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The Zanes

Founding Brothers

This house was built by Ebenezer Zane about 1800. It was located at 11th and Main Streets. The Zane family setteled here in 1769 and founded Wheeling. Ebenezer Zane laid the first lot in 1793. Brown Collection. OCPL Archives.

 ▶ Jump to Ebenezer Zane

The movement of the American frontier west to the Ohio River coincided with Wheeling’s birth as a city.  Wheeling was founded in 1769 with the arrival of the Zane brothers, Ebenezer, Jonathan and Silas.  Andrew followed a couple of years later.   How the Zane brothers discovered the area is not entirely clear. The Zanes had been captured and later adopted by the Wyandots during the French and Indian War.  They may have discovered the area on a hunting trip with their captors or they may have migrated north from their homestead around Moorefield WV. along the McColloch Trace and then explored west along the old Nemacolin Trail.

Settlement on the frontier at this time usually occurred in this fashion.  Typically several men of an extended family group would go west and build cabins, clear a couple of acres, and plant a corn crop for each family. That summer they would return home and bring the rest of the family in the fall.  The first winter was hard but a least the families would have minimal shelter and a food supply.

The Zane’s peaceful existence was shattered in 1774.  Later, Ebenezer, Jonathan and Andrew were present at the first siege of Fort Henry on September 1st, 1777.  Andrew would nearly duplicate McColloch’s leap from Wheeling Hill a few hours earlier without the benefit of a horse.    All four brothers were present at the second siege of Fort Henry, on September 11th-13th 1782.   At the start of that storied fight, Jonathan Zane gave a fire-eating speech that was credited for steeling the resolve of the defenders in the face of overwhelming odds.  Notably, Jonathan Zane was considered an Indian fighter and scout of the same caliber as Sam Brady or Lewis Wetzel.

At the close of the Indian Wars Ebenezer and Jonathan Zane blazed a trail through Ohio from Wheeling to Maysville, Kentucky.  Ebenezer handled the business and political affairs and Jonathan oversaw the actual road construction.  This was the first road through Ohio that opened the state for settlement and they founded a second city, Zanesville, Ohio, that bears their name.   Ebenezer and Jonathan Zane would achieve one other distinction their brothers Andrew, Silas, and several other notable frontiersmen would not by dying peacefully at home.  (Joe Roxby for Legendary Locals of Wheeling)


— from J. H. Newton, The History of the Panhandle (Wheeling, W.Va. : J.A. Caldwell, 1879.) p. 131-133

As no little interest naturally attaches itself in this locality, to the life and character of this first white men who are known to have descended Wheeling creek to its confluence with the Ohio, and the first to erect a civilized habitation in this entire section, we have devoted considerable research and labor in compiling an accurate history of Ebenezer Zane...

The family is of Danish origin, but at an early day moved to France, thence to England, and toward the close of the seventeenth century, emigrated to America. One branch of it settled in New Jersey, nearly opposite Philadelphia; the other in Virginia. The subject of our notice sprung from this latter branch. He was born on the south branch of the Potomac, in Berkeley county, Virginia, Oct. 7, 1747. The spirit of restless energy, which so distinguished the old Norseman, was not long in exhibiting itself in some of his Virginia descendants.

In December, 1767, Col. Zane, in company with some others, started on an expedition to the Ohio river, but they were compelled to abandon it, on account of the severity of the weather. The next spring, 1768, he removed his family to Red Stone, Old Fort, and in the early fall of 1769, he made a more extended search; he reached the head waters Wheeling creek, descended that stream to its junction with the Ohio, and upon a bright morning in September, 1769, he stood upon the high bank of the Ohio, just above the confluence of Wheeling creek, and gazing upon the widespread landscape of island, hill and river, his enraptured vision comprehended all, and more than realized his most extravagant expectations. The scene before him was one of perfect repose. The morning mist just lifted from the bosom of the calm, clear river, was gliding slowly upward, revealing to the lone pioneer a panorama of unsurpassed loveliness. Not a breath of air disturbed the glittering dew drops which hung upon the forest leaves, but all was the unbroken stillness of nature, save when an occasional feathered songster sent his shrill notes through the echoing vale. But our young adventurer was not the man to look upon such a scene with a painter or poet's eye. He saw at a glance the great advantage of the point, and at once resolved to make there his home. This act showed him to be a man of much judgment and sagacity. At that early day, he saw all the advantages presented by the locality He clearly realized in his mind's eye the prophetic line of Bishop Berkeley; and that some point on the Ohio, near where he stood, must eventually become an important place through the trade and travel of the west. How well that conception has been fulfilled, let the most flourishing city in the state attest.

