Skip to main content

Mary Draper Ingles - Courageous Pioneer Woman Escaped Captivity by the Shawnee in 1755

Phyllis believes it is so important to educate our children on Early American History, for it is what shaped our country.

Mary Draper Ingles Statue at Boone County Public Library, Burlington, Kentucky

Statue of Mary Draper Ingles

Statue of Mary Draper Ingles

A True Heroine

There are so many heroines, a plethora of them actually, in the legends of folklore. There are libraries full of them, from every culture in the world. Yet, women of this stature often are on the pages of history in real life -- one of these women is Mary Draper Ingles, courageous pioneer woman, a true heroine of the pioneer days in West Virginia.

Mary's story is one of incredible courage, strength, and determination that is astounding enough to make one think only a woman of 'make believe' could have accomplished what she did. Yet real she was and true is her story.

Mary Draper was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1732. Her parents, George Draper and Elenor Hardin Draper had immigrated from Donegal, Ireland in 1729. When Mary was sixteen, the family moved to what was then the western frontier, near today's town of Blacksburg, in Southwest Virginia, west of the Alleghanies.

Along with other families who joined them, they established a small community and called it Draper's Meadow. It was a small farming settlement of just ten families. Mary's father, George, disappeared in 1748 while hunting -- no trace of him was ever found.

Ingles Cabin, c. 1890

William and Mary Ingles original Cabin.

William and Mary Ingles original Cabin.

Draper’s Meadow

The original 7,500 acre tract was awarded to James Patton, an Irish sea captain turned land speculator. Bordered by Tom's Creek on the north, Stroubles Creek on the south and the Mississippi Watershed on the east, Draper's Meadow sat in a lovely area. To the west, the settlement went as far as the New River. Nearby what was once a small farming settlement with hopeful pioneers brave enough to face the wilderness, is the campus of present day Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Mary and William Ingles, a fellow settler, were married in 1750. William was born in London in 1729. They had two sons. Thomas was born in 1751 and George in 1753. Life was not easy in the small settlement, but hopes and determination to succeed is what kept the people working hard and finding simple joys in their new life.

Attack From Shawnee

Being in the path of the French and Indian War was a constant source of tension for the Ingles and their neighbors. Great Britain and France each had their Native American allies. With fighting between the two countries going on in other areas, this basically left the settlers of Draper's Meadow unprotected. There seems to have been no previous problems with the Shawnee tribe as they passed through the settlement often. Yet, rising tensions due to the war affected both the tribes and the settlers of southwest Virginia.

The summer of 1755 put an abrupt and horrific end for some of the lives at the small settlement. For the survivors, the life of happiness they had carved out of the wilderness for themselves suddenly changed forever. On July 8 of that year a band of Shawnees attacked Draper's Meadow.

The vulnerable little settlement was not prepared for what happened that day. Colonel James Patton (visiting that day) was killed. Elenor Draper (Mary's mother), Casper Draper (Mary's infant nephew), and an elderly man, Philip Barger were also killed. Mary, her two sons, George (two years old) and Thomas (four years old), her sister-in-law Betty Draper (Casper's mother), and others were taken as captives by the Shawnee.

William Ingles, Mary's husband, was not in the settlement that day, he was out in the fields working at the harvest. John Ingles, William and Mary's son, wrote an account of the attack many years later. In his report he said that his father, William, had heard the attack and came running back to the settlement. It being a harvest day, William was away from the houses. When two Shawnee men saw him, they took off to capture or kill William. "By the grace of God", John had written, William outran the Shawnee. At one point he tripped and fell behind a fallen log, where he stayed hidden till the Shawnee gave up looking for him.

Torn From Their Homes

After being taken away from their homes and seeing their family members and friends killed, the captives would have been numb with horror with thoughts of what their own fates were. They were taken away down the New River, going north (the New River flows south to north and crosses the mountains from east to west) until they came to the Kanawha where they made camp. A month later the party reached their Shawnee village on the banks of the Scioto and Ohio rivers in Kentucky.

