Our History…Our Heritage by Bill Kiefer

Since my last column which dealt with Zane Grey, I have not found his dental tools, but I have had some luck in figuring out his familial connection to Bethany. I also learned a good bit about the subject of his first novel, the self-published “Betty Zane.”

Taking the long way around, when I was a Bethany student (1967-1971) I joined a fraternity, as did most male Bethany students. I was quite content to live in the Alpha Sigma Phi House for three years. The “House” was also known as the Point Breeze Mansion, and was built in 1899 for $16,000.00 by William Nave. In today’s monetary values, that implies a building cost of approximately $530,000.00 certainly enough money to build a fine manor house. Mr. Nave or “Colonel Nave” as we referred to him and his “resident spirit” had no relation to the author or the Zane family. Rather, there was a connection on the side of his wife, Jessica Campbell Nave.

Mrs. Nave was the former Jessica Campbell. Her father was Archibald Campbell editor of the Wheeling Intelligencer, and one of the leaders of our state’s split from Virginia and entry into the union as West Virginia in 1863. Her mother, Annie Crawford, was the granddaughter of Colonel Ebenezer Zane the first settler of Wheeling. Zane grey’s mother was Alice Josephine Zane, allegedly a direct descendent of Ebenezer Zane as was Jessica Campbell. The two women were contemporaries and likely first cousins a few times removed or second cousins. 

Ebenezer Zane married Elizabeth McColloch, (think of McColloch’s Leap.) They had thirteen children, three of whom died in infancy, and three more in their late teens or early twenties. The other seven reportedly lived long lives. Elizabeth McColloch Zane is better known to us as Betty Zane.

In 1777, the Zane homestead reportedly occupied about ten acres in what is now Downtown Wheeling. It was near to Fort Henry (originally named Fort Fincastle), which like Fort Pitt and later Fort McIntosh was one of the larger fortifications constructed in the Ohio valley. Fort Henry is not as well documented as the other two. Its size has been described as anywhere from 350 feet by 150 feet to 300 feet by 250 feet. Others describe it as encompassing three-quarters of an acre, which might default to a more realistic 225 feet by 150 feet. It is believed to have been a parallelogram with block houses at each corner and an eight foot high stockade connecting all of them. The Fort was built in 1774 by troops from Fort Pitt. Construction was supervised by Ebenezer Zane and John Caldwell, “principal men of the village.”  Although originally named Fort Fincastle and allegedly planned by none other than George Rogers Clark, the Fort was more the type of fortification to which settlers could retreat and defend themselves rather than a regular army outpost.  That doesn’t mean it was unmanned. It frequently housed militia or even soldiers sent out from Fort Pitt.

In October 1776 the Virginia Assembly created Ohio County in the West Augusta Region of Virginia, with said Ohio County consisting of the entire panhandle. It was also at this time that the name of the Fort was changed from Fort Fincastle to Fort Henry, in honor of the new governor of Virginia, a certain Patrick Henry.

At the end of August 1777, the Commandant at Fort Pitt received word from a Moravian missionary that a party of approximately 400 warriors had gathered on the Sandusky River and then headed for the Ohio River. It was originally thought that the intent was to attack settlers in Kentucky, but when they were next seen at the Forks of the Muskingum River (near today’s Coshocton Ohio) it was clear that they were intent on attacking the upper Ohio region. Wheeling stood out as the likely target. By then Wheeling had more than thirty permanent homes (along with a number of temporary dwellings), really cabins, but family homes nonetheless. In addition it had significant acreage devoted to crops, large numbers of cattle, sheep and horses. There were other settlements north, south and east within few miles in each direction. Although the Zane compound would have been considered a “fort” in many other settlements, as it had two stories and a block house, it was primarily a home once the Fort was constructed. The Zane home and Blockhouse sat about sixty yards from an entrance to Fort Henry.

Luckily on September 1, 1777, Wheeling was not entirely devoid of defenders. In addition to its residents, a twelve man militia patrol under Captain Thomas Ogle had arrived on the 31st, as had “Colonel” David Shepherd who with his compatriots had vacated small Shepherd’s Fort seven miles up Wheeling Creek to shelter at Fort Henry. There were about 40 men on hand to defend the Wheeling settlement from the oncoming war party. The attackers crossed the Ohio River during the darkness of the night of August 31-September 1 and secreted themselves in the forests and cornfields surrounding Wheeling for a planned surprise attack. It was during that attack that Betty Zane performed deeds for which she is still remembered, and of which I will write next time.

In writing this column I have relied heavily on Newton’s History of the Panhandle, Eckert’s That Dark and Bloody River, and Nogay’s Every Home a Fort, Every Man a Warrior , Bethany College Archival Materials, and on open, public sources.