In early Fall 1769, Ebenezer Zane and his brothers Jonathan and Silas trekked west from their home at Redstone Fort (modern Brownsville, Pennsylvania) to the Ohio River looking for land to establish a new settlement. They found the perfect spot where Wheeling Creek pours into the Ohio River at which they along with several friends constructed dwellings. In the spring of 1770 Ebenezer’s wife and daughter arrived. Within a few years the settlement became Wheeling, then part of Virginia but now West Virginia.
There was one small problem: Zane and his brothers were squatters with no right claim to this land. The Proclamation of 1763 issued by the Privy Council forbade British colonists from either moving into or speculating on lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. This vexed the two to five percent of Virginia’s elite for whom land speculation made up a considerable amount of their income. Thanks to the Proclamation, all their land claims were voided. Squatters like Zane made their blood boil because if ever they got their hands on the land that he and others had taken, it would be hard to remove them.
A glimmer of hope that the Proclamation might be rescinded came in 1768 when the British purchased land west of the Appalachians from the Iroquois via the Treaty at Fort Stanwix. One land speculator, Thomas Walker, was so certain that the Privy Council would reverse the Proclamation, he revived his land speculation venture, the Loyal Company, from which Thomas Jefferson asked to purchase 5,000 acres. The trouble was much of the land bought from the Iroquois was claimed by the Cherokees, Shawnees, Mingoes, and Delawares, and they were disinclined to give it up. The Privy Council knew if colonists flooded the region, an unwanted war with these Native American tribes would erupt.
On April 25, 1769, the fear of a possible coalition of Ohio Valley tribes banning together prompted Virginian governor Norborne Berkeley, the baron de Botetourt, to void the latest surveying efforts of the Loyal Company and similar operations. His Executive Council refused to recognize all land claims made from late 1768 to early 1769. Speculators affected by this included Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Washington.
Governor Botetourt died in October 1770. When his permanent replacement, John Murray, the Lord Dunmore, took office in late 1771, he issued land grants to a few veterans of the Seven Years’ War that Henry, Jefferson and other land speculators quickly bought up. Washington, fearing the grants wouldn’t be recognized by the British government, declined to buy any. His prediction proved to be true. In a letter dated April 6, 1774, colonial secretary William Legge, the earl of Dartmouth, wrote Lord Dunmore telling him veterans weren’t entitled to this land. Doubling down in Britain’s effort to keep colonists out of forbidden territory, Parliament granted Quebec all land west of the Ohio River.
With so much money at stake, Virginia’s land speculators weren’t going give up without a fight. Knowing the Privy Council refused to revoke the Proclamation for fear of Native American retaliation, they needed an excuse to launch a war against them so they could take the land for themselves. It was provided by Mingo chief John Logan’s 1774 raids against Virginians in retaliation for the murder of some of his family at the hand of an illegal white militia. Despite the fact the Shawnees and Mingoes had nothing to do with Logan’s actions, in October 1774 the Virginians attacked their towns.
EBENEZER ZANE: OHIO PIONEER BY PROXY
Copyright © 2021 by Mark Strecker.
Ebenezer Zane's Stone House Built about 1800
The Brown Collection of Photographs. Ohio County Public Library.
Bird's Eye View of Wheeling, WV, c. 1909
Library of Congress
Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt.
Statue at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA.
Library of Congress