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Betty Zane 1765 ~ 1823

 

When Ebenezer Zane of Berkley County, Virginia, pushed his way through the wilderness to the banks of the Ohio River he took with him to a rough-hewn log cabin just above Wheeling Creek not only his wife and family but a younger sister, Betty Zane. This was in 1772, and Betty Zane was then only sixteen years of age. It was a wild spot where the Zane cabin stood and perhaps the little maiden was lonely now and then, but restlessness and discontent were not among the ailments of the girls of Revolutionary days. The fact of surrounding danger and possibility of having to flee from their homes at a moment's notice made them cling all the more closely to the fireside and knit them all the more closely in the bands of family love and life.

Now in the year 1764 the Six Nations of the great Indian Confederacy in the American colonies had made a treaty by the terms of which warfare for a time came to an end. But English folly at last overtook the treaty after ten years of blunder for which the colonists had to pay dearly. "Cornstalk" the great Indian chief had been killed by the Whites who suspected him unjustly, and the savages had begun a terrible war on the Virginia border. To protect these frontier settlers, in 1774, under the superintendence of Ebenezer Zane, Fort Henry, at first called Fort Fincastle, was built. The Fort was built in an open space and its main entrance was through a gateway on its eastern side, joining the struggling hamlet of Wheeling which consisted of about twenty-five log houses. It was three years before the Wheeling Creek pioneers had to use their Fort as a place of refuge and defense.

Then one day in September, 1777, Sheppard, who was the military commander of Fort Henry, noticed scores of Indians in the neighborhood and felt sure that an attack would be made on the garrison. He ordered the settlers to shut themselves in the block houses within the fortification. Next morning the savages approached, and from the little garrison force of only forty-two fighting men thirteen were led out by Captain Samuel Mason to repulse the Indian attack. From the loopholes of the block house the besieged saw Mason's men cut down one by one until not a white man of the little band of fourteen was left. Reduced now to twenty-six defenders with a force of from three to five hundred Indians hemming them in on three sides, the garrison was in a desperate plight, yet they fought on day after day, always hoping for the help that did not come. And during this time little Betty Zane was running bullets, as were the other women in the fort, and sometimes firing the muskets to relieve the weary men. Then one day the commander stood with white, tight-drawn lips before the dauntless band. The horrible truth must at last come out. The ammunition was nearly exhausted. In a few hours there would not be a bullet for those brave hands to load with. What was to be done?

Outside the palisades sixty feet from the fort stood Ebenezer Zane's log house, and in it was a keg of ammunition. Who would dare risk death from bullets, tomahawks or by torture in the face of five hundred foes. Several men stepped out and offered themselves. But every man's life possessed a hundredfold value that day and it was a hard matter to decide.

While the volunteers stood in silence before their leader, Betty Zane laid her hand on the commander's arm. "I will go," she said simply.

"You!" he exclaimed in amazement, "Oh no, you're not strong enough or fleet enough, besides"

"Sir," said the brave girl firmly, "it is because of the danger that I offer, if I, a woman, should be killed, 'twere not so great a loss as if one of these men should fall. You cannot spare a man, sir. Let me go."

And so the matter was settled. The gate was opened and swift as a deer sped the girl out beyond the pickets towards the little log cabin. Courage was the thing most admired by the North American Indians, and as five hundred Wyandottes saw the fleeing figure of the daring girl pass directly before them not a hand was raised to bow or musket. Not a man of them fired at Betty Zane. She passed into the cabin, seized up the keg of ammunition, wrapped her apron about it, and then once more ran the gauntlet of the enemy's fire. And this time there was need for desperate haste, for the Indians guessed her burden and a shower of arrows and shot was sent after her flying figure.

But the messengers of death fell harmlessly about her or broke vainly against the walls of Fort Henry as Betty gained the entrance. The great gateway flew open and a dozen strong arms were stretched out to take the precious keg. Women wept and men sobbed as they realized that Betty Zane had saved the fort. The next morning at daybreak Colonel McCulloch marched with a small force from Short Creek to the relief of the garrison and completed the work of its salvation begun by Betty Zane.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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