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Draper's Meadow massacre

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Deaths  5-8 killed
Start date  July 8, 1755
Perpetrators  Shawnee
Attack type  Mass murder
Draper's Meadow massacre photos1bloggercomblogger465217921600IMG230
Location  Draper's Meadow, Virginia

In July 1755, a small outpost in southwest Virginia, at the present day Blacksburg, was raided by a group of Shawnee Indian warriors, who killed at least five people including an infant child and captured five more. The Indians traveled back with their hostages to a Shawnee village in Kentucky. One of the captives, Mary Draper Ingles later escaped and returned home on foot through the wilderness. Although many of the actual circumstances of the incident, including the date of the attack is uncertain, the event remains a dramatic and inspirational story in the history of Virginia.



The original 7,500 acre (30 km²) tract that became known as Draper's Meadow was awarded sometime before 1737 by Governor Robert Dinwiddie to Colonel James Patton, an Irish sea captain turned land speculator. This land was bordered by Tom's Creek on the north, Stroubles Creek on the south and the Mississippi watershed (modern-day U.S. Route 460) on the east; it approached the New River on the west. The settlement was situated on the present day campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. At the time of the attack, the area had been populated by a group of around twenty settlers who were a mix of migrants from Pennsylvania of English and Germanic origin. A marker commemorating the massacre is located near the Duck Pond on the Virginia Tech campus.

The Massacre

Rising tensions between the natives and western settlers were exacerbated by fighting in the French and Indian War and the encroachment on tribal hunting grounds. Recent victories by the French over the British, although north of Virginia, had left much of the frontier unprotected. In the summer of 1755 several settlements had been ravaged by the Indians. On July 9 a force of about 1300 British soldiers under the command of General Edward Braddock had been decisively defeated by French troops and Shawnees at the Battle of the Monongahela, which encouraged further violence against settlers in the region.

On July 30 (see disagreement of sources about the date below) a group of Shawnee (then allies of the French) entered the sparsely populated camp virtually unimpeded and killed at least five people and wounded at least one person and burned the settlement. Among the victims were Colonel James Patton, a neighbor (Caspar Barger), and two people in Mary Draper Ingles' family: her mother (Elenor Draper), and the baby of her sister-in-law (Bettie Robertson Draper), who (the baby) was killed by dashing its head against the wall of a cabin. Other children in the settlement may have been killed in a similar way. Colonel William Preston (Colonel Patton's nephew) and John Draper (Bettie Draper's husband, Mary's brother) were not at the settlement at the time of the attack, as they were working on the field, and survived. William Ingles (Mary's husband) was attacked and nearly killed but managed to flee into the forest.

One of the victims, Barger, was described as an old man and was decapitated by the Indians; they delivered his head in a bag to a neighbor, explaining that an acquaintance had arrived to visit. Five (or possibly six) settlers were captured and taken back to Kentucky as captives to live among the tribe, including Mary Draper Ingles and her two sons, Thomas (4) and George (2). Mary escaped at Big Bone, Kentucky, without her children, and made a journey of more than eight hundred miles (1300 km) across the Appalachian Mountains back to Draper's Meadow.

Some sources state that Mary was pregnant when captured and gave birth to her daughter in captivity, and that she abandoned her baby when she decided to escape, however there is evidence to the contrary.

The Aftermath

In the aftermath, Draper's Meadow was abandoned - as was much of the frontier for the duration of the French and Indian War. William Preston, who had been in Draper's Meadow on the morning of the attack but left on an errand and so was saved, eventually obtained the property, which became Smithfield Plantation and later Blacksburg. Out of the surviving family members, only the Bargers returned later to re-claim their land and settle.

Survivors relocated in 1787 to Blockhouse Bottom near what is now East Point, Kentucky. After her escape, Mary Draper Ingles reunited with her husband and in 1762 they established Ingles Ferry across the New River, along with a tavern and a blacksmith shop. Mary died there in 1815.

Mary's son Thomas and sister-in-law Bettie were eventually ransomed from the Indians, but the others who were kidnapped at Draper's Meadow died in captivity.

Historical accuracy

Except for a few scattered references to these events in contemporary reports and letters, the primary sources are:

1) the 1824 written account by Colonel John Ingles (son of Mary Ingles and William Ingles, born in 1766 after Mary's return); 2) parts of an 1843 letter by Letitia Preston Floyd (wife of Virginia Governor John Floyd and daughter of Colonel William Preston, a survivor of the Draper's Meadow massacre).

There are some differences in the two narratives, suggesting that the Ingles and Preston families had developed distinct oral traditions. The disagreements between these original written sources include the date of the massacre (July 30 vs July 8, according to Ingles and Floyd, respectively), the number of casualties, the age of Mary Ingles' children, and several other aspects.

John Peter Hale (1824-1902), one of Mary Ingles’ great-grandsons, claimed to have interviewed Letitia Floyd and others who knew Mary Ingles personally, and his 1886 narrative contains numerous details not cited in any previous account.

Popular culture

The story of Ingles' ordeal has inspired a number of books, films, and living history programs, including the popular 1981 novel Follow the River by James Alexander Thom, a 1995 ABC television movie of the same name, and the 2004 film The Captives.


Draper's Meadow massacre Wikipedia