Building a cabin, and remaining one season on the Ohio, Mr. Zane returned for his family, and having induced a few resolute friends to accompany him, moved west in the 1spring of 1770. Deeming it unsafe to carry his family direct to their new abode, he had left them at Redstone in 1768; and, in company with his brothers, Jonathan and Silas, and two or three others, proceeded to take possession of his rights in the west. He removed his family to Wheeling in the spring of 1770. At that time there was not a permanent Anglo-Saxon settlement from the source to the mouth of the Ohio. The valley of the Mississippi, with its mighty river sweeping through an immensity of space, as little known as when Ponce de Leon sought there for the fountain of perennial life, which was to restore to his veteran limbs the vigor and freshness of youth. Behold it now! Did the magic wand of the magician ever work greater wonders in the kaleidoscope of his mystic art!

With their sturdy arms, the Zanes soon opened a "clearing," letting the sunlight into the heart of the forest, and in due time had the satisfaction of gathering a good crop of corn. Completing his cabin, and making other preparations for the safety of his family, Mr. Zane visited Red stone, and that fall, effected a final removal. With the opening of 1773, came quite a number of settlers from the South-branch and then was permanently formed a settlement which has grown to a city of many thousands.

Mr. Zane married Elizabeth McColloch, sister to the daring borderers, whose services on the frontier was have described in other portions of this volume. She was his junior in age about a year, having been born October 30, 1748. She bore him thirteen children -- Catharine, born June 27, 1748; Ann, born May 27, 1771; Sarah, born February 23, 1773; Noah, October 1, 1774; Rebecca, born October 19, 1776; Noah, born October 23, 1778; John, born April 30, 1780; Samuel, born May 12, 1782; Samuel, born February 26, 1784; Hetty, born October 8, 1786; Daniel, born October 25, 1788; Jesse, born October 5, 1790; Daniel, born August 3, 1792. Of these the first Noah, Samuel and Daniel, died in infancy. Ann, John and Jesse, also died about the time they reached maturity. Nearly all the rest lived to very advanced years.

Of the daughters, Catharine married Capt. Absalom Martin, of the United States Army; Sarah married Capt. John McIntire, and, after his decease, married Rev. David Young, of Zanesville, O.; Rebecca married John Clarke, Esq., and removed to Belmont county, O.; Hetty married Mr. Elijah Woods.

Mrs. Zane was a woman of remarkable character, full of activity, and of indomitable energy. She was equal to every emergency that arose in a life full of startling incident. Her thrift, management, industry, intelligence and untiring labors, were noted characteristics. "She was as brisk as a bee," said one who knew her well, she could turn her hand to anything. She was the surgeon of the neighborhood, becoming quite an adept in the art and was called upon to perform difficult and serious operations. She was also a skillful nurse, and had nerve to undertake the most difficult enterprises when necessity demanded. In 1785, a man named Mills was shot by the Indians while spearing fish at night, some distance above the fort, Rising in the canoe with his torch to throw the light in the right direction, he received a whole volley from a party of Indians on the shore. He was brought to Wheeling, and Mrs. Zane extracted seventeen bullets from his body, cutting them out with a razor as nicely as a surgeon with his delicate instruments. Mills was nursed and cared for by her and a Mrs. Williams, fully recovered, and lived for many years, a monument to the skill and care of these women.

