Week 33: #52 Ancestors – Family Legend
By Eilene Lyon
There’s a spark in all of us that yearns to be remembered after we’re gone. Those with children are assured of being remembered for a generation or three, perhaps. After that, some sort of legacy or notoriety is probably required.
For those of us without children, well, we’d better be nice to those nieces, nephews and second cousins! It is certainly easier to research ancestors who made a name for themselves. However, fame isn’t necessarily a measure of character.
My Grandma Smith told me several times that we are distantly related to the writer, Zane Grey, and the famous Zane family. There are two towns in Ohio named after the Zanes: Zanesville and Zanesfield. Zanesville is named after Col. Ebenezer Zane, who was born in (West) Virginia prior to the American Revolution, and who founded Fort Henry in Wheeling. Zanesfield was named after Ebenezer’s youngest brother, Isaac.
How am I connected to Zane Grey, then? His full name is Pearl Zane Grey. He grew up in Zanesville, Ohio, and was the great-grandson of Ebenezer Zane on his mother’s side of the family. Zane Grey’s first novel was a fictionalized account of the famous Elizabeth “Betty” Zane, heroine of the final battle of the Revolutionary War.
Betty Zane was Ebenezer’s younger sister. Betty and Ebenezer had an uncle, Jonathan Zane, who is my ancestor. I’d say I am more closely related to Betty Zane than to Zane Grey. She is my 1st cousin 7x removed. (Ditto for Ebenezer, Isaac and their 3 other brothers.) Zane Grey is my 4th cousin 4x removed.
Zane Grey studied to become a dentist and moved for a time to New York to be close to publishers. He did his writing on the side while holding a dentistry practice. He did not succeed in finding a publisher for Betty Zane, so he self-published his first work.
I finally got around to reading the book a few years ago. It focuses on the siege of Fort Henry on September 11, 1782. Betty was 23 years old at the time, though she seems a bit younger in the novel. The Revolutionary War had come to an end, but word had not gotten to the frontier, yet.
Fort Henry was besieged by British soldiers and their native allies. Only a small amount of gunpowder had been stored at the fort, but there was powder elsewhere nearby. Accounts vary about the location. Betty volunteered to retrieve the cache of powder. She felt she would be safer than a man (believing the soldiers and natives would be less likely to shoot at a woman), and perhaps thought that the fort couldn’t spare the lives of any of the few men present.
Legend has it that she folded as much powder as she could carry into an apron and sprinted back to the fort. The enemy, realizing what she was up to, began firing. One bullet pierced the apron, but she reached the fort unharmed. The powder enabled those in the fort to use their cannon, bringing the battle to an end. This was the final conflict of the war.
Betty Zane’s first child was an illegitimate daughter with Van Swearingen. Van was probably the fictional “Lew Wetzel” in the novel. Betty then had four daughters with her first husband, Ephraim McLaughlin. After his death, she married Jacob Clark and had a son and daughter with him. She died in 1823 and is buried in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, where they have an annual celebration in her name. You can see information about her grave at Find a grave.
Zane Grey is most well-known as a writer of westerns, but he was prolific. His works include fishing and hunting books, children’s books and two books on baseball. He became a millionaire from his writing. (So-long dentistry!) His most famous book is Riders of the Purple Sage.
Spirit of the Border and The Last Trail are sequels to Betty Zane, if you wish to read more Zane family stories. Grey died of heart failure in 1939 in Altadena, California, and is buried in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania (where his mother, Alice Josephine Zane Grey, also lies).
Feature image: An 1851 lithograph by Nagel and Weingaertner depicting the heroic act by Elizabeth “Betty” Zane (Wikimedia Commons)