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Bellevue at 150: The Story of Mary Ingles for Whom Part of KY 8 is Named

Editor's note: Bellevue’s Sesquicentennial celebration has been postponed for a year because of COVID-19, but resident, attorney, and writer James Dady has written some articles to celebrate the river city in the meantime. This is one in a series.

More than 250 years after the death of Mary Draper Ingles, her dramatic odyssey while in flight from her Shawnee Indian captors still inspires those who hear of her story.

Born in Philadelphia in 1732, Mary moved with her family to the colonial frontier in western Virginia as a girl. In 1750, she married William Ingles, and the couple soon had two sons.

In July 1755 during the French and Indian War, a party of Shawnee warriors set upon the Ingles’s pioneer settlement, killing four and taking six captive, including Mary, her two sons, and her sister-in-law Bettie Robertson Draper.

The Shawnee brought the captives to Lower Shawneetown, the site of modern-day Portsmouth, Ohio. Along the way, Mary’s two sons were ‘adopted’ by the Shawnee and separated from their mother.

Later the same year, Mary was taken to what is now Boone County, Kentucky, where she was coerced into involuntary employment at the saltworks there. Mary soon plotted an escape with an older woman referred to as the “old Dutch woman,” which may have been a corruption in describing the woman’s ‘Deutsch’ or German heritage.

They set out to return to Mary’s home in Virginia. Although Mary could not swim, she and her companion forded some 145 creeks and rivers in their sojurn, including the Licking, the Big Sandy, the Little Sandy, Twelvepole Creek,  the Guyandotte and Coal rivers, Paint Creek, and the Bluestone River.

The two women managed to conceal themselves from Indian hunting parties. They subsisted on black walnuts, wild grapes, pawpaws, sassafrass leaves, blackberries, frogs. As winter drew nigh, they were forced to eat the dead animals they found along the way, and they were frequently at the edge of starvation. Practically naked and shoeless, the pair slept in hollowed-out logs under scanty blankets of dry leaves, their bodies beset by bloody flux.

Two contemporary accounts of Mary’s adventure were compiled. One of them reports that the Dutch woman connived to kill Mary in order to eat her. Another account had the two drawing lots to decide who would kill the other, a plan that was abandoned.

Mary at last went on alone and eventually reached the home of a friend, Adam Harmon, and on December 1, 1755, forty-two days and at least 500 miles after she had escaped the salt works at Big Bone Lick, Mary was reunited with what remained of her family, including her husband William, who had not been at home when she was taken.

The couple had four more children, and in 1762, established the Ingles Ferry across the New River, the Ingles Ferry Hill Tavern, and a blacksmithy.

One of the sons kidnaped with Mary, George, was killed in Indian captivity, but the other, Thomas, four years old when taken, was ransomed and returned to his family after thirteen years.

Mary died in 1815 at the age of 83. The site of her former log cabin is preserved as part of the Ingles Bottom Archaeological sites. There are two residence halls at Radford University named for her. A monument to Mary is located in West End Cemetery in Radford, Virginia, which was built with stones from the chimney of the house where Mary lived upon her return from captivity.

An eight-foot tall bronze statute, created by sculptor Matt Langford, stands in front of the Boone County Public Library building in Burlington.

If the contemporary accounts are accurate, Mary would have had to have passed through Bellevue on her long journey home.

Kentucky Route 8 along the Ohio River – Fairfield Avenue in Bellevue – in Campbell, Bracken, and Mason counties is officially named “Mary Ingles Highway.”

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