Mary Draper Ingles

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Mary Draper Ingles (1732 – February 1815), referred to in some documents as Mary Inglis or Mary English, was an American pioneer and early settler of western Virginia. She was abducted by Indians and escaped after two and a half months, making a harrowing trek hundreds of miles through the wilderness and over the Appalachian Mountains to return home.


Early life[edit]

Log cabin next to the New River, near present-day Radford, Virginia, where Mary Draper Ingles and her husband William lived out their lives

Mary Draper Ingles was born in 1732 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to George and Elenor (Hardin) Draper, who had immigrated to America from Donegal, Ireland in 1729.[1] In 1748, the Draper family and others moved to the western frontier, establishing Draper's Meadow, a pioneer settlement on the banks of Sinking Creek near modern-day Blacksburg, Virginia. In 1750 Mary married fellow settler William Ingles (1729-1782), and gave birth to two sons, Thomas in 1751 and George in 1753.[2]

Draper's Meadow massacre[edit]

On July 30, 1755, during the French and Indian War, a band of Shawnee warriors (then allies of the French) raided Draper's Meadow, killing four settlers, including Mary's mother and her niece,[3][4] and taking five hostages, including Mary and her two sons, her sister-in-law Bettie Robertson Draper, James Cull and Henry Lenard (or Leonard), Mary's neighbors.[5][6][7] Mary's husband was nearly killed but managed to flee into the forest.[8][9]


The Indians and their captives traveled for a month to Lower Shawneetown on the banks of the Scioto and Ohio Rivers, where James Cull and Henry Leonard were killed while running the gauntlet. Mary was separated from her sons.[10] Some sources suggest that Mary gave birth to a daughter while in captivity[11][12][13] although there is evidence to the contrary.[5] As a prisoner, Mary sewed shirts and due to her skill with medicinal herbs, acted as a healer and a nurse. On two occasions she was taken to the Big Bone salt lick to make salt for the Indians by boiling brine.[7]

Escape and journey home[edit]

On the second trip to Big Bone Lick, in late October 1755, Mary persuaded another captive woman, referred to as the "old Dutch woman" but who may actually have been German,[14] to escape with her, and the next day (probably 19 October) they set off, retracing the same route that the Indians had taken when they were abducted.[15] They wore moccasins and carried with them only a tomahawk and a knife (both of which were eventually lost), and two blankets. As they were leaving the camp, they met three French traders from Detroit who were harvesting walnuts, and Mary traded her old dull tomahawk for a new one.[8]

They went north, following the Ohio River as it curves to the east (see map), hurrying at first because they expected the Indians to pursue them.[16] As it turned out, the Indians made only a brief search before assuming that the two women had been carried off by wild animals, as they told Mary’s son Thomas when he met some of them many years later after the Battle of Point Pleasant (1774).[8]

After four or five days they reached the junction of the Ohio with the Licking River, near the present-day location of Cincinnati. There they found an abandoned cabin that contained a supply of corn and an old horse in the back yard. They took the horse to carry the corn, but he was lost when they tried to take him across what was probably Dutchman’s Ripple.[8]

Their route followed the Ohio River, the Kanawha River, and the New River, crossing over the Licking River, the Big Sandy River, the Little Sandy River, Twelvepole Creek, the Guyandotte River, the Coal River, Paint Creek, and the Bluestone River (see map); during their journey they crossed at least 145 creeks and rivers--remarkable in that neither woman could swim. On at least one occasion they "tied logs together with a grape-vine [and] made a raft" to cross a major river.[11] They may have traveled as much as five to six hundred miles, averaging between eleven and twenty-one miles a day.[16]

Once the corn ran out, they were able to subsist on black walnuts, wild grapes, pawpaws,[16] Sassafras leaves, blackberries and frogs but as the weather grew cold they were forced to eat dead animals that they found along the way.[11] On several occasions they saw Indians hunting, and each time managed to avoid being seen.[17]

At some point during the journey the old Dutch woman became “very disheartened and discouraged” and tried to kill Mary.[8] (Letitia Preston Floyd's account states that the two women drew lots to decide "which of them was to be eaten by the other."[11]) Mary managed to “keep her in a good humor”, and soon afterwards they reached the mouth of the Kanawha River. Shortly after they reached the New River, however, the Old Dutch woman made a second attempt on Mary’s life, probably on 26 November.[16]

