Follow the River

I’ve been re-reading James Alexander Thom’s book, “Follow the River,” which chronicles the odyssey of Mary Draper Ingles’ capture and return to Draper’s Meadows near current Blacksburg/Radford, Virginia using historical accounts as well as drawing from the author’s own experiences. The author, a former U. S. Marine, “walked, climbed, and camped along much of the New River Gorge in preparation for writing Follow the River” and credits 23-year-old Mary with demonstrating “what the human spirit – not just the hardened spirit of the professional soldier or adventurer, but the spirit of a vulnerable, frightened, ‘ordinary’ person – can endure.”

On 8 July 1755, while her husband William Ingles and brother John Draper harvested crops beyond sight of their cabins, a group of Shawnee warriors laid waste to the homes, captured a pregnant Mary, her sister-in-law Bettie, Mary’s two sons, and an older gentleman, after murdering every other human with whom they came in contact, including Mary’s mother. Leading the captives – along with much of their worldly goods – by way of the New River gorge, fording the Bluestone, eventually up the Kanawha where they crossed over at Point Pleasant, then westerly down the Ohio, crossing the huge river near the mouth of the Scioto that lead to the Shawnee villages.

I won’t dare tell you the story because I prefer you read it. But also read the author’s notes. Although Mary escaped from an area we now call “Big Bone Lick State Park” near Florence, Kentucky, where she labored making salt for the village, she left behind her infant daughter and two young sons, Thomas and Georgie. This was a decision I believe she would struggle with for the rest of her life but bear in mind she had no weapons with which to hunt food, and her escape began in autumn. Her children could not have endured starvation and freezing temperatures on a five-hundred-mile trek.

It was this information that caught my eye: Son Thomas was purchased from the Shawnee and returned home about 1768. On October 10, 1774, Thomas Ingles and his uncle, John Draper fought at the Battle of Point Pleasant as Lieutenants, nineteen years after Mary Ingles and Bettie Draper had crossed the Kanawha and viewed the mighty Ohio as captives. Here the men fought the Shawnee and allied tribes with about a thousand other militiamen, the Vanbibber’s included.

Little did these militiamen know that Lord Cornwallis, British General under King George III, was in the Ohio Territory making a “treaty” – promising the Shawnee and other warring tribes a bounty for every white scalp they returned. Our ancestors walked into a slaughter that day, believing that British troops led by Cornwallis would arrive and assist as promised.

Although the U. S. government does not recognize the Battle of Point Pleasant as a “battle of the Revolution,” it is honored as such each October at the Battle Days Festival at Point Pleasant, WV.

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