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To escape her Shawnee Indian captors, Mary Draper Ingles of southwestern Virginia traversed 800 miles of wilderness, including West Virginia’s rugged New River Gorge. Mary was born in Philadelphia in 1731 to Scotch-Irish immigrants. Until she was 13, her family homesteaded in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In 1744, the Drapers migrated southwest to found Draper’s Meadow (now Blacksburg, Virginia). In 1750, Mary Draper married her neighbor, William Ingles.

Frontier war erupted between the French and British in 1755. A war party of French-allied Shawnee attacked Draper’s Meadow and captured Mary Ingles, her two sons, and her sister-in-law. The Shawnee took the captives to a village along the Scioto River, where it joins with the Ohio. Ingles emerged as the captives’ courageous leader and earned the Shawnees’ respect.

Indian families adopted Mary Ingles’s children and sister-in-law. Mary was put to work sewing shirts for two French traders living with the Shawnee. When the traders took Ingles down the Ohio River to a salt-making camp in Kentucky, she escaped with another captive. Ingles traveled up the Ohio and Kanawha rivers and on through the New River Gorge, scaling rock cliffs, eating tree bark, and sleeping in hollow logs. She suffered starvation, frostbite, and delirium. Once home, she continued living on the New River and had several more children. Son Thomas Ingles wrote of his mother’s daring escape and journey home several years after her death. Since then, her story has been the topic of novels, plays, and movies, including the popular Follow the River by James Alexander Thom.

This Article was written by Mary Rodd Furbee

Last Revised on December 07, 2015

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Cite This Article

Furbee, Mary Rodd "Mary Draper Ingles." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 07 December 2015. Web. 26 April 2017.

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