Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Jon-Erik Gilot. A short bio is attached at the bottom of this post.
Though perhaps more widely known as the birthplace of West Virginia during the Civil War, Wheeling and its environs retains several significant sites associated with the Revolutionary War. The name itself is translated from the Delaware language meaning “place of the skull,” legend having that the severed head of a white settler was placed on a pole by local Native Americans as a warning to others to stay away.
Wheeling was founded in 1769 by Colonel Ebenezer Zane and his brothers Jonathan and Silas. Five years later in 1774 Fort Henry (originally called Fort Fincastle) was built overlooking the Ohio River to protect the growing numbers of settlers from attack. The fort was twice attacked during the Revolutionary War, first in 1777 and again on September 11 – 13, 1782, when a force of British loyalists (Butler’s Rangers) and Native Americans (under the command of outlaw Simon Girty) attacked the fort’s 47 defenders. The fort was besieged over two days, culminating in Betty Zane’s heroic run for gunpowder in a nearby cabin. The British and natives broke off the battle with the arrival of Virginia militia reinforcements. Fort Henry is acknowledged as one of the final battles of the Revolutionary War.
Visitors today will find a highway historical marker and a monument noting the location of the fort on the 1000 block of Main Street in downtown Wheeling. A scale model of Fort Henry is located at the Wheeling Visitors Center at 1401 Main Street. Betty Zane and family are buried in Walnut Grove Cemetery in neighboring Martins Ferry, Ohio, while other defenders of the fort and soldiers are buried in Wheeling’s Stone Church Cemetery. Each Labor Day weekend Oglebay Park hosts the Fort Henry Days reenactment, drawing hundreds of reenactors, and visitors to relive the early frontier era.
Visitors may also visit nearby Mount Wood Overlook, where in 1777 Major Samuel McColloch became separated from his men while being pursued by Native Americans. Hemmed in to the edge of a cliff and facing capture, McColloch took his horse over the face of the 150 foot precipice, to the amazement of his would-be captors. Both McColloch and the horse survived the leap and effected their escape, “McColloch’s Leap” becoming the stuff of legend. The leap occurred in the area of the present overlook, though the monument is located directly below the overlook on National Road (Route 40). Also located below the overlook is an impressive statue called “The Mingo,” dedicated in 1928 as a tribute to the earlier Native American inhabitants of the Wheeling area. The overlook offers the finest views in the city of Wheeling.
Following National Road east from Wheeling to Route 88 will take you to Oglebay Park, where the Mansion Museum (the first in West Virginia to be accredited by the American Association of Museums) highlights 13 period rooms exploring Wheeling’s history, from the earliest settlement and Fort Henry through the Edwardian era. For those interested in Civil War era history, West Virginia Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling is a must visit. Known as the Birthplace of West Virginia, the 1860 custom house hosted the statehood debates and votes and served as the seat of the Restored Government of Virginia from 1861 – 1863. Today the restored building contains impressive displays on statehood and the Civil War, including an outstanding exhibition of West Virginia’s restored Civil War battle flags.
Visitors can further explore our Revolution-era history outside the environs of the city. On Route 88 near Oglebay visitors may find a historical marker for Fort Van Metre, built to protect the nearby West Liberty Courthouse and village. The fort was commanded by Major Samuel McColloch, who was killed in 1782 and buried nearby.
Following Route 40 east from Wheeling towards Washington, PA will likewise take visitors past markers for Fort Wolff, Rice’s Fort and Miller’s Blockhouse. In Washington visitors can explore the extensive Whiskey Rebellion history of 1791 – 1794. Also nearby are markers for Doddridge’s Fort (West Middletown, PA), Beech Bottom Fort (Beech Bottom, WV) and Fort Decker (Follansbee, WV).
Beyond the local history, Wheeling is a fantastic place for a weekend visit. The Centre Market district offers unique shopping, dining and a burgeoning craft brewery scene. At Wheeling Brewing Company history and beer intertwine with McColloch’s Wheat, Fort Henry Pilsner and Betty Zane Blonde, among others. Wheeling’s waterfront hosts festivals throughout the summer while the Capitol Theatre hosts Broadway plays, musical acts and the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra. Wesbanco Arena is home to Wheeling’s ECHL hockey team, the Wheeling Nailers, and Arena football team West Virginia Roughriders. Oglebay Resort offers world class dining, lodging, spa and golfing. And that’s just scratching the surface.
For those interested in learning more about Wheeling’s Revolution-era history, local authors Alan Fitzpatrick and Joe Roxby have authored numerous books on Fort Henry, Lewis Wetzel, Sam McColloch and the Revolutionary War in the Ohio Country. Visitors may pick up copies locally at the impressive Wheeling Artisan Center Gift Shop at 1400 Main Street.
Jon-Erik has been an ECW fan since its beginnings, carefully following the blog and eventually writing guest posts for a few years. His interest in the Civil War goes back to childhood, growing up in a small historic town in eastern Ohio steeped in Civil War history. The local historical society encouraged him from an early age, sparking an interest in working hands-on with historical records and artifacts.He studied History as an undergraduate at Bethany College and for the past twelve years has made a career in the field of archives, earning a Masters at Kent State in 2011. Jon-Erik currently serves as Director of Archives & Records for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, managing the records for the Catholic Church in the state of West Virginia.
Jon-Erik also works closely with local and regional history organizations. A longtime interest in historic buildings preservation led to a role as a Historic Landmarks Commissioner for the city of Wheeling, West Virginia, and a board member position for the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation, an organization instrumental in the restoration of the original custom house in Wheeling. Jon-Erik lives in West Virginia with his wife and two beautiful daughters. Together, they are restoring a ca. 1901 house in a national historic district.