By now the temperature had dropped, it was starting to snow, and the two women were weak from starvation. Mary feared that the old Dutch woman would kill her in her sleep, so one night she went off alone and, finding a canoe, crossed the New River at its junction with the East River[12] near what is now Glen Lyn, Virginia. Mary continued southeast along the riverbank, passing through present-day Pembroke, Virginia, and arrived at the home of her friend Adam Harmon on or about 1 December, 1755, forty-two days after leaving Big Bone salt lick. The old Dutch woman was found shortly afterwards[8] and Adam Harman took her to the fort at Dunkard Creek where she was able to join a party traveling to Pennsylvania by wagon.[12]


A postcard of Ingles Ferry, ca. 1908

After recovering from her journey and reuniting with her husband, Mary went on to have four more children: Mary, Susan, Rhoda (b.1762), and John (b.1766).[18] In 1762 William and Mary established the Ingles Ferry across the New River, and the Ingles Ferry Hill Tavern and blacksmith shop, and she died there in 1815 at the age of 83.[16] The site of her log cabin, with a stable and a family cemetery, constitute part of the Ingles Bottom Archeological Sites.

Mary's son George died in Indian captivity, but Thomas was ransomed and returned to Virginia in 1768 at the age of seventeen; by then he had become fully acculturated and spoke only Shawnee. He underwent several years of rehabilitation and education under Dr. Thomas Walker at Castle Hill, Virginia.[19] He later served as a lieutenant under Colonel William Christian in Lord Dunmore's War (1773-1774) against the Shawnees. He married Eleanore Grills in 1775 and settled in Burke's Garden, Virginia where in 1782 his wife and three children were kidnapped by Indians, who killed Eleanore and the two older children.[10] The youngest daughter was rescued by her father.[20]

In 1761 Mary Ingles' brother John Draper attended a gathering of Cherokee chiefs at which a treaty to end the Anglo-Cherokee War was prepared. He found a man who knew of his wife, Bettie Robertson Draper, who was then living with the family of a widowed Cherokee chief.[19] She was ransomed and John took her to New River Valley.[21]

Historical accounts of Mary Draper Ingles' journey[edit]

Except for a few scattered references to Mary Ingles' escape in contemporary reports and letters,[17][3] the two primary sources of information are:

1) the 1824 written account by John Ingles[8] (son of Mary Ingles and William Ingles, born after Mary's return);
2) parts of an 1843 letter by Letitia Preston Floyd[11] (wife of Virginia Governor John Floyd and daughter of Colonel William Preston, a survivor of the Draper's Meadow massacre).

There are some differences in the two narratives, suggesting that the Ingles and Preston families had developed distinct oral traditions. The disagreements between these original written sources include the date of the massacre (July 30 vs July 8, according to Ingles and Floyd, respectively), the number of casualties, the age of Mary Ingles' children, and several other aspects.[5]

John Peter Hale, one of Mary Ingles’ great-grandsons, claimed to have interviewed Letitia Floyd and others who knew Mary Ingles personally, and his 1886 narrative contains numerous details not cited in any previous account.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

The story of Ingles' ordeal has inspired a number of books, films, an outdoor historical drama,[22] and living history programs, including the popular 1981 novel Follow the River by James Alexander Thom, a 1995 ABC television movie of the same name starring Sheryl Lee, and the 2004 film The Captives.


Plaque on the chimney stone memorial of Mary Draper Ingles in the West End Cemetery in Radford, VA.

Radford University, located near Draper's Meadow, has residence halls named Draper Hall and Ingles Hall in honor of Mary Draper Ingles.[1]

Monument of chimney stones in Radford's West End Cemetery

There is a monument dedicated to Mary Draper Ingles located in West End Cemetery, Radford Virginia. It was built using stones from the chimney of a home where Mary lived after her return in 1755.

Mary Ingles Elementary School in Tad, West Virginia is named for her.

Boone County Library statue of Mary Draper Ingles

An 8-foot-tall (2.4 m) bronze statue depicting Mary Draper Ingles stands outside the Boone County Public Library on route 18 in Burlington, Kentucky. Commemorating her escape from captivity at Big Bone Lick, the statue stands upon a granite base mounted with a bronze plaque outlining her story.