A mother's worst fear is to lose a child. Both of Mary's boys were taken away from her. The torment Mary must have gone through about the safety of her little boys is unimaginable. Thomas was traded to an indian tribe near Detroit and George was traded to a family from another tribe in Ohio. With Bettie, her sister-in-law, being adopted by a chief, Mary was then alone with the tribe who captured her. One elderly Dutch woman was also a captive in that village. There are different versions of what happened to Mary during her time of captivity. The account written by John Ingles, her son, has been considered by many as the most accurate story, so the history is based mainly on the account John wrote.

Slave Life or die Free

Again Mary was moved further from her home when she and the Dutch woman were taken to Big Bone Lick, 150 miles north of the village. There they were put to work to make salt. Mary must have had less attention at this place, for she convinced the Dutch woman to escape with her. They must have believed that rather than live a life of captive slaves, it would be far better to die free in the wilderness.

On an October afternoon in 1755, Mary and her friend were in the woods gathering nuts and wild grapes. When they felt it was safe, they slipped deeper into the woods and began their journey home. In worn, tattered clothes and one blanket each, they disappeared. When the captives were taken to the Shawnee village, Mary must have somehow marked the time and landmarks along the way and kept this information in her mind.

Mary knew not what she now faced, but her determination to get back home motivated her to face any unknown threat. She had one tomahawk and that was her only weapon. Mary and her friend avoided any established trails and stayed in the forests until they came to the New River once again. In John Ingles account, what the women ate during their journey was "such as black walnuts grapes pawpaws etc. & very often so pushed with hunger that they wood dig up roots & eate that they knew nothing of."

New River

New River in Montgomery County, Virginia.

New River in Montgomery County, Virginia.

New River Gorge

New River Gorge Bridge Overlook, opposite from Fayetteville, WV, USA.

New River Gorge Bridge Overlook, opposite from Fayetteville, WV, USA.

Scroll to Continue

Determination to Make it Before Winter

The season was changing fast and winter would be upon them before long. Their clothes, tattered when they escaped, were now in shreds. Starving, nearly naked, barefoot, and weak, they finally reached the New River Gorge in West Virginia.

Somewhere along the way, Mary left the old Dutch woman with people they had met. According to one family story, the Dutch woman had become so deranged from hunger and cold that she threatened to kill and eat Mary. According to this legend, it became necessary for Mary to cross the river to stay safe from any attack by the older lady -- yet they kept in sight of each other during the day, yelling back and forth to keep in touch and journeyed on till they met the people who took the Dutch woman in. Mary was determined to reach home and did not linger. She continued following the Ohio, Kanawha and New rivers towards home.

Mary Ingles had to Climb a Similar Cliff at Endless Wall

Section of the cliff at Endless Wall in New River Gorge.

Section of the cliff at Endless Wall in New River Gorge.

Just two More Days

The last two days of Mary's treacherous journey home was spent climbing a steep 1000 foot elevation mountain called Anvil Rock, not an easy climb for anyone, especially a barefoot, weak woman suffering from starvation.

Coming down the other side, Mary saw Adam Harmon and his two sons who were out in their cornfield, gathering the last of the year's harvest. The men heard a weak voice calling to them, and again another call for help. They ran over and found Mary, naked and nothing but skin and bones. She was taken inside their cabin and cared for till reunited with her husband.

It was late November, 1755, when Mary reached home. It had taken her nearly two months to travel over 800 miles by foot. It was a miraculous journey for Mary, who managed to avoid further attacks from Indians and wild animals.

Mary's youngest son, George, never returned home -- he died while in captivity in Ohio. Thomas stayed with the Shawnee for many years and learned their way of life. In 1768, Thomas was ransomed and returned to his parents. He spent several years in the Castle Hill rehabilitation center, under the care of Dr. Thomas Walker.

Mary died at the age of 83, in 1815.

Follow This River

Mary Draper Ingles Monument of Chimney Stones

Mary Draper Ingles monument in Radford's West End Cemetery.

Mary Draper Ingles monument in Radford's West End Cemetery.


