“In a quiet corner of the stately little city of Wheeling, West Va., stands a monument on which is inscribed:
‘By authority of the State of West Virginia to commemorate the siege of Fort Henry, Sept 11, 1782, the last battle of the American Revolution, this tablet is here placed.’
Had it not been for the heroism of a girl the foregoing inscription would never have been written, and the city of Wheeling would never have existed. From time to time I have read short stories and magazine articles which have been published about Elizabeth Zane and her famous exploit; but they are unreliable in some particulars, which is owing, no doubt, to the singularly meagre details available in histories of our western border.”
The author of these words, Zane Grey, used them as a note at the outset of his first work of fiction, “Betty Zane.” The marker to which he refers was placed at the intersection of 11th and Main streets in downtown Wheeling. The marker is not of the metal, department of highways variety, but rather a true granite monument designed to last for the ages. It was placed during the administration of G. W. Atkinson who served as governor of the state from 1897 to 1901.
However, when the new headquarters building for the Health plan of the Ohio valley was built a few years ago, I have reason to believe that the marker may have been moved. The new building was announced in late 2015, to occupy city owned greenspace. While the greenspace consisted mainly of buildings and lots in the 1100 block on the east side of Main Street and was a great enhancement to the downtown area, it seems that it may have displaced the granite marker.
In any event in September 1782 Fort Henry again came under attack.
Remember, most Americans are taught that the War of Independence ended on October 19, 1781 when Lord Cornwallis surrendered his forces to the combined American and French force led by George Washington. The surrender occurred at Yorktown Virginia. Thus for history buffs, the “Historic Triangle” bounded by Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, creates a cradle of our Nation’s beginnings that can still inspire a lifetime of visitation.
However, 1782 saw a series of fights, mostly in the west, and as close to us as Hannahstown, PA on July 13, Blue Licks, KY and the area around today’s Chillicothe, OH. The year 1782 saw the British leave Savannah GA in July and Charleston SC in December. But the events of September 11, 1782 are significant as it was the last British-led attack on Americans.
The siege of 1782 again involved around 300 attackers. The majority were Wyandotte Indians. This group was supplemented by a company of Rangers and some irregular supporting loyalists. The settlement had been rebuilt and was larger with sturdier homes since the prior, 1777, attack. The fort was improved in that it had one working cannon. Ebenezer Zane’s home has been described as having contained a supply of surplus ammunition and arms. Again about forty men and boys were defending the fort which was offering protection to about sixty women and young children. Those remaining in the Zane house were seven: three men, one of whom was a slave and four women including Elizabeth Zane, wife of Ebenezer who was in command of the fort. Day one brought little damage, just the extended exchange of gunfire and the firing of the canon sixteen times.
However, on day two a crisis arrived in that, the defenders of the fort were running low on gunpowder. As such, if and when they ran out their rifles and the cannon would be useless in attempting to drive the attackers off. Betty Zane the younger sister of Ebenezer, not his wife, was aware of the supply of powder in the Zane home. Someone needed to get some of that and bring it to the fort. She volunteered. At first this was refused, but then acceded to because, a woman was less likely to be shot at, and, if injured or killed, the defending force was not reduced in number by her loss.
Betty left the fort and allegedly walked to the Zane cabin without drawing fire. Inside the contents of a cask of gunpowder were emptied into her apron. She ran back to the fort. The attackers semi-realized what must be happening and some fired at her. Luckily she made the return trip unharmed. This powder enabled the defenders to hold out until the third day when a force of seventy soldiers under the command of Captain John Boggs arrived and the siege was broken.
Although the trip between the fort and the Zane home was only about sixty yards it still took tremendous courage for her to make this run. It was her courageous deed which actually made the difference on this occasion. Of course Grey’s book starting in 1777 and heavy with dialogue takes many pages to describe the decision to let Betty make the run and her success in doing so.
What I now wondered as I researched this is, where is the Monument today? I looked at aerial photos and I could not find it. However, the monument is about three feet high, three feet long and two feet wide. So even from a 100 foot view it wouldn’t standout. One internet monument source listed it as “missing.” But, I have always thought that Wheeling is appropriately conscious of its past, and there is plenty of park space in the immediate area to house it. I decided to use the “Street View” section of Google Maps to search. Across the street there is a large parklet between Main and Water Streets that houses “Bobo the Elephant” a large sculpture, but surely a creature of less historical significance. Still, I didn’t see anything resembling the monument there. I decided to use the feature to move around the location, almost as if I was walking the sidewalks. I believe that I found it about a half of a block north on Main Street at the next intersection up, which now is a pedestrian thoroughfare. I could not increase the magnification enough to read the inscription but it certainly looked like what I was looking for.