Betty Zane, born on July 19, 1759, in Virginia, was the daughter of Nancy and William Nolan Zane. In her early age, they moved to the area now called Wheeling, West Virginia. Ebenezer Zane, the brother of Betty, pioneered this area inside the turbulent Ohio Valley, which was home to Native Americans who started to become hostile as a result of encroachment on their land.
The colonists were defying the royal order which reserved land to the west of Appalachian Mountains for Native Americans. The attacking threat increased when the American Revolution started from the east; when the tribes living beyond these mountains wanted the British to abandon rebellion, and most of them begun to ally with the Britons.
Betty’s family together with other few families established Fort Henry and named it Patriot Fort Henry in 1774. This port was a parallelogram, 150 feet wide, and 356 feet long, on the sloping side overlooking Ohio River; now known as the Tenth and Main streets in Wheeling, West Virginia. The surrounding of this fort was a stockade fence that was twelve feet high, with a three feet walkway around the inside. As long as supplies last, this city was practically impenetrable.
This fort covered almost three-quarters of the acre, with a blockhouse on each corner, with bold picket lines, eight feet high, extending from each other. The enclosure had several cabins that each family used, and the main entrance was through the gateway on the side of the straggling village.
While living with the reality of a daily attack, wheeling women were always busy sewing, washing, weaving, cooking, plus other households that house helps could do. Men fished and hunted for food while frontier women tended to livestock, grew vegetables, and other farm activities. Betty went to school in Philadelphia but returned to Wheeling in 1781 when the Americans won the crucial Yorktown battle. The fight between the Native and British Americans continued until 1812.
Several families and inhabitants of the village went to Fort Henry for safety. Girty came to the fort with a white flag demanding for surrender but the commander, Colonel David Shepherd, refused. This fort had about forty men and boys who could handle the gun, and they soon started running out of gunpowder. The nearest yard was sixty yards away from where Betty’s father had buried black gunpowder. Betty, a patriot, volunteered to go and retrieve the gunpowder.
She knew she was the right candidate to retrieve the powder because she was a woman and the enemy was less likely to shoot a woman. She also knew the exact location where the powder was buried, and since she was young, she had the strength to carry a lot of powder.
Indian and British soldiers saw the gates open, and Betty ran across the field and disappeared into the nearby cabin. She came back with a bundle and soldiers started firing their guns at her immediately as soon as they could see her. She sped off up a slight incline to the fort. The fort managed to hold the enemy away until the next morning when they decided to raise the siege and leave. Among other frontier women, Betty’s courage exemplified when she single-handedly saved the whole fort from annihilation. Her feat is quite impressive because she went for over forty hours without sleep while pouring lead in bullet molds and dipping them in water.