THE ZANE’S PATH TO WHEELING IN 1769 by John Bowman Celebrating in 2019 Wheeling’s 250th Anniversary

In the late summer of 1769, brothers Silas, Jonathan, and Ebenezer Zane left Red Stone Old Fort Pennsylvania, and traveled over a path, well known to frontier scouts, Indian traders and Indians alike, and made claim to land that would one day become Wheeling.

Zanes Path to Wheeling in 1760
Zanes path Tenmile and Wheeling creeks. Map by John Bowman
Zane’s claims to Wheeling. Map by John Bowman

The Zanes were not the first white men to lay claim to this land.  Unbeknownst to the Zanes when they arrived here in August 1769, twenty years earlier, French Captain Pierre Joseph Céloron de Blainville, claimed this land for France.  Céloron mapped the area “Carte Dun Voyage Fiat Dans La Belle Rivere” and here, August 13, 1749, Céloron buried a third ‘Leaden Plate’ on the north bank of Wheeling Creek, at the entrance to the River Kanououara (the original Indian name for Wheeling Creek to the River Oyo (Ohio).  This ‘Plate’ has never been found.

Wheeling Céloron buried a third ‘Leaden Plate’ on the north bank of Wheeling Creek, at the entrance to the River Kanououara
Facsimile de Blainville Leaden Plate: Photo from Wheeling’s Ohio County Public Library

In October 1768, Indians in the ‘Treaty of Fort Stanwix’ relinquished all claims to lands east of the Allegheny River, west of the Monongahela River, and south of the Ohio River, which would have included this Wheeling area.  In July of 1769, a land office for the sale of these lands was opened in Red Stone Old Fort, Pennsylvania.  The proposed land sale included the most favorable fertile farmland west of the Monongahela River, extending to the Ohio River.

In December of 1768, the Zanes hearing word of the treaty, and future Land Sale, joined with a group of adventurers from Hampshire County, Virginia near Moorefield in what is now Hardy County West Virginia and made an unsuccessful expedition to the Ohio River to scout out these new lands.  The party soon quit due to severe weather, being ill provisioned, and getting lost.  This group included Isaac Williams, two men named Robinson, one of whom died on the trip, and one may suppose some of the McColloch (McCulloch) family of Hampshire County, as Ebenezer Zane had recently married John McColloch’s daughter Elizabeth.

In early summer 1769, with their unsuccessful December 1768 expedition to the Ohio River behind them; Ebenezer, Silas and Jonathan Zane traveled to Red Stone in anticipation of the July 1st land office opening.  While there, they would gather all available information about the frontier area from the Indian scouts and fur traders always present at the Red Stone settlement, and old Fort Burd (1) located at the mouth of Dunlap (Nemacolin) Creek. Ebenezer and Silas Zane made their applications and secured their land warrants July 3rd, 1769.  Jonathan Zane’s application was recorded August 26th, 1769.  These lands were purchased sight-unseen at one Shilling (Twelve Cents) for ten acres.  The acreage per individual was limited to 400 acres.  The sale of 400 acres in 1769 for forty Shillings is equal to about $150.00 in today’s money.  The 1769 land applications were made from undetailed maps of that time (2).  Once the land application was accepted, the applicant could pretty much venture out to the area where he wanted to settle, and mark-out, or in the case of the Zanes, “Tomahawk right” their claims.  “During the early period of frontier settlements in the United States, a “Tomahawk right”, was viewed by settlers as a way to claim title to a tract of land.  The process was to deadening a few trees near the head of a spring, and marking the bark of some one or more of them with the initials of the name of the person who made the improvement.”  Once the claims were marked, and before the land was cleared and cultivated, one had to protect the claim from “Claim jumpers” (3).

Tenmile and Wheeling Creeks. Map by John Bowman

Once Jonathan received his warrant, the three brothers set off to seek out and claim their new acquisitions.  Leaving Red Stone and traveling a short distance (roughly ten miles) up the Monongahela River, they reached the mouth of Tenmile Creek.  Taking Tenmile’s north fork, they followed an old Indian path almost due-west, until the path left Tenmile and followed a small run which emptied into one of the sources of Wheeling Creek, the Enlow Fork.  Samuel McColloch, and his sons, who had accompanied the Zane brothers this far, bid them farewell, and took the Indian path to Short Creek in quest of their land warrants.  From Wheeling Creek’s Enlow Fork, the Zanes continued on, and the afternoon of the second day out they reached the mouth of Wheeling Creek.  The Zanes had followed an extension of the Nemacolin Indian Path on the North Branch of Tenmile Creek to where the Catfish Indian Path intersected with the Mingo Indian Paths that branched northwest and southwest.  There, the Zanes followed the southwest Mingo Indian Path to Wheeling.  The Zanes had traveled a distance of about thirty-five miles taking about a day and one-half to walk.  Their intent was to follow this path back to Red Stone later that fall.

Records from the Pennsylvania Land Office’s ‘NEW PURCHASE REGISTER’,© 1768 (4) lists Silas Zane’s Application No. 3584 dated July 3, 1769 for 300 acres, Ebenezer Zane’s Application No. 3586 dated July 3, 1769 for 300 acres, and Jonathan Zanes Application No. 3772 dated August 26, 1769 for 140 acres.  Jonathan Zane’s claim containing 140 acres was made from somewhat above Jonathan’s Ravine, (aka Jonathan’s Gut) and thence south to what was to become Washington (Seventh) Street.  South of this and bounded by the creek on the south and east, and to the Ohio River on the west, was the claim of Ebenezer Zane containing 400 acres.  Silas Zane made his claim No. 3584 to land at the “Forks of Wheeling Creek” now the Elm Grove section of Wheeling.

