Robert E. Lee’s Involvement in Shaping the Michigan Territory
Robert E. Lee – THE Robert E. Lee – was part of the shaping of the Michigan Territory back in the 1830s.
26 years before the start of the Civil War, Lee was part of the Lake Erie Survey Expedition of 1835. At the time, Lee was an army lieutenant who was ordered to accompany the expedition. Their mission was to make an attempt to quell a border dispute between Michigan and Ohio, which historically became known as the “Toledo War”.
This whole skirmish was over a small strip of land called the 'Toledo Strip', which is now located in northern Ohio, from the Indiana border to Lake Erie.
The state of Ohio and Michigan Territory came very close to having an all-out war over this hunk of land. In 1835 when Lee and the expedition arrived in Michigan (not yet a state), Detroit was feeling somewhat relieved, believing this survey would prove that Toledo would end up being part of the Michigan Territory.
Ohioans were not happy, as they stood a chance of losing commerce & trade from the Maumee River. Canada played a part in this saga, as the border between them and the U.S. was instrumental in determining the Michigan-Ohio boundary.
During this journey, Lee and his men paid a visit to Canada's Pelee Island, located in Lake Erie. While there, they figured they would go to the top of the lighthouse to run a survey line. The door was locked, so they climbed through a window. Once inside, they encountered a snake – don't know what kind it was, but they killed it anyway. After taking the required measurements, they were on their way out, when they saw a couple of glass lampshades which they proceeded to steal. Later, Lee wrote a letter to George W. Cullum, bragging about their lampshade theft; he referred to the snake-killing as “we discovered the keeper (snake) at the door. We were warm & excited, he irascible & full of venom. An altercation ensued which resulted in his death”.
On their return they stopped and camped at Turtle Island, which was also part of the Michigan/Ohio dispute. The island is currently split in half between Michigan & Ohio.
Lee and his guys were well aware of the high tension between Michigan and Ohio and were determined to make this survey as accurate as possible and finally make things legal. To make this tale short, on December 14, 1836, Michigan lost out to Ohio for the Toledo Strip. But as a way to ease the loss, we were admitted as the 26th state in the Union, and given the Upper Peninsula as further reconciliation (much to the chagrin of Wisconsin). (This is just a nutshell version, and you can read much, much more about Lee's Michigan survey expedition HERE.)
Twenty six years later, Lee was leading the Confederate army in the Civil War.
In 1924, a statue to Lee was erected in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On July 10, 2021, the statue was permanently removed.
Robert E. Lee in Michigan
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