The reconstructed cabin Mary and William lived in still stands in the same location, near what is now Radford, Virginia. Mary and William lived there the rest of their lives and had four more children, three daughters and one more son.

In 1762, William and Mary established a ferry across the New River. The Ingles Ferry Tavern is still there. It is now a living history historical preserve where enactors portray life during the time of the Ingles family.

There is a monument to Mary in Radford’s West End Cemetery -- it is made from the original chimney stones of William and Mary’s cabin.

A statue of Mary stands in front of the Boone County Public Library in Burlington, Kentucky.

~ ~ ~ ~

© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns


Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on June 07, 2014:

Oh -- and Pyramid Lake is about 30 minutes from us. It is a very mysterious and haunted place out there. Supposedly, the lake is bottomless and a lot of disappearances of boats have occurred -- never found. And the rock formations are fabulous. The Paiute people have legends about those formations, like Stone Mother. She is formed of rock, sittiing, holding a basket., waiting for her lost children to return.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on June 07, 2014:

Yes, it is spiritually invigorating. I am a water sign and the goddess I associate with is Danu, Celtic goddess of water.

Reno is not bad, really -- if you stay away from downtown. We are close to Lake Tahoe (about an hour drive). Many people do not see anything pretty in desert country, but if you know the desert, it is really beautiful in its own way. Plus we are surrounded by beautiful mountains. Where I live, it is a big open sky and I see a lot of meteorites, etc. Plus the desert at night has a lot of mystery and ancient voices if one know how to listen.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on June 07, 2014:

Being near lakes, rivers, and oceans are spiritually invigorating. Bet the Truckee is one such place. How is Reno to live in? Some people i know who have resided there didn't care for it all that much.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on June 07, 2014:

I knew you read this before, Dane. I have heard from other people back your way and in West Virginia that New River is a beautiful area. I would love to see it. I love being close to bodies of water. The Truckee here is the river we often go to for picnics and walking.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on June 07, 2014:

That's it, Phyllis, Mary Draper Ingles! Bet I remembered part of her name from your hub here. Btw, the New River is an awesome and unique flow of water. Development is encroaching some but a lot of it is protected thank goodness.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on June 06, 2014:

I wrote another hub on Cynthia Ann Parker. She was captured by the Comanche at the age of nine. Peta, a Comanche war chief, and Cynthia Ann married when she was older. Their oldest son was Quanah Parker, the last Comanche chief. Cynthia was recaptured by her white relatives when her youngest child was a baby. It is a very interesting story you might like to read.

Carolyn Emerick on June 06, 2014:

That sounds about right. I took a women's history course that mentioned a few examples and I can't remember which is which, if it was Mary Jemison whose family kidnapped her back and she kept running away to re-join the Indians. Definitely need a refresher. Anyway the history course was emphasizing that Native life was more desirable compared to Anglo-society in terms of how women are treated. But, I do have the feeling that notion may not have been taking all scenarios into account!

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on June 06, 2014:

Hi Carolyn. Thanks for reading and commenting. I am glad you enjoyed Mary Draper's story. The lady you are thinking about, I believe is Mary Jemison. She was 15 when captured during the Seven Years War. It would make a great hub. Let me know if you write about her, I will love reading it. Thanks again.

Carolyn Emerick on June 06, 2014:

Thank you for this story! I have heard other stories of white women abducted into Native settlements, and a few of these women preferred life with the Indians to their pioneer life. Maybe it depends on the situation, as some became wives rather than slaves. I can't think of her name but there was a true story near my home locally, I think her surname was Jameson. Anyway, I've wanted to look her up and write about her and your story reminded me, thank you :-). What an incredibly brave woman! Thank you for sharing her story.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on June 06, 2014:

You are so sweet, Lady G.

Debra Allen from West Virginia on June 06, 2014:

Thank you for that. I did enjoy it very much.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on June 06, 2014:

I saw Alastar had mentioned Mary Draper Ingles on his hub you commented on, so shared it so you could read. Thanks so much, Lady G.

