Draper/ Ingles Family

James Alexander Thoms " Follow the River "

A Novel Based on the True Ordeal of Mary Draper Ingles of Draper's Meadow, Virginia.

ISBN 0-345-33854-5


Mary Draper Ingles' captivity was but one of an estimated 2,000 incidents of kidnapping of white settlers, male and female, adult and child, during the French and Indian War. The ordeals of captivity, torture and escape provided grist for the artistic imagination for many years. The tales, both factual and fictional, that grew out of these adventures made a thrilling undercurrent in American folklore, fired prejudices that resulted in the implacable and merciless treatment of Indian nations during the westward march of American settlement and, of course, contributed to the shaping of the national character.

Many personal accounts of such escapades were printed in booklet form during and after the French and Indian War, often in florid, dramatic style, and were read with horrified fascination by people whose fantasies dwelt on the "naked and undisciplined savage" with whom they shared the continent. To the religious, such perilous adventures could be interpreted as supreme tests of faith, or often as the symbolic equivalent of a journey into hell -- complete with naked demons and the burning of flesh. Often the booklets served also to convey anti-Catholic propaganda among Colonials of Anglican Protestant faith. Many such tales referred to French Catholic priests who moved among the Indians and allegedly granted them absolution for their murders and tortures.

Among the annals of Indian captivity there are many which recount sufferings and tortures one can scarcely imagine, and there were several escapes that seem all but incredible.

But the one I have treated in this book is, to me, the most amazing and inspiring. It is one of those focused demonstrations of what the human spirit -- not just the hardened, trained spirit of the professional soldier or adventurer, but the spirit of a vulnerable, frightened, "ordinary" person -- can endure.

Mary Draper Ingles did recover from the odyssey described in this book. She bore four more children -- three daughters and a son -- by her husband William, raising them in the wilderness around Ingles' Ferry and surviving, alongside her husband, at least one other Indian raid on their frontier home. William Ingles left her a widow when he died in 1782 at the age of 53 years.

She died in 1815 at 83 years of age, sixty eventful years after her great ordeal, and was, according to the accounts of relatives and acquaintances, vigorous, self-reliant and robust into the very last year of her life.

Her son Georgie, aged two at the time of their capture, reportedly died in the Shawnee nation shortly after being separated from his mother. The elder son, Thomas, had all but forgotten his native tongue and his white parents during his thirteen years as an adopted Shawnee.

William and Mary Ingles, however, had not forgotten him. They continued inquiries until 1768, when the free captive William Baker brought news of him. William Ingles and Baker made two trips into the Shawnee country before succeeding in buying Tommy back from his Shawnee parents for the equivalent of about $150. But Thomas was reluctant to return to the white man's civilization and would disappear into the wilderness for long periods of time, armed with his bow and arrows. Gradually he was re-educated in the white man's culture, studying for a while in Albermarle County of Virginia, becoming acquainted with Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and James Madison.

Eventually young Thomas Ingles married and determined to settle and farm, but the pull of the wilderness caused him to uproot himself from time to time and stay on the farthest points of white advance into the Virginia country. When he could, he visited in the Ohio country with old fellow tribesmen of the Shawnees.

His determination to live far ahead of the general settlement eventually led, in April 1782, to an incident so similar to his parents' ordeal in 1755 that it is almost uncanny:

While Thomas was in his fields, a large party of Indians surrounded his house, kidnapped his wife and three children, and looted and burned the property. Thomas, drawn to the scene by the smoke and noise, was unarmed and helpless to intervene and so was forced to watch his family being carried away -- just as he and his mother and brother had been carried away twenty-seven years earlier while his own father watched. As he knew the history of the Draper's Meadows massacre quite well, his emotions in that moment can be imagined.

Thomas joined and led a rescue expedition that caught up with the Indians on the fifth night after the capture. In an early-morning melee, the Indians tomahawked Thomas Ingles' five-year-old daughter, named Mary after her grandmother, and three-year-old son, named William after his grandfather. Thomas Ingles rushed into the camp and seized his wife, Eleanor, just as she was being struck on the head with a tomahawk. An infant daughter was spared when her mother fell over her. The escaping Indians then killed a militia captain in their retreat. The son and daughter died of their wounds, but Thomas' wife recovered after several pieces of skull bone were extracted from her head by a frontier doctor.

John and Bettie Draper lived at Draper's Meadows after John ransomed her in 1761. Four sons and three daughters were born to the Drapers after her return; she died in 1774 at the age of 42.

That same year, John Draper and Thomas Ingles served as lieutenants in the great wilderness battle of Point Pleasant, the spot where the captive Bettie and Mary had reached the Ohio nineteen years before.

John Draper remarried two years later, fathering two more daughters, and lived to the age of 94.

