Zael Ward was born in Rutland, Vermont, on April 6, 1791, the son of Reverend David Ward and Abigail Pray. He moved to Harmony, New York, before 1833 and served as a justice of the peace until moving to Cottrellville, Michigan, around the early 1840s. He was a farmer in Cottrellville and in Marine City, Michigan, for the remainder of his life. Ward married Susan Page (1791-1873) on April 26, 1810, and they had 10 children, of whom at least four survived: Susan (b. 1817), David William (1833-1854), Zael Ward, Jr. (1827-1850), and Mary. Zael Ward, Sr., died on July 20, 1864.