Abram Rogers in his account of the siege of 1777, ascribes very great credit to Mrs. Zane in that affair, not only for her seal, activity and usefulness, but in her encouragement and exhortations to the men engaged in the defense.

Of her generosity, devotion, hospitality and unnumbered charities and good offices to others there is abounding testimony. Her piety was fervid and zealous, but characterized by a true humility. The life she led and the well trained family she left is the highest tribute which can be paid to her character and worth.

The clearing of Col. Zane embraced about ten acres, comprehending that portion of the present city of Wheeling, lying along Main and Market streets, from the brow of the hill to a point above where the suspension bridge crosses. It was girdled on every side by the dark green forest, save on the west, where swept the beautiful river.

Col. Zane's intercourse with the natives having been marked by mildness, courtesy and honorable dealing, his hamlet escaped the fury of the savages, and nothing occurred to mar the pleasure of his western life until the fall of 1777. Having elsewhere noticed in detail the attack on Fort Henry, in September of that year, it will be unnecessary to say more at this time, but pass on to the consideration of our personal history.

Col. Zane received, from time to time, various marks of distinction, from the colonial, state and national governments. He was a disbursing officer under Dunmore, and enjoyed under the commonwealth numerous civil and military distinctions. He always preferred, however, the peace and quietude of his own home to the bustle and pomp of public place. He was as generous as brave; strictly honorable to all men, and most jealous of his own rights. He possessed, in an eminent degree, the constituents of a true gentleman -- the disposition to render unto all their due -- the quick delicate, accurate perception of others' rights and others' claims. His temperament was nervous-bilious -- quick, impetuous, and hard to restrain when excited. He was, in short, a plain, blunt man, rude of speech but true of heart, knowing nothing of formalities, and caring about little else than his family, his friends, and his country.

The personal appearance of Col. Zane was somewhat remarkable: dark complexion, piercing, black eyes, huge brows and prominent nose. Not very tall, but uncommonly active and athletic, he was a match for almost any man in the settlement, and many are the incidents, in wood and field, told of his prowess and his strength. He was a devoted hunter, and spent much of his time in the woods. But few men could out-shoot, and fewer still out-run him. In illustration of his skill with the rifle we will give an incident. About the year 1781 some of the whites in the fort observed an Indian on the island going through certain personal movements for the especial benefit of those within the fort. Col. Zane's attention having been drawn to the indelicate performances, declared he would spoil the sport, and, charging his rifle with an additional ball, patiently waited for the chap to reappear. In a moment his naked body was seen emerging from behind a large sycamore, and commencing anew his performances, Col. Zane drew upon him a practiced aim, and the next instant the native harlequin was seen to go through a peculiar gyration, believed not to have been "in the bills."

Colonel Zane was man of true courage, as is exemplified by his almost single-handed defense of his own dwelling, in the fall of 1782.

The government of the United States, duly appreciating his capacity, energy and influence, employed him by an act of Congress, May, 1796, to open a road from Wheeling to Limestone (Maysville). This duty he performed in the following year, assisted by his brother Jonathan, and his own son-in-law John McIntyre, aided by an Indian guide, Tomepomehala, whose knowledge of the country enabled him to render valuable suggestions. The road was marked through under the eye of Colonel Zane, then committed to his assistants to cut out. As a compensation for the opening of the road, Congress granted Colonel Zane the privilege of locating military warrants upon three sections of land; the first to be at the crossing of the Muskingum, the second at Hock-hocking, and the third at Scioto. Colonel Zane thought of crossing the Muskingum at Duncan's falls, but foreseeing the great value of hydraulic power created by the falls, determined to cross at the point where Zanesville has since been established, and thus secure this important power. The second section was located where Lancaster now stands, and the third on the east side of the Scioto opposite Chillicothe. The first he gave, principally, to his two assistants for services rendered. In addition to these fine possessions, Colonel Zane acquired large bodies of land throughout Western Virginia, by locating patents for those persons whose fear of the Indians deterred them undertaking personally so hazardous an enterprise.