Kentucky Route 8 in Cambell, Bracken, and Mason counties is officially named "Mary Ingles Highway."

Ingles Ferry was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and the Ingles Bottom Archeological Sites in 1978.[23]

The Virginia Tech library holds documents once owned by Mary Draper Ingles.


  1. ^ "About the Ingles Family", Virginia History Exchange
  2. ^ Ingles, John, The Story of Mary Draper Ingles and Son Thomas Ingles, circa 1824. [This manuscript by Mary's son, who had the story orally from his mother, is at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collection in the University of Virginia library. It is very difficult to read, with little punctuation, and poor spelling. It has been reproduced in an edition by Roberta Ingles Steele which retains the eccentricities of the author; copies are available at the Radford Public Library. This is probably the most significant primary document.]
  3. ^ a b "A Register of the Persons Who Have Been Either Killed, Wounded, or Taken Prisoners by the Enemy, in Augusta County, as also such as Have Made Their Escape," in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. II, June 1895, published by the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia.
  4. ^ James Duvall,"The Context of Captivity: Mary Ingles at Big Bone Lick," paper presented at Northern Kentucky History Day, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c Ellen Apperson Brown, "What Really Happened at Drapers Meadows? The Evolution of a Frontier Legend," Virginia History Exchange website.
  6. ^ Kathy Cummings, "Walking in Their Footsteps: The Journey of Mary Ingles." Pioneer Times website.
  7. ^ a b Gary Jennings, "An Indian Captivity," American Heritage Magazine, August 1968, Vol. 19, Issue 5.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Transcript of John Ingles' manuscript "The Narrative of Col. John Ingles Relating to Mary Ingles and the Escape from Big Bone Lick," 1824.
  9. ^ William Cecil Pendleton, History of Tazewell County and Southwest Virginia: 1748-1920, W. C. Hill printing Company, 1920, p. 270.
  10. ^ a b John Lewis Peyton, History of Augusta County, Virginia, Samuel M. Yost & son, 1882, pp. 212-14.
  11. ^ a b c d e Letitia Preston Floyd, “Memoirs of Letitia Preston Floyd, written Feb. 22, 1843 to her son Benjamin Rush Floyd."
  12. ^ a b c d John Peter Hale, Trans-Allegheny Pioneers: Historical Sketches of the First White Settlements West of the Alleghenies, 1886.
  13. ^ Thomas D. Davis, "Pioneer physicians of Western Pennsylvania: the president's address of the Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania" Pennsylvania, 1901; pp. 20-21.
  14. ^ Jennings (1968) identifies her as a "Mrs. Bingamin", wife of Henry Bingamin, both German immigrants. In his book History of Tazewell County and Southwest Virginia: 1748-1920 (1920) William Cecil Pendleton states that her name was "Frau Stump" and that she had been kidnapped from a settlement near Fort Duquesne. Ed Robey ("Who was the Old Dutch Woman?") believes that she was the wife of "Dutch Jacob," and was kidnapped during an attack on a New River community on 3 July, 1755.
  15. ^ E. M. Lahr and James Alexander Thom, Angels along the river: retracing the escape route of Mary Draper Ingles, Bloomington, Ind.: AuthorHouse, 2011.
  16. ^ a b c d e James Duvall, "Mary Ingles and the Escape from Big Bone Lick," Boone County Public Library, 2009.
  17. ^ a b Contemporary newspaper account of Mary Ingles' escape, New York Mercury Monday 26 Jan 1756, p. 3 col. 1.
  18. ^ "Mary Draper Ingles" entry in The Kentucky Encyclopedia.
  19. ^ a b Luther F. Addington, "Captivity of Mary Draper Ingles," Historical "Sketches of Southwest Virginia, Southwest Virginia Historical Society, Publication No 2, 1967.
  20. ^ "Data for a Memoir of Thomas Ingles of Augusta Kentucky, 1854 by Thomas Ingles Jr.". Manuscript held at the Boone County Public Library. Peyton says the Indian attack took place in 1782 but Thomas Ingles Jr. gives his birth date as 1791.
  21. ^ Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, Volume 106, University of Michigan 1972; p. 230.
  22. ^ Heather Bell, "Reviving the Long Way Home: City holds public forum to discuss new historic drama," Radford News Journal, November 25, 2011.
  23. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 

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