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Bring Mary Home

When the western Virginia Frontier was being settled in the 1750s, a young pioneer woman was captured during an Indian raid. Mary Draper Ingles was taken from her home near what is today, the Blacksburg campus of Virginia Tech.

People have been fascinated by the story of her escape and her harrowing 400-mile trek back home. In those days, many people were captured during Indian raids and not very many ever escaped or returned to their homes. A museum in Radford is looking to create a monument to Mary and her story.

The story of Mary Draper Ingles’ escape from her Shawnee Indian captors, 20 years before the American Revolution, became the stuff of legend, if not in her own lifetime, years after her death.

“It was a long running play that ran for over 20 years and it told the story of Mary.”

Deborah Cooney is Tourism director for the city of Radford

“So many people here know the story or performed in it, or were already students and volunteered to work with it in the summers and we still get calls regularly asking if the play is being performed, if there’s any way that people can find out more about the story. “

But that’s the hard part.  Most of what’s known – or thought to be known about Mary Draper Ingles— comes from fictionalized accounts.  What is known is that, there was an attack on a settlement called Drapers Meadows. Mary’s mother was killed but Mary, her two young children and her sister in law, Betty Draper, were taken to a Shawnee camp in what is now Ohio.

“What we know about her is only through the eyes of men.” Mary Ferrari, a history professor at Radford University wrote a chapter on Mary Ingles Draper for a new book called, Virginia Women; Their Lives and Times.

“The historical record is pretty thin.  She’s never mentioned in the newspaper accounts of the actual attack.  The only people mentioned are males. So her capture was never mentioned. But when she does come back, it is such a remarkable trip that, that is discussed in local papers and circulated throughout the colonies, a couple paragraphs, which is pretty good for that time, for an 18th century newspaper.”

A reconstruction of the cabin where Mary Draper Ingles lived on the site where the outdoor play was performed

What is missing in the historical record has been filled in with a variety of interpretations. Among them,, a popular book by Kentucky Novelist James Thom called Follow the River –  Mary navigated by following the Ohio, the Kanawha, and finally the New River on her 400 mile journey as winter set in. She had no food or supplies. The story also captivated sculptor Matt Langford.  He created a bronze of Ingles, which sits at the public Library in Boone Kentucky.

"Which is significant because that’s where she made her escape from captivity and I always knew that I wanted to have the second statue placed at the, not only the end of the trek but what in reality was the beginning of the trek," he said.

"And I always knew that I wanted to have the second statue placed at – not only the end of the trek but what was the beg of the trek and that was Virginia."

Langford has been hoping that would happen for almost 10 years.  A fundraising effort, called “Bring Mary Home,’ is underway, a project of Radford Tourism Board and the Glencoe Museum. The sculptor says while he had no image of Mary Draper Ingles to work from, he wanted the piece to depict her calm determination and strength.

“I was convinced that she was motivated by a very strong form of love and that appealed to me as an artist and, frankly, as a human, I’d like to think.”

With so little actually known about Mary Draper Ingles a sculpture in Bronze somehow makes tangible, life in colonial Virginia when Indian attacks were common. Again Mary Ferrari

“It was part of a, really a world wide war between the English and the French.  And the Shawnee were allied with the French. And they attacked settlements along the Virginia frontier and the Pennsylvania frontier, capturing hundreds of people, killing lots of people and really dispersing people from the frontier. A lot of people left the frontier.

But we do know Mary Draper Ingles remained.  She outlived her husband and lived a prosperous says Ferrari. But that’s almost all we know, for sure.

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