Mary Draper Ingles

Cabin by the New River, where Mary & William lived out their years after Mary's return from captivity
Cabin by the New River where Mary and William lived out their years after Mary's return from captivity


In 1755, New River Gorge was the site of one of the great stories of survival and endurance in American history. During that time, the New River area was the far western frontier of English settlement. England and France were also at war for control of North America. This war would affect many settlers and Native Americans, including a woman named Mary Draper Ingles.

Early Life

Mary Draper, the daughter of Scotch-Irish immigrants, was born in Philadelphia in 1731. In the 1740s, her family moved to the west side of the colony of Virginia. They settled near the present-day site of Virginia Tech University. There, her family and others founded a small settlement called Drapers Meadows. Several years later when she was a young adult, Mary married her neighbor, William Ingles. Together they built a homestead and began raising a family.


Like all wars, The French and Indian War brought horrors to the civilian peoples caught in its path. In July of 1755, Shawnee warriors, allies of France, attacked Drapers Meadows. They killed three men, one woman, and an infant child and took one man, two women, and two young boys captive. Among these captives were Mary Draper Ingles and her two sons, Tommy, four, and George, two. The captives began an intense forced march to the Shawnee's home villages near present-day Chillicothe, Ohio. To slow down or complain would have meant death for Mary and her children. On arrival at the Shawnee towns, the tribe took her two boys for adoption into the tribe. Mary was given into servitude to a French trader.

Map showing Mary's path home along the Ohio, Kanawha, and New Rivers
Mary's journey to the Shawnee village and return trip home with the Old Dutch Woman



During her captivity, Mary met another captive known from history as the "old Dutch woman". The term "Dutch" at that time referred to German immigrants, but her actual origins are unknown. It is possible her name was Mrs. Stump. In October, the two captives planned an escape. With no supplies, the two women escaped into a vast, rugged wilderness. Winter was coming fast, but determination carried them forward. The only hope of survival was to follow the rivers eastward to English settlements. Starting with the Ohio River, the two made their way to the Kanawha River and the New River.

For forty days, Mary and the Dutch woman struggled along riverbanks and deep rocky gorges. They scavenged for food and shelter, living off the land as best they could. The two separated after a hunger induced fight leaving Mary to continue the final days alone. Finally, after walking for 500 miles, Mary arrived at the snow-covered remains of her home in Draper Meadows. Neighbors found her, took her in, and nursed her back to health. A few days later, the Dutch woman arrived at a nearby town having survived the ordeal as well.

Mary reunited with her husband and the two moved to a new home on the New River near Radford, Virginia. There they built a new house, began operating a ferry service, and had five more children. Of their two captured boys, only one reunited with his family. After negotiations with the Shawnee people, now seventeen-year-old Tommy returned home. Mary lived for many more years passing away in 1815 at age 83. Her son, John, recorded the events of her escape in his work The Story of Mary Draper Ingles and Son Thomas Ingles. This work would inspire other authors to write books and movies about Mary's story.

Throughout history the New River Gorge has been a transportation corridor. Mary was not the first or the last person to follow the river. Over a century later, the C & O Railroad would follow the river connecting the region to the rest of the country. Today, visitors can still follow the river along parts of Mary's path both by road and some trails.


More New River Gorge History

Last updated: August 26, 2023

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