Debra Allen from West Virginia on June 06, 2014:

Wow what a great historical hub! Interesting Alastar on that. There is so much history in these hills and in these states.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 08, 2014:

Hi Alastar, so good to see you here! Mary's story really fascinates me with the determination and strength she had. Women were amazing in those times for their accomplishments. That is so interesting about the Moravian mission and the bell ringing that held the Cherokee back. Thanks for sharing that, Dane. I hope all is well with you. Thanks for the visit and comment, I really appreciate it.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on January 08, 2014:

HI Phyllis! Been saving these one to read ASAP. How hardy, brave, and determined women could be in those. Mary's story is fascinating and thank you writing on it. Here is something cool: During those same years a large band of Cherokee refused to attack the Moravian mission at what now is Winston-Salem. When they were asked later what held them back they said it was the church bells ringing!

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 13, 2013:

Thank you, worldlifecoach -- I appreciate that very much.

Chappell Hotep from La Jolla, CA on December 13, 2013:


Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 11, 2013:

Vespawoolf, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Even though Mary's sons were taken from her, the love for her freedom and husband kept pulling her on. What a determined woman she was. Thanks again for the visit, I appreciate it.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on December 11, 2013:

What a gripping true story! I agree...she was better off facing the wilderness than slavery, although she always didn´t survive. I´m glad she was reunited with her husband although the fate of her sons was sad. This was well-written and I enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 07, 2013:

Hi Genna,

Thanks for stopping by and reading. Today, we often do not realize the amazing things the women of early days had to do to survive -- this is why I am so grateful that some people had the foresight to write things down and pass it on to future generations. The courage and determination Mary had to get back to her home and husband is an amazing thing to learn about.

Thanks again, Genna. Comments you made really encourage me to continue writing about women in history. Thanks for the votes and sharing. Have a great evening and weekend.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on December 07, 2013:

Hi Phyllis...

I enjoyed reading this factual account of a remarkable woman. The photo of the small cabin was so depressing...I can’t envision living in such conditions, today. Yet again, your comment about them finding the simple joys in life really hit home; I think we take this for granted, when they obviously, didn’t.

Witnessing family members being killed at the hands of her captors was horrific enough. To watch her children being torn from her is unimaginable. Her 2-month journey through the wilds is nothing short of a miracle of raw determination and courage that is beyond amazing. I was saddened to hear that her youngest son died in captivity; and that Thomas was not returned home until many years later.

The memorial to Mary is certainly deserved…I am in awe of such courage. This was a truly great woman, and you told her story, superbly. Voted up and shared.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 05, 2013:

ziyena, what a beautiful area to live in -- it must have been wonderful. It is so amazing that Mary Draper had such courage and determination to reach her home. Walking all that way, barefoot and starving -- just incredible ! Thank you so much for reading and sharing your experience in that area.

ziyena from the Somewhere Out There on December 05, 2013:

I've read the book and watched the movie. As a child, living near the Ohio River Valley and within the Appalachians, it's so easy to day-dream about this woman's experience. What it must have been like to live in such fear, constant will to survive in such rugged and beautiful terrain. An amazing story and thank you for the reminder. UP

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 05, 2013:

Jodah, thank you so much for your visit and praise -- it is much appreciated.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on December 05, 2013:

Enthralling story of bravery and determination to get home. Very well written Phyllis.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 04, 2013:

Hi Bill. Thank you for visiting and commenting. Glad you enjoyed it.

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on December 04, 2013:

Always enjoy hearing the story. Thanks for sharing here! ;-)

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 04, 2013:

Eric, thank you so much for the visit and comment. I am so glad you liked the article. I appreciate your visit. Thanks again.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 04, 2013:

DDE, wow! thank you so much for your wonderful praise. I am so glad you like this article. I have many subjects I like to write about -- women in history is one of my favorite. Thank you for the visit, read, comment and votes -- I greatly appreciate it.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 04, 2013:

Wow what a great read. Just an incredible story told with just the right amount of everything. Thank you

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 04, 2013:

An extraordinary hub, informative and well researched. This is an amazing story and well told about the brave Mary Draper Ingles you said it all here. Voted up, interesting, and useful, also an education hub.

Related Articles