Zane, Betty (c. 1766–c. 1831)

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Zane, Betty (c. 1766–c. 1831)

American frontier heroine. Born Elizabeth Zane around 1766 in Virginia (now West Virginia); died around 1831 in Martins Ferry, Ohio; daughter of William Zane; attended school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; married John (or Henry) McGloughlin, McGlaughlin, or McLaughlin (died); married Jacob (or John) Clark; children: (first marriage) Mary, Rebecca, Nancy, Catherine, and Hannah; (second marriage) Catherine and Ebenezer.

Historians believe Betty Zane was born around 1766, most likely in a section of Virginia that is now West Virginia. She was the youngest child and the only daughter of William Zane, a Quaker who married outside the Society of Friends, which may have prompted his move to the frontier. Her paternal great-grandfather, Robert Zane, had migrated to New Jersey from Ireland, in 1677. Zane's older brother, Ebenezer Zane, founded Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), where Fort Henry, built in 1774, was attacked twice during the American Revolution.

Betty Zane is known for her daring display of bravery during a British-inspired Indian attack on Fort Henry on September 11, 1782. According to legend, Zane had just returned from attending school in Philadelphia when the settlement was suddenly attacked by Indians. Taken by surprise, the settlers had little time to react and had a scant supply of gunpowder with which to hold the Indians at bay. Unless they could replenish their stores, the fort would be taken. Zane volunteered to retrieve a powder magazine in a house less than 50 yards from the fort. Despite protests that such an attempt should be made by a man, she shed her excess clothing and ventured outside the safety of the fort. When the Indians noticed her, they saw that she was a woman and held their fire. Upon arriving at the house, she filled a tablecloth with powder and tied it around her waist. However, the Indian attackers, after realizing her purpose, did not show her the same mercy on her return trip. Zane made it back to the fort unscathed by the volley of gunfire, though a bullet did tear a hole in her clothing. This account appeared in Alexander S. Withers' Chronicles of Border Warfare (1831). As his source, he cited the son of Ebenezer Zane. Conflicting evidence regarding Zane's feat persists, however. Some regard the double-run as improbable and credit her with the run only from the house to the fort. One witness, the 84-year-old Lydia (Boggs) Cruger , claimed that Zane had not yet returned from school and that the feat was completed by Molly Scott ; however, this was contradicted by the woman's grandson who reported that his grandmother had frequently claimed in the past that Betty Zane was responsible for the exploit.

Scant information exists about the life of Betty Zane. She married John McGloughlin (possibly spelled McGlaughlin or McLaughlin) and had five daughters, Mary, Nancy, Rebecca, Catherine, and Hannah. After his death, she married Jacob (or John) Clark and had two more children, Catherine and Ebenezer. Living on a farm in Martins Ferry, Ohio, Zane was not far from Wheeling, Virginia, when she died. Although the exact date of her death is unknown, her son believed that she was about 65 at the time. She was buried in the Walnut Grove Cemetery in Martins Ferry, where a statue was built in 1928 to commemorate her bravery during the American Revolution.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Philip Yacuboski , freelance writer, Mocanaqua, Pennsylvania

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Zane, Betty (c. 1766–c. 1831)

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