Draper's Meadow massacre

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Draper's Meadow Massacre
LocationDraper's Meadow, Virginia
DateJuly 8 or July 30, 1755
Attack type
Mass murder
Deaths5-8 killed

In July 1755, a small outpost in southwest Virginia, at the present day Blacksburg, was raided by a group of Shawnee Indian warriors, who killed at least five people including an infant child and captured five more.[1] The Indians traveled back with their hostages to a Shawnee village in Kentucky. One of the captives, Mary Draper Ingles later escaped and returned home on foot through the wilderness. Although many of the actual circumstances of the incident are uncertain, including the date of the attack, the event remains a dramatic story in the history of Virginia.[2]


The original 7,500 acre (30 km²) tract that became known as Draper's Meadow was awarded sometime before 1737 by Governor Robert Dinwiddie to Colonel James Patton, an Irish sea captain turned land speculator.[3] This land was bordered by Tom's Creek on the north, Stroubles Creek on the south and the Mississippi watershed (modern-day U.S. Route 460) on the east; it approached the New River on the west. The settlement was situated on the present day campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. At the time of the attack, the area had been populated by a group of around twenty settlers who were a mix of migrants from Pennsylvania of English and Germanic origin.[1] A marker commemorating the massacre is located near the Duck Pond on the Virginia Tech campus.

The Massacre[edit]

Rising tensions between the natives and western settlers were exacerbated by fighting in the French and Indian War and the encroachment on tribal hunting grounds. Recent victories by the French over the British, although north of Virginia, had left much of the frontier unprotected. In the summer of 1755 several settlements had been ravaged by the Indians. On July 9 a force of about 1300 British soldiers under the command of General Edward Braddock had been decisively defeated by French troops and Shawnees at the Battle of the Monongahela, which encouraged further violence against settlers in the region.

On July 30 (see disagreement of sources about the date below) a group of Shawnee (then allies of the French) entered the sparsely populated camp virtually unimpeded and killed at least five people and wounded at least one person and burned the settlement.[4] Among the victims were Colonel James Patton, Caspar Barger, and two people in Mary Draper Ingles' family: her mother (Elenor Draper), and the baby of her sister-in-law Bettie Robertson Draper, who (the baby) was killed by dashing its head against the wall of a cabin.[2][5] Other children in the settlement may have been killed in a similar way.[6] Colonel William Preston (Colonel Patton's nephew) and John Draper (Bettie Draper's husband, Mary's brother) were not at the settlement at the time of the attack, as they were working on the field, and survived. William Ingles (Mary's husband) was attacked and nearly killed but managed to flee into the forest.[7]

One of the victims, Caspar Barger, was described as an old man and was decapitated by the Indians; they delivered his head in a bag to a neighbor, explaining that an acquaintance had arrived to visit.[8] Five (or possibly six) settlers were captured and taken back to Kentucky as captives to live among the tribe, including Mary Draper Ingles and her two sons, Thomas (4) and George (2).[1] Mary escaped at Big Bone, Kentucky, without her children, and made a journey of more than eight hundred miles (1,300 km) across the Appalachian Mountains back to Draper's Meadow.[9]

Some sources state that Mary was pregnant when captured and gave birth to her daughter in captivity, and that she abandoned her baby when she decided to escape,[3][10][11] however there is evidence to the contrary.[2]

The Aftermath[edit]

In the aftermath, Draper's Meadow was abandoned, as was much of the frontier for the duration of the French and Indian War. William Preston, who had been in Draper's Meadow on the morning of the attack but left on an errand and so was saved, eventually obtained the property, which became Smithfield Plantation and later Blacksburg. Out of the surviving family members, only the Bargers returned later to reclaim their land and settle.[12]

Survivors relocated in 1787 to Blockhouse Bottom near what is now East Point, Kentucky.[13] After her escape, Mary Draper Ingles reunited with her husband and in 1762 they established Ingles Ferry across the New River, along with a tavern and a blacksmith shop. Mary died there in 1815.

Mary's son Thomas and sister-in-law Bettie were eventually ransomed from the Indians, but the others who were kidnapped at Draper's Meadow died in captivity.[14]

Historical accuracy[edit]

Except for a few scattered references to these events in contemporary reports and letters,[4] the primary sources are:

1) the 1824 written account by Colonel John Ingles[7] (son of Mary Ingles and William Ingles, born in 1766 after Mary's return);
2) parts of an 1843 letter by Letitia Preston Floyd[3] (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.[2]

John Peter Hale (1824-1902), 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.[10]

Popular culture[edit]

The story of Mary Draper Ingles' escape and journey home has inspired a number of books, films, 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, and the 2004 film The Captives. There is an acclaimed outdoor drama performed each summer in Radford, Virginia entitled, "Walk To Freedom: The Mary Draper Ingles Story," which details the events during the attack at Drapers Meadows and Mary Draper Ingles' heroic trek through the wilderness to reach her home in the New River Valley.


  1. ^ a b c "Drapers Meadow: Few traces remain of the site of a bloody 1755 Indian attack". The Roanoke Times. Retrieved 2013-11-30.
  2. ^ a b c d Brown, Ellen A. (2012). "What Really Happened at Drapers Meadows? The Evolution of a Frontier Legend" (PDF). Virginia History Exchange. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Letitia Preston Floyd, “Memoirs of Letitia Preston Floyd, written Feb. 22, 1843 to her son Benjamin Rush Floyd."
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Kegly, Mary B. (1980). Early Adventures on the Western Waters. Vol. I: The New River of Virginia in Pioneer Days. 1745 - 1800. Orange, Virginia: Green Publishers. p. 352.
  6. ^ William Cecil Pendleton, History of Tazewell County and Southwest Virginia: 1748-1920, W. C. Hill printing Company, 1920, p. 270.
  7. ^ a b Transcript of John Ingles' manuscript "The Narrative of Col. John Ingles Relating to Mary Ingles and the Escape from Big Bone Lick," 1824.
  8. ^ "Mary Ingles' Escape Story Like 'Thriller' Fiction Tale". Charleston Daily Mail, June 4, 1937. Retrieved 2007-11-14.
  9. ^ James Duvall, "Mary Ingles and the Escape from Big Bone Lick," Boone County Public Library, 2009.
  10. ^ a b John Peter Hale, Trans-Allegheny Pioneers: Historical Sketches of the First White Settlements West of the Alleghenies, 1886.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Historic Structure Report: History Narrative". University Libraries, Virginia Tech. Archived from the original on 2003-05-05. Retrieved 2007-11-14.
  13. ^ Federal Writers' Project (1996). The WPA Guide to Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky. p. 240. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  14. ^ Luther F. Addington, "Captivity of Mary Draper Ingles," Historical "Sketches of Southwest Virginia, Southwest Virginia Historical Society, Publication No 2, 1967.