Biography of Governor Stephen T. Mason

Stephen T. Mason
Stephen T. Mason

Stephen T. Mason, the first Governor of Michigan, was son of Gen. John T. Mason, of Kentucky, but was born in Virginia, in 1812. At the age of 19 he was appointed Secretary of Michigan Territory, and served in that capacity during the administration of Gov. George R. Porter. Upon the death of Gov. Porter, which occurred on the 6th of July 1834, Mr. Mason became Acting Governor. In October, 1835, he was elected Governor under the State organization, and immediately entered upon the performance of the duties of the office, although the State was not yet admitted into the Union. After the State was admitted into the Union, Governor Mason was re-elected to the position, and served with credit to himself and to the advantage of the State. He died Jan. 4, 1943. The principal event during Governor Mason’s official career, was that arising from the disputed southern boundary of the State.

Michigan claimed for her southern boundary a line running east across the peninsula from the extreme southern of Lake Michigan, extending through Lake Erie to the Pennsylvania line. This she claimed as a vested right – a right accruing to her by the parties to which were the original 13 States, and the territory northwest of the Ohio; and, by the succession of parties under statutory amendments to the ordinance and laws of Congress – the United States on the one part and each Territory northwest of the Ohio, as far as affected by their provisions, on the other. Michigan, their fore, claimed it under the prior grant, or assignation of boundary.

Ohio, on the other hand, claimed that the ordinance had been superseded by the Constitution of the United States, and that Congress had a right to regulate the boundary. It was also claimed that the Constitution of the State of Ohio having described a different line, and Congress having admitted the State under that Constitution, without mentioning the subject of the line in question, Congress had their by given its consent to the line as laid down by the Constitution of Ohio. This claim was urged by Ohio at some periods of the controversy, but at others she appeared to regard the question as unsettled, by the fact that she insisted upon Congress taking action in regards to the boundary. Accordingly, we find that, in 1812, Congress authorized the Surveyor-General to survey a line, agreeably to the act, to enable the people of Ohio to form a Constitution and State government. Owning to Indian hostilities, however, the line was not ran till 1818. In 1820, the question in dispute underwent a rigid examination by the Committee on Public Lands. The claim of Ohio was strenuously urged by her delegation, and as ably opposed by Mr. Woodbridge, the then delegate from Michigan. The result was that the committee decided unanimously in favor of Michigan; but, in the hurry of business, no action was taken by Congress, and the question remained open till Michigan organized her State government.

The Territory in dispute is about five miles in width at the west end, and about eight miles in width at the east end, and extends along the whole northern line of Ohio, west of Lake Erie. The line claimed by Michigan was known as the “Fulton Line,” and that claimed by Ohio was known as the “Harris line,” from the names of the surveyors. The territory was valuable for its rich agricultural lands; but chief value consisted in the fact that the harbor on the Maumee River, where now stands the flourishing city of Toledo, was included within its limits. The town originally bore the name Swan Creek, afterwards Port Lawrence, the Vestula, and then Toledo.

In February, 1835, the Legislature of Ohio passed an act extending the jurisdiction of the State over the territory in question; erected townships and directed them to hold elections in April following. It was directed Governor Lucus to appoint three commissioners to survey and re-mark the Harris linel and named the first of April as the day to commence the survey. Acting Governor Stephen T. Mason, however, anticipated this action on the part of the Ohio Legislature, sent a special message to the Legislative Council, apprising it of Governor Lucas’ message, and advised immediate action by that body to anticipate and counteract the proceedings in Ohio. Accordingly, on the 12th of February, the council passed an act making it a criminal offence, punishable by a heavy fine, or imprisonment, for any one to attempt to exercise any official functions, or accept any office within the jurisdiction of Michigan, under or by virtue of any authority not derived from the Territory, or the United States. On the 9th of March, Governor Mason wrote General Brown, then in command of the Michigan militia, directing him to hold himself in readiness to meet the enemy in the field in case an attempt was made on the part of Ohio to carry out the provisions of that act of the Legislature. ON the 31st of March, Governor Lucus, with his commissioners, arrived at Perrysburgh, on their way to commence re-surveying the Harris line. He was accompanied by General Bell and staff, of the Ohio Militia, who proceeded to muster a volunteer force of about 600 men. This was soon accomplished, and the force fully armed and equipped. The force then went into camp at Fort Miami, to await the Governor’s orders.

In the meantime, Governor Mason, with General Brown and staff, had raised a force of 800 to 1200 strong, and were in possession of Toledo. General Brown’s Staff consisted of Captain Henry Smith of Monroe, Inspector; Major J. J. Ullman, of Constantine, Quartermaster; William E. Broadman, of Detroit, and Alpheus Felch, of Monroe, Aids-de-camp. When Governor Lucas observed the determined bearing of the Michigan braves, and took note of their numbers, he found it convenient to content himself for a time with “watching over the border.” Several days were passed in this exhilarating employment, and just as Governor Lucas had made up his mind to do something rash, two commissioners arrived from Washington on a mission of peace. They remonstrated with Gov. Lucus, and reminded him of the consequences to himself and his State if he persisted in his attempt to gain possession of the disputed territory by force. After several conferences with both governors, the commissioners submitted propositions for their consideration.

Governor Lucas at once accepted the propositions, and disbanded his forces. Governor Mason, on the other hand, refused to accede to the arrangement, and declined to compromise the rights of his people by a surrender of possession and jurisdiction. When Governor Lucus disbanded his forces, however, Governor Mason partially followed suit, but still held himself in readiness to meet any emergency that might arise.

Governor Lucus now suppose that his way was clear, and that he could re-mark the Harris line without being molested, and ordered the commissioners to proceed with their work.

In the meantime, Governor Mason kept a watchful eye upon the proceedings. General Brown set scouts through the woods to watch their movements, and report when operations were commenced. When the surveying party got within the county of Lenawee, the under-sheriff of that county, armed with a warrant, and accompanied by a posse, suddenly made his appearance, and succeeded in arresting a portion of the party. The rest, including the commissioners, took to their heels, and were soon beyond the disputed territory. They reached Perrysburgh the following day in a highly demoralized condition, and reported they had been attacked by an overwhelming force of Michigan militia, under command of General Brown.

This summary breaking up of the surveying party produced the most tremendous excitement throughout Ohio. Governor Lucas called an extra session of the Legislature. But little remains to be said in reference to the “war”. The question continued for some time to agitate the minds of the opposing parties; and the action of Congress was impatiently awaited. Michigan was admitted into the Union on the condition that she give to Ohio the disputed territory, and accept in return the Northern Peninsula, which she did.

Source: Chapman Brothers. Portrait and biographical record of Genesee, Lapeer and Tuscola counties, Michigan. Chicago: Chapman brothers, 1892.

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