The brothers having marked out their claims erected a small cabin, and agreed that Silas would remain there over-winter to protect these claims allowing Ebenezer and Jonathan to return to Hardy County Virginia where they could prepare for the family’s move.  Over winter, Ebenezer moved all up to Red Stone where he could await the opening of river navigation that next March (1770).  In 1770, Ebenezer Zane arrived at Red Stone with his family, and ordered built, two Flatboat type boats.   There at Red Stone, on the banks of the Monongahela River, boat builders had been building boats (Pirogues and Bateaux) from the 1760s and were just recently experimenting with the building of Flatboats.  These Flatboats were built of rough oak planks with high sides and resembled nothing more than a large box floating on water; their average size being fifteen feet wide by fifty feet in length.

Zane’s Flatboat model by John Bowman

In early March of 1770, Ebenezer Zane assured and confident of the important river information he had learned and absorbed from those who had piloted barges down river, placed his family, provisions, furnishings and effects on a Flatboat and set-off down river.  He was accompanied by a second Flatboat piloted by Jonathan containing his livestock, his slaves and the laborers that attended his livestock (5).  In the early afternoon, the third day out of Red Stone the Zanes slid their Flatboats up onto the gravely riverbank at Wheeling.  Today’s ‘Heritage Port’.  The Zanes had arrived; they were home.  With this, Ebenezer Zane is distinguished with the honor of making the “First permanent Anglo-Saxon settlement from the source of the Ohio to the mouth of the Ohio River.”

Alfred Rudolph Waud (1828 – 1891) The Zane family’s arrival at Wheeling in March of 1770

Not greeted by Silas Zane, and feeling a bit apprehensive as to where he was, having left him to over-winter and protect the Zane claims, they never the less had to go on about business.  First, they asserted that no one had made any claim jump, next they inspected the cabin, and next they set up to unloading the Flatboats, which Ebenezer left to his slaves and two laborers.  Jonathan and Ebenezer “instituted a careful search along, and up the creek, supposing Silas had been scared away by the Indians, and that he might still be lurking somewhere in the neighborhood.  When they reached the forks of the creek (at Elm Grove) they came upon him, and found he had become alarmed at the abundant signs of the presence of Indians and had concealed himself as far as he could from their regular thoroughfares of travel”.

Map of Early Wheeling 1774 by John Bowman

The Ebenezer Zane cabin was erected on a bluff of high ground (in a later description of Wheeling, “the entire town was all on a bluff of high ground”).  Zane’s settlement and cabin was not very obvious to anyone traveling down river, as George Washington undoubtedly did not notice Zane’s cabin when he floated down past Wheeling in his “Tour of the Ohio River” in 1770 (7). In fact, Washington found no “White settlements” to note in the area that we would today call the “Upper Ohio River Valley”.


(1) Source: Payette, Pete, North American Forts, Pennsylvania Forts, 2014 Page 6 Fort Burd, built in 1759 by Col. James Burd and the Virginia and Pennsylvania Colonia Militia at the mouth of Dunlap (Nemacolin) Creek

(2) For a depiction of the actual boundaries of the New Purchase see the Genealogical Map of the Counties, that appears in Donna Bingham Munger’s book “Pennsylvania Land Records, A History and Guide for Research (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 1991).”  This “New Purchase” Indian land in the state of Virginia was administered by the state of Pennsylvania

(3) Source: “Tomahawk right” The West Virginia Cyclopedia

(4) Source: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau of Archives and History, Pennsylvania State Archives, RG-17, Records of the Land Office NEW PURCHASE REGISTER, 1768. (series #17.43)

(5) Source: Newton, J.H., Nichols, G.G., and Sprankle, A.G., History of the Pan-Handle, West Virginia J.A. Caldwell, Wheeling, W. Va. 1879 Page 132.  Page 134, “The M’Colloch Family, McCulloch or McColloch descendants assert that the father (Samuel) in the spring of 1770 accompanied the Zanes down the river as far as Short Creek, and that after settling them upon the Ridge bordering on Short Creek, he with his wife returned to his native place across the mountains.”  It is probable; Samuel McColloch left the Zanes at Morgan’s Trading Post, but possible (?) they stopped the crafts at Short Creek to unload the McCollochs

(6) Source: Source: Newton, J.H., Nichols, G.G., and Sprankle, A.G., History of the Pan-Handle, West Virginia J.A. Caldwell, Wheeling, W. Va. 1879 Page 60

(7) George Washington’s Journal of a Tour to the Ohio River, Oct 23rd 1770 ‘Washington passed Wheeling’


Photo of ‘Leaden Plate’ from the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation. Wheeling, WV.  From Source: Newton, J.H., Nichols, G.G., and Sprankle, A.G., History of the Pan-Handle, Page 40

John Bowman’s Map shows the North and South Fork of Tenmile Creek’s watershed and the three Forks of Wheeling Creek

Céloron’s full map

The original Wheeling surveys show the 1769 claims made by the Zanes

John Bowman’s Map of Zane’s Path to Wheeling

Flatboat Model by John Bowman

Flatboat painting by Alfred Rudolph Waud (1828-1891) John Bowman’s Map of Early Wheeling 1774 ;\lsdunhideu

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