General Richard Butler deemed him an intelligent, cautious, prudent man, as will be seen by reference to his journal of his expedition down the Ohio in the year 1785. General Butler also speaks of Colonel Zane's Island farm opposite the mouth of Wheeling creek. He says it contains about four hundred acres of most excellent land, and is a situation not only of great profit, but real beauty. He says he sells to the amount of 300 per annum of the products of this farm for cash, exclusive of the other advantages by traffic.

A fair idea of Col. Zane's reputation for shrewdness and good judgment may be formed by reading an anecdote related by the writer of a "View of Ohio," which appeared in the American Quarterly Review, of March, 1833, p. 100. He says:

"The Ohio Company had their first choice within this rich and ample domain, but unfortunately selected the poorest tract in its whole compass. An anecdote is told, which, if true, would seem to indicate that their shrewdness, for once, overreached itself. It is said that when the party arrived at Wheeling, on their way to the settlement, they met with Ebenezer Zane, afterward the proprietor of Zanesville, and at that time familiar with the Ohio country. They asked his opinion as to the best place of location, and he, in honest simplicity, named several, either of which would have verified his recommendation. He did not, however, mention the tract about the mouth of the Muskingum. What could be the reason? Possible he had an eye to it himself, and, if so, it must be the best. The party at once took up their line of march, and, without looking further, planted themselves there."

Thus according to this writer, securing the region coveted because Zane had not mentioned it.

Another version is given of Col. Zane's possible influence in fixing the location. General Samuel H. Parsons, one of the Ohio Company's directors, who strongly urged the location between the Muskingum and Scioto, had been appointed by the old congress a commissioner to treat with the Indian tribes of the west, and in the discharge of that duty visited that country in 1785 and 1786. A writer in the North American Review (vol. 47), who states that his information was received direct, General Putnam, says:

"As General Parsons had examined the country immediately about the junction of the Muskingum with the Ohio, he proceeded up the valley of the former that he might have view of the interior. Having gone many miles, he met one of the Zanes, four of which family were among the most noted of the frontier rangers. Zane was probably engaged in salt making at Salt creek, which runs into the Muskingum about ten miles below the present town of Zanesville. Parsons, well knowing that the man he had chanced upon knew, from an acquaintance of fifteen years or more, the whole of what now forms the State of Ohio, asked his advice touching the location for the purchase which the Ohio Company proposed to make. Zane, having pondered the matter, and consulted with some of the old Delaware Indians that lived thereabout, recommended the General to choose either the Miami country or the valley of the Scioto in preference to that which he was then examining. What it was that made Parsons doubt the good faith of the pioneer, we know not; but he came to the conclusion that Zane really preferred the Muskingum to any other point, and wished to purchase it himself when the sales should begin in a few months. This impression did away with what little doubt still remained in his mind; and, returning to the East, he laid his proposal to contract with Congress for all the land along the Ohio, between the seventh range of townships and the Scioto, and running back as might be afterward agreed upon, before the directors of the Company of Associates."

The Rev. Joseph Doddridge, writing of a proposed biography of Col. Zane, says: "This work will be no more than a measure of justice to the memory of a man who held such an important and perilous station as that which fell to the lot of Col. Zane, and who filled that station with so much honor to himself and advantage to our infant country as he did."

Col. Zane's mental endowments were of a high order. His judgment in all matters that came under his notice was remarkably accurate. Whether in affairs of business, or in military exigencies, or in counsel to others, his conclusions were considered so correct that he was constantly referred to in every public and private emergency for his opinion. One of his sons-in-law, many years after his death, spoke of him as one of the wisest men he ever know, though he was so correct as to be almost infallible. He wise advice to Cresap, had it been taken, would doubtless, have saved the border from the Indian war of 1774, and in the last siege of Wheeling his precaution and the admirable conduct of the defense of the garrison without the loss of a man, notwithstanding the skill of the British officer in charge of the besiegers and the overwhelming odds against them.

After a life full of adventure and vicissitude, the subject of our notice died of jaundice in 1811, at the age of sixty-four.

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