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.
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.
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 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.
Due to the Quebec Act of 1774, Michigan and what is now Western Ontario were governed during the Revolution and in the following years as part of the Province of Quebec and its District of Hesse, which was organized in 1784. The province was split into Lower Canada (today's Province of Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1791, and the districts of Upper Canada were renamed the next year, with the Detroit area designated as the Western District.
Following the American Revolutionary War, several states had competing claims on land in the region. 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. (However, the county government for all practical purposes 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.
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 lieutenant governor Frederick Haldimand refused to provide a passport, and negotiations collapsed before they had begun.
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 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, but 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. The first settlement under the Northwest Ordinance was at Marietta, in 1788.
The region that became Michigan was initially unorganized territory, and remained under British control until 1796; that did not stop Governor Arthur St. Clair 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.
By proclamation of acting governor and territorial secretary Winthrop Sargent, the "first" Wayne County was established August 15, 1796, from Knox and Hamilton counties, 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 was attached to 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 attached to 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 in northeastern Ohio. The deciding factor may have come when an election was called by Governor Harrison for September 11, 1804, 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, and the settlers of Michigan petitioned Congress in December 1804, asking that Wayne County be set off as an independent territory.
Michigan Territory was established by an act of the United States Congress on January 11, 1805, effective June 30 of that year. 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 , commemorates the northernmost point of Lake Michigan, which is located approximately one mile west of the park.
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 Native Americans 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.
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.
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.
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 and 32 in 1830. It is believed that those counted as slaves were, in many cases, enslaved Native Americans rather than enslaved African Americans.
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 far west as the Montreal River as part of the resolution to the conflict over the Toledo Strip, which had blocked Michigan statehood for several years. 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.
The area that became Michigan had been British territory, and was ceded to the United States in 1783, although the native peoples of the area had not ceded control to either the British or Americans for most of the territory by 1783. The majority of it was gained by cession, coerced or otherwise. The people who resided in Michigan before American settlement were the Ottawa, the Potawatomi, Ojibwa and the Wyandot. Treaties ceding the land were signed between 1795 (the Treaty of Greenville) and 1842 (the Treaty of La Pointe). Other notable treaties were Governor Hull's treaty of 1808, the Treaty of Saginaw in 1819, the two Treaties of Chicago (1821, 1833), the Carey Mission in 1828 and the Treaty of Washington in 1836 and a later treaty of January 4, 1837.
Wayne County, Michigan, originally part of the vast Northwest Territory, was eventually whittled down into its current size by the separation of several tracts: Monroe in 1817, Michilimackinac County (later called Mackinac) and Macomb counties in 1818, St. Clair and St. Joseph counties in 1820 and Washtenaw County in 1822. The first township organization was Detroit, in Wayne County, in 1802.
Also organized in 1818 were two counties that survive in present-day Wisconsin. Crawford was set up to govern the settlements on the upper Mississippi River from its seat at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, while Brown performed a similar function for the settlements around Green Bay. These would become part of the Wisconsin Territory in 1836.
Oakland County, Michigan was created in 1819, and over time was subdivided into all or parts of Genesee, Lapeer, Sanilac, Shiawassee and Saginaw counties. Saginaw County would be split further into eight separate counties, three of which (Isabella, Arenac and Midland) were established during the territorial period.
Lenawee County was created in 1822 from what had been Indian lands, and Hillsdale County was separated from it in 1829. Other parts of Lenawee were turned into Cass and Berrien. Branch also sprung fully formed from Michigan Territory in 1829.
Chippewa County was created from Michilimackinac County in 1826.
Kalamazoo County, Michigan, established 1829 from St. Joseph County, was the dominant tract in Western Michigan and was divided and subdivided into many other counties: Allegan, Barry, Calhoun, Eaton, Ionia, Montcalm, Kent, Ottawa and Clinton (some created during the territorial period, others split off later).
Jackson and Ingham were created in 1829 from Washtenaw; Isabella was created from parts of Saginaw and Midland counties in 1831. Gratiot County was also established in 1831, with land from Saginaw and Clinton counties.
Seven of the 12 counties created in 1829 were named for members of President Andrew Jackson's Cabinet, and one was named for Jackson himself.
