Rivers of Humanity (Part I): Draper’s Meadow, at the Head of the James River

A thorough study of the history of the people of the Appalachian Highlands must begin with an understanding of the region’s geography, as it was known from the earliest days of settlement.  In colonial times — and indeed, today — one’s locality was defined by reference to particular land features, primarily the watercourses upon which trails were established and where land was patented. Therefore it would be helpful to utilize some of the earliest maps of the region to highlight the rivers where Appalachian settlers lived prior to their migration into the heart of the mountains, and also the watercourses of the new lands they entered upon as pioneers.

The earliest map that is useful as a frame of reference is that of Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson (father of Thomas Jefferson), who were appointed by acting Governor Burwell in 1750 to create a map that would more clearly identify the extent and boundaries of the lands claimed by the British as part of the Virginia Colony.1  The resulting Fry-Jefferson map, published in London in 1754, was the first to delineate all the significant rivers of Virginia, as well as portions of the colonies of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

By the mid-eighteenth century, many of the ancestors of present-day Appalachians had begun penetrating far into the interiors of Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, following coastal streams to their mountain sources.  In this series on the “rivers of humanity” we shall focus on several of those earliest interior settlements, identifying each with the watercourses on which they were situated.

Located draperjust beyond the headwaters of the James River (see map) was probably the most well-known early settlement, Draper’s Meadow, at present-day Blacksburg, Virginia.  Draper’s Meadow was part of a tract of land granted to Col. James Patton of Augusta County in the early 1740s.  The grant covered 120,000 acres, bounded on the west by the New River.  Much of Patton’s grant is included in modern-day Montgomery and Pulaski Counties of Virginia.  Col. Patton, a native of Ireland, had been a sea captain prior to August 1738.  He then took up residence in the Beverley Manor holdings on the south fork of the Shenandoah River.  This area was carved out of Orange County by the colonial Virginia General Assembly the same year to become Augusta County; its organized government came into being in 1745.2

Patton quickly began to promote his lands to the steady stream of families who migrated into the Valley of Virginia out of Pennsylvania, where the best lands had already been claimed.  Large numbers of these prospective buyers were German-speaking Protestants from the Palatine States or recent immigrants from England or Ireland.  Most of the immigrants from Ireland were Scots-Irish — descendants of Scots who had been transplanted to the north of Ireland from Scotland during the 1600s by the English Crown in an effort to “pacify” the rambunctious Irish (Catholic) natives.

Draper’s Meadow was settled about 1749-1750 by John Draper, his mother Eleanor, and sister Mary; Thomas Ingles and his sons; Henry Leonard; James Burke, Casper Barger and Philip, his son; and possibly others.  The total number of settlers was about twenty.

The Drapers were of Irish extraction –George  and Eleanor (Hardin) immigrated first to Pennsylvania from County Donegal, Ireland.  George and Eleanor had two children, John and Mary.  Sometime prior to 1745 the Draper family moved to Virginia and (probably) squatted on land on the North Fork of the Roanoke River.  George disappeared on a hunting/land-scouting expedition in the wilderness about 1748.  Subsequently his widow, son and daughter took up lands at the settlement that adopted their family name.3

Thomas Ingles  (possibly of Scottish origins) was born in 1700 in London, England and lived for some years in Dublin, Ireland. After his wife died, he migrated with his three sons (William, Matthew, and John) to Pennsylvania, settling near Chambersburg.  About 1744, Thomas and his oldest son, William, made their first explorations in the New River area of Virginia.  By 1750, Thomas was a Justice of  the Peace for Augusta County.  That same year William married Mary Draper, sister of John Draper, and took up residence in the Meadow.4

James Burke may have been born in Limerick, Ireland.  He emigrated to Philadelphia around 1720-1725.  He was in Chester County, Virginia by 1730.  He and his wife were married on the Roanoke River near Salem in 1742.

At the same time that Ingles, Draper, and others were settling the Draper’s Meadow site, the Bargers were staking out their homestead nearby.  Records show that they and other Palatine German immigrants had purchased lands from Patton’s grant, just to the west of the Ingles and Draper homes.5  Other families mentioned in the vicinity were those of Philip Lybrook, the McClungs, the McDonalds, thePrestons, and the Cloyds.

Shortly after the start of the French and