government under existing laws with Proctor acting as Governor and Chief Justice Augustus B. Woodward acting as Secretary. On February 4, 1813, Proctor suspended civil government and imposed martial law.

Between 1818 and 1833, Illinois and Indiana became states and the unincorporated land from their territories, plus a handful of other townships, was made part of Michigan Territory.

When Indiana (1816) and Illinois (1818) joined the Union, remnants of their territories were joined to Michigan Territory. An area equal to 30 townships was also transferred from Michigan Territory to Indiana to allow that state access to Lake Michigan. Soon afterward, the federal government rapidly began signing treaties with local Indian tribes and acquiring their lands.

In 1824, the Michigan Territory graduated to the second grade of territorial status, and the government's power was transferred from the Governor and a handful of judges to the people. The people elected 18 to the Legislative Council, of which nine were approved by the President, and it first sat in council on June 7, 1824. This Council was expanded from nine members to 13 in 1825, with the 13 being chosen by the President from a field of 26.

The Erie Canal opened in 1825, allowing settlers from New England and New York to reach Michigan by water through Albany and Buffalo.

Between 1833 and 1836, all the remnants of the old Northwest Territory were part of the Michigan Territory along with portions of the Louisiana Purchase.

In 1834, all of the lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase that were as yet unallocated and lay east of the Missouri River (generally, the Dakotas, Iowa and the western half of Minnesota) were attached to the Michigan Territory, an area that was officially characterized as "north of Missouri and east of the Missouri and White Earth Rivers." At this point, Michigan Territory included what is now the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and a large portion of the Dakotas.

The disputed portion of Michigan Territory referred to as the Toledo Strip.
Michigan becomes a state of the Union when it agrees to the boundaries dictated by the U.S. Congress, giving up its claim to the Toledo Strip, and accepts the western portion of the Upper Peninsula.

Meanwhile, in 1835, the Toledo War was fought with Ohio because Michigan Territory wanted to retain the disputed "Toledo Strip." The Toledo area of Ohio was finally surrendered in exchange for the western section of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Slavery was forbidden in the territory under the Northwest Ordinance, but British and French residents were permitted to retain possession of slaves already owned at the time the territory became organized. Census records show that the slave population in the territory numbered 24 in 1810[9] and 32 in 1830.[10] It is believed that those counted as slaves were, in many cases, Indians rather than blacks.

Michigan shrank in 1836 with the creation of the Wisconsin Territory. Wisconsin Territory was established in 1836 with the present boundary in the Upper Peninsula.

On July 3, 1836, in preparation for Michigan statehood, the Wisconsin Territory was organized from Michigan Territory, consisting of the present states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and the eastern portion of the Dakotas. Michigan became a state on January 26, 1837, and included the Upper Peninsula as part of the resolution to the conflict over the Toledo Strip, which had blocked Michigan statehood for several years. The western border of the Upper Peninsula was marked at the Montreal River on the Lake Superior shoreline and the Menominee River on the coast of Lake Michigan.[11] Detroit remained the capital until March 17, 1847 when Lansing was chosen as a replacement. The population of Michigan at the time of statehood is estimated to have been about 200,000, which was well above the Northwest Ordinance's minimum requirement of 60,000.