Michigan Territory briefly governed lands west of the Mississippi, after the statehood of Missouri left the area north of the new state as unorganized territory; this comprised what is now Iowa and that part of Minnesota west of the river. Such was the case until 1834, when that area was placed under the government of Michigan Territory. Dubuque and Des Moines counties were created in 1834, and transferred to the Wisconsin Territory in 1836 upon its organization.
Milwaukee County was established in 1834 and was transferred to Wisconsin Territory two years later.
These census numbers do not include most Native Americans, defined in the U.S. Constitution as "Indians not taxed" (Article I, Sec. 2). In 1800, the whole of the Northwest Territory had 43,365 residents. Under the Northwest Ordinance, a territory could apply for statehood once it had surpassed 60,000 inhabitants.
|William Hull||March 1, 1805 to August 16, 1812||Surrendered Detroit to British forces, August 16, 1812|
|Henry Proctor||August 24, 1812 to September 28, 1813||Civil governor under British rule to February 4; martial law thereafter until evacuation of Detroit in September|
|Lewis Cass||October 13, 1813 to August 6, 1831||Appointed military governor by General Harrison; civil governor from October 29|
|George Bryan Porter||August 6, 1831 to July 6, 1834||Died in office.|
|Stevens T. Mason||July 6, 1834 to September 15, 1835||ex officio, Acting Governor due to position as Secretary|
|John S. Horner||September 15, 1835 to July 3, 1836||ex officio, Acting Governor due to position as Secretary|
|Stanley Griswold||March 1, 1805 to March 18, 1808|
|Reuben Atwater||March 18, 1808 to October 15, 1814|
|William Woodbridge||October 15, 1814 to January 15, 1828|
|James Witherell||January 15, 1828 to May 20, 1830|
|John T. Mason||May 20, 1830 to July 12, 1831|
|Stevens T. Mason||July 12, 1831 to September 15, 1835|
|John S. Horner||September 15, 1835 to July 3, 1836|
From 1805 through 1823, Territorial Supreme Court Justices were appointed by the U.S. President, with consent of the U.S. Senate. Their terms had no fixed limits. In 1823, the U.S. Congress passed an act reorganizing territorial government and setting a four-year term of office for justices.
|Supreme Court Justices||Dates Served||Notes|
|Augustus B. Woodward||March 2, 1805 to February 1, 1824||Appointed by Thomas Jefferson; resigned following reorganization of court|
|Frederick Bates||March 3, 1805 to November 1808||Appointed by Thomas Jefferson; resigned after being appointed Secretary of Louisiana Territory|
|John Griffin||December 23, 1805 to February 1, 1824||Appointed by Thomas Jefferson; resigned following reorganization of court|
|James Witherell||April 23, 1808 to January 15, 1828||First appointed by Thomas Jefferson; reappointed by James Monroe; resigned after being appointed Secretary of Michigan Territory|
|Solomon Sibley||February 2, 1824 to July 17, 1836||First appointed by James Monroe, reappointed by John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson; not reappointed after Michigan statehood|
|John Hunt||February 20, 1824 to June 15, 1827||Twice appointed by James Monroe; died in office|
|Henry C. Chipman||July 18, 1817 to April 25, 1832||Twice appointed by John Quincy Adams; was not reappointed by Andrew Jackson|
|William Woodbridge||January 15, 1828 to April 25, 1832||Appointed by John Quincy Adams; was not reappointed by Andrew Jackson|
|Ross Wilkins||April 26, 1832 to July 17, 1836||Appointed by Andrew Jackson; appointed U.S. District Court judge for Michigan after statehood|
|George Morell||April 26, 1832 to July 17, 1843||First appointed by Andrew Jackson; appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court by Governor Mason|
In 1819, Michigan Territory was given the authority to elect a Congressional delegate.
|William Woodbridge||1819–20 (16th Congress)||Whig|
|Solomon Sibley||1820–23 (16th and 17th Congresses)|
|Gabriel Richard||1823–25 (18th Congress)|
|Austin Eli Wing||1825–29 (19th and 20th Congresses)|
|John Biddle||1829–31 (21st Congress)|
|Austin Eli Wing||1831–33 (22nd Congress)|
|Lucius Lyon||1833–35 (23rd Congress)||Democratic|
|George Wallace Jones||1835–37 (24th Congress)||Democratic|
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