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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
Return to Indian Captives Main Page