Matthew Ingles, William's younger brother who killed at least two Indians in hand-to-hand combat outside Vass' Fort, did not die immediately after he was overpowered. As brave and formidable fighters often did, Matthew Ingles excited the admiration of his Indian captors. He was either released or he made an escape from the war party soon after the massacre, but never recovered from his wounds, and died at Ingles' Ferry a few months later. His wife and child were murdered in the fort.

The Shawnees had indeed presumed that their prisoners, Mary Ingles and the old Dutch woman, were lost or killed by wild animals in the wilderness around Big Bone Lick. It was not until a certain meeting of Virginians and Shawnees some years later that the Indians learned of their long walk home. They were thrilled and awed by the account, which become something of a legend among the Indians.

The real name and eventual fate of the old Dutch woman who accompanied Mary Draper Ingles in her trek to freedom have, unfortunately, been lost to history. Historical sources dealing with the Ingles-Draper story say she eventually found transportation back to Pennsylvania and was never heard of again in the New River settlements. Historians of the region contend that her name was Stump or Stumf, and that she had been captured at the time of Braddock's defeat near Fort Duquesne, Pennsylvania, and brought down the Ohio to the Shawnee town on the Scioto where she met Mary Ingles. This is her history as I have chosen to see it, as there are no serious contentions to it and such movements seem quite feasible in the light of accounts of other prisoners taken after Braddock's defeat.

Because of the scarcity of Ingles family records concerning the period covered in this novel (many old family papers having been destroyed in fires and raids), I have relied most heavily on an account published in 1886, in a book entitled Trans-Allegheny Pioneers, by Dr. John P. Hale (1824-1902), a great-grandson of William and Mary Ingles. Dr. Hale, who was a physician, industrialist, banker and historian, seems to have based his grandmother's account mainly on a narrative, handwritten by Mary Ingles' youngest son, John Ingles (1766-1836), who had heard the tale many times from his parents. Dr. Hale fleshed out that spare narrative with a great deal of research, and by his extensive and detailed knowledge of the New River-Kanawha River Valley was able to fix the locations of most of the incidents in her narrative. Most of those places, of course, had been nameless at the time of her passage. In my novel, the entire length of this valley, to its mouth at the Ohio, is referred to as the New River Valley. It was not until years later that the stretch below the Gauley River's influx was named the Kanawha.

It is fascinating to note that Dr. Hale's major commercial enterprise was a salt-manufacturing complex on the Kanawha at the very place where Mary Draper Ingles was forced by her Indian captors to boil salt on their journey down this wild valley a century before. For many years the largest salt manufactory in the United States, it was a short distance upstream from Charleston, West Virginia.

The accounts of Mary Ingles' ordeal written by these two descendants agree almost exactly in the sequence and details of events, with but one curious difference: John Ingles' version makes no reference to his mother's pregnancy at the time of her capture, nor the delivery of a baby during her captivity.

That John Ingles failed to mention the birth and abandonment of that baby girl indicates either that his parents had never mentioned her in his presence, or that he chose not to include it in his narrative.

Dr. Hale credits the details of the baby's birth to papers authored by Mrs. Letitia Preston Floyd, a daughter of William Preston, longtime neighbor of Mrs. Ingles, and wife of Governor John Floyd II of Virginia, and indicates but does not name other sources.

He relates his information about the baby with such certainty and such richness of detail that I am convinced he was sure of his facts, and I have based my treatment of this part of the story on his information. I can readily believe that the desertion of one's infant -- even for the expedient of improving its survival prospects -- would be such a traumatic and complex emotional experience that one would not discuss it thereafter in the family.

Trying to recreate the character of someone who lived two centuries ago can only be an act of faith and imagination, with the hope that the fictional character will in some respect do justice to the real one. In writing of other historical figures, I have had pictures of them to indicate how they looked, and memoirs, diaries and letters to indicate what they thought and how they expressed those thoughts. For the creation of the fictional Mary Ingles, I had none of these. There were, of course, no cameras in her lifetime, and if any portrait painter roamed the rugged New River Valley in her time and painted her portrait, nothing is known of any such portrait. Not having seen any likeness, then, I have for physical description only her great-grandson's statement that she was athletic and strong.

Nothing is known, either, of any word or thought ever written by Mary Ingles; one of her descendants suggested to me the explanation that Mary Ingles likely was illiterate, as a large portion of American frontier colonials were at that time.

Working, therefore, without either her visage or her words to inspire and give me hints of her personality, I had to create her character out of her deeds alone.

And here was inspiration aplenty.
Mary Ingles' main adversary in the forty-three days of her remarkable trek was the wilderness -- in particular, the sombre, precipitous roaring New River-Kanawha River Valley, through which she had to pass in the inhospitable season of early winter. For my development of the character of his intimidating and merciless antagonist, I had more to go on: The valley is still there, and the researcher afoot, climbing, walking and sleeping down between its forested slopes and craggy cliffs, quickly comes to know it intimately and to respect it. It is a landscape worthy of myths and legends. It changes moods with the light and the weather. Sometimes it is stark and sometimes it is enchanting, but it is always beautiful. I spent many weeks retracing Mary Ingles' steps through the mountains and, though I have hiked and made my bed on the ground since childhood, I have seldom felt as tiny and overawed as I felt in the confines of that valley. In the morning mists I could see ghosts of Mary Ingles and the old Dutch woman toiling along the shores; in the endless symphony of rock and water I could hear the after-echoes of their voices calling across to each other. I could understand why they were afraid to lose sight of each other. Toward the end of my familiarization with that terrain, I climbed over the palisade cliffs she traversed on the last day of her odyssey. One can walk around the base of the cliff now; a railroad bed had long since been carved into the river's edge. But the pillars of the cliff still stand out above the river, and Mary Ingles' route can still be followed -- on all fours, of course. I climbed it, on a dry, moderate morning, fortified by a good night's rest in a sleeping bag and a breakfast of tinned beef, and the crossing took me three hours. That she crossed it on an icy day after six weeks of starvation and fatigue is marvelous.

After my familiarization with the terrain that tried her body and soul, I felt that I had as much understanding of the essential Mary Draper Ingles as one could have. What better study of a human spirit is there than a study of the trials it has overcome?

Of the several appearances of young George Washington in this novel, all are substantiated by historical documentation. There is no record that he did meet or speak to Mary Ingles at Vass' Fort, but I find it conceivable that he did, as he was inspecting the fort in his capacity as Virginia militia commander at about the time Mary Ingles was sheltered there. His keen interest in land speculation would have caused him, I am sure, to ask such questions as he asked her in this novel's dialogue.

My search for probable Mary Ingles led me eventually to those parts of West Virginia that were first opened up and developed by the Ingleses and the Drapers, and by good fortune I was directed to a great-great-great-granddaughter of that dauntless woman.

Roberta Ingles Steele of Radford, Virginia, might well have met me with reserve and suspicion. She feels that Mary Draper Ingles story has been distorted in many of its retellings through the years, and here I came, another outsider bent on doing another version of it. I could sense her reserve, but she did not hesitate to offer me her hospitality and a good hearing.

Mrs. Steele is, of course, a guardian of Ingles family history. Her great-great-grandfather was John Ingles, Sr., who was born in 1776, about a decade after his mother's return from captivity. His handwritten manuscript, the first known written account of her journey, is for Mrs. Steele the most authentic documentation of the story. That manuscript is preserved in the library of the University of Virginia. In 1969, Mrs. Steele and her brother, Andrew Lewis Ingles, edited and published an annotated version of that manuscript, under the title, Escape From Indian Captivity (Commonwealth Press Inc., Radford, Va.). They tried to decipher the original manuscript accurately, preserving John Ingles' spelling, word choice, style and punctuation.

Mrs. Steele sat with me on the broad, pleasant porch of her splendid Radford home, and we did our best to share our conceptions of the brave woman. Little by little she began to give me hints and leads for additional research, and also gave me a copy of Escape From Indian Captivity. She made a special trip away from the house to fetch a facsimile of the original manuscript for me. When I returned to Radford a few months later to continue my research, she arranged to drive me out to the site of Ingles' Ferry for a look at the hewn-log structure William Ingles had built there as an adjunct to his wayside inn. Mrs. Steele was at this time much bothered by the encroachments of vandals on the properties, and, indeed, by the general decline in morality and character that she professed to see going on throughout modern society. It was obvious that she had high expectations of people and probably not much patience with more sloppiness. The world built here through such risk and work and suffering by her ancestors was being eroded by modernity. I felt that her keen sense of worth and family pride, stemming from the pioneer heroism of Mary and William Ingles, is still trying to withstand the long siege of easier times, the slow softening of fiber. Through all her helpfulness and hospitality and dry humor, I could detect a sadder, more severe side. There was a vestige, I thought, of pioneer woman, looking down the centuries through the eyes of her descendants onto an undreamed-of world. It may be only my writer's fancy, but I think I glimpsed the character of Mary Draper Ingles, that doughty survivor, in the face and the demeanor of this keeper of her legend.

And so my special thanks go to Roberta Steele for lending me her ancestor so that I might try to tell an inspiring story. I am also grateful to Rev. Harold J. Dudley of Raleigh, North Carolina, editor of the Third Edition of John P. Hale's Trans-Allegheny Pioneers (Derreth Printing Co., Raleigh, North Carolina), for making his thoughts and his insights available to me; and to dozens of Virginians and West Virginians living along the New River Valley who gave me directions, hospitality and friendship, guided me to great views and campsites at the tops and bottoms of mountains and paddled me here and there in their fishing boats because, knowing I was writing a book about their legendary Mary Ingles, they apparently wanted to make my passage up the valley easier than hers.

Submitted by SGT. Philip Atkins. © Copyright 1996, Atkins & Associates. Visit his homepage for more genealogy. Philip's also maintains the Lincoln County, WV web stite!

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