Ingles story comes to life at museum

PARKERSBURG – The story of Mary Draper Ingles came to life Sunday for many people during the second presentation of this year’s Winter Lecture Series held at the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History.

Over 50 people braved the winter weather to come to the museum in downtown Parkersburg to watch Karen Vuranch re-enact Ingles’ life in what was the Virginia frontier at the time in the mid-18th Century.

Ingles was captured by Shawnee Indians in 1755. She was taken from her home, near what is now Roanoke, Va., through the New River Gorge to a Shawnee settlement near what is now Portsmouth, Ohio. After living in captivity for several months, she escaped and walked nearly 800 miles, over six weeks, to freedom.

“Being a historian is a lot like being a detective,” Vuranch said. “You sift through the clues you have to find out what actually happened.”

Vuranch told the story, in period costume, of Ingles’ capture from Draper’s Meadow, her experiences in the Shawnee village and the long walk home. She also discusses Ingles’ son, Tommy, who lived with the Shawnee for 13 years as well as life on the frontier and how women lived and worked. She discussed the conflicts between the Native Americans and the white settlers.

Ingles lived to the age of 81 and it was her son, John, who wrote her story five years after she died, Vuranch said.

When Ingles was captured, she was eight months pregnant. It is believed she gave birth to the child while in captivity, but no one knows for sure what happened to the baby. It is believed she left it behind when she escaped.

“We do not know about the baby,” Vuranch said. “She never talked about it.”

“Some historians will not acknowledge the baby because she never talked about it.”

Vuranch said she found clues that indicated the child was born. Ingles had already had two successful births.

“Maybe it died in childbirth, maybe they took it away from her immediately,” Vuranch said. “There is really no way to know.”

However, there were details about Shawnee culture that Ingles’ son could not have known, including not making a new mother endure a rite of passage, running the gauntlet, that many outsiders were subjected to at the time to prove their worth. It was not performed if it would cause harm to the life of a child, Vuranch said.

Another clue was Ingles suffered from depression, going as far as not to attend dinner with the famous George Rogers Clark in a tavern she was running at the time.

Vuranch said she walks a very fine line in presenting her performances.

“I live in 2014,” she said. “I have certain ideas of my own.”

She tried to present the Shawnee as a culture while Ingles probably despised them for what they did to her.

“She was looking to get away,” Vuranch said.

Many women living in the Appalachian frontier experienced Indian capture and watched the brutal killing of their loved ones.

“What happened to Mary happened to hundreds of women,” Vuranch said. “Why do we know Mary’s story?”

At the time it is believed Ingles was illiterate, but she told the story to family and her son wrote it down. Also, her family was very prominent in their area with a number of officers in the military who would go on to be given important jobs in the new emerging American government.

“They were important people,” Vuranch said. “Her family was politically connected.

“That is why we know her story.”

The next presentation in the Winter Lecture Series is “Mr. Lincoln’s Camera Man: An Afternoon with Matthew Brady.” Living history interpreter Mark Holbrook will present the program at 2 p.m. Feb. 16 at the museum.

Brady’s photographs of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War have become icons of photography’s early days. Holbrook, with the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, will appear in character as Brady to hare some of the stories and pictures of the Civil War and Lincoln’s presidency that made him a world-famous photographer.