July 8, 1755 began as an ordinary day for Mary Draper Ingles, frontier wife and mother. Her husband, William, was toiling in a faraway field while she worked in the cabin. Their dwelling, one of a small group of log houses in Draper’s Meadows, was west of the Allegheny divide in the mountains of Virginia.
The peaceful morning was shattered by warring Shawnee. Many in the settlement were killed. Mary, her two young sons; Tommy and Georgie, her sister in law Bettie Draper and a neighbor; Henry Lenard were taken captive.
The Indians headed west with these prisoners. Mary, unfamiliar with the country they were traveling through, memorized landmarks. She realized that most of the journey followed rivers.
A month later the group arrived at a Shawnee village on the banks of the Ohio and Scioto Rivers, the location of Portsmouth, Ohio today. A few weeks after their arrival the captives were split up. Tommy and Georgie were sent to Shawnee villages deeper into the Ohio country while Mary was purchased by two French traders. Bettie Draper was adopted by a middle aged chief who had recently lost his daughter. She was taken to the region of Chillicothe. It is unclear what happened to Henry Lenard.
Mary was shattered when separated from her children but strengthened in her resolve to return home.
About the middle of September the French traders took Mary and another captive, the “Old Dutch Woman”, to Big Bone Salt Lick to make salt. It is near present day Cincinnati.
The women conspired to escape, slipped away from the camp, and headed home. They followed the Ohio, the Kanawha, and the New Rivers. The journey took forty three days and by its completion they had walked over 800 miles. They arrived weak and skeletal.
Some of the history of Mary’s ordeal is hazy and lost to time. Two primary accounts were written about it. One was written by her great-grandson, John P. Hale. It says that Mary was nine months pregnant when captured and gave birth a few days afterward. The other account, written by Mary’s grandson, John Ingles, Sr., makes no mention of a baby.
Little is known of the “Old Dutch Woman”. Her given name is even unknown. She returned to Pennsylvania after the incident.
Bettie Draper was ransomed from the Shawnee in 1761 and lived the rest of her days with her husband at Draper’s Meadows.
Georgie died in Indian captivity but Thomas was bought back at the age of 17. He had a difficult adjustment, however and preferred to live on the edge of the frontier. Ironically, his own family was attacked by Indians. Two of his children were killed and his wife severely wounded.
William and Mary had four children; three daughters and one son, in the years following her return. William died in 1782 at the age of 53. Mary died in 1815 at 83.
Alexander Thom wrote a best-selling novel, Follow the River, about Mary’s experience.