Stolen Ohio chickens, a lost Michigan militia, and men with numbers for names? You never know what your fiction research is going to uncover.
There I was, digging into Midwest canals and railroads for Book 2 of my Shimmer of Time series. Lots of cool stuff for the book, right? But I got sidetracked completely by Benjamin Franklin Stickney, who had weird tastes in names and was (probably) responsible for a war most of us have never heard of.
Stickney’s mother was a favorite niece of Benjamin Franklin (that’s right, the key-on-a-kite-string Benjamin Franklin, “discoverer” of electricity and inventor of my ever-necessary bifocals), and she named her son after him in 1773. So Benjamin Stickney grew up, got married, and named his sons …
wait for it . . .
One and Two! Evidently he wanted to let them choose their own names when they got older, but they never did. So early Toledo, Ohio residents had friends named One Stickney and Two Stickney. Can you imagine the tavern? “Hey, One, come have a drink with me!”
Good old Ben also wanted to name his daughters after states, but his wife put her foot down. His first two girls were Mary and Louisa, but by the time the third was born, he was the Indian Agent in Fort Wayne, Indiana Territory. Who knows why his wife agreed, or if he just plain over-ruled her, but that daughter became Indiana Stickney. Poor girl. Poor boys!
So, besides giving his sons numbers instead of names, Benjamin Stickney was a pretty accomplished dude. He was a historian, a biographer, spoke twenty native dialects, was totally against giving liquor to Native Americans (and got into trouble for it), and was even a spy, sneaking into Canada to find out if the US could mount an invasion during the War of 1812. But his biggest interest was the Ohio canal, and in the process he became responsible for the “Toledo War,” sixteen years of sometimes-armed conflict over a strip of land claimed by both the State of Ohio and Michigan Territory.
What’s that? You’ve never heard of the Toledo War? Don’t feel bad – neither have most of us.
A Toledo newspaper biography of Benjamin Stickney tells how he wanted his neighborhood not to have to pay huge Ohio taxes to get the canal built, so encouraged them to secede from Ohio and become part of Michigan in 1820. But a few years later he found out that Michigan wasn’t going to let Toledo become an important port AND that the Ohio canal builders were moving the planned Toledo terminus to another town, which would ruin many of their financial plans. So he convinced his neighbors to “move” back to Ohio – which Michigan wasn’t at all happy about.
The disputes carried on, with surveyors sent and harassed, lawsuits flying and militias gathering. Ohio wanted the strip back, Michigan didn’t want to give it up. People living in the strip spent the summer of 1835 getting arrested by Michigan authorities if they voted in or held office for Ohio.
Stickney and son One were arrested, and Two took off for Ohio proper after slightly wounding a sheriff with a pen knife.
The federal government got involved and finally, in 1836, allowed Michigan to become a state if it ceded the strip to Ohio in exchange for more land in the upper peninsula. Michigan wasn’t thrilled, thinking the upper peninsula was worthless, but finally agreed for other economic reasons. And in the end, the “worthless” land turned out to have rich mineral resources, so Michigan came out ahead and modern Toledo-ites are Buckeyes instead of Wolverines.
So just how did I come across this eccentric guy and an unknown “war”? One intriguing sentence in a Wikipedia article about Toledo:
“The only casualty of the conflict was a Michigan deputy sheriff—stabbed in the leg with a pen knife by Two Stickney during the arrest of his elder brother, One Stickney—and the loss of two horses, two pigs and a few chickens stolen from an Ohio farm by lost members of the Michigan militia.”
Seriously, who could resist exploring a quote like that? So many possibilities! Unfortunately, it’s too early and too far north to end up in the next Shimmer of Time book, but it was fun finding out.
What sets your curiosity on fire? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever found as you dug deeper into the internet? Leave a comment below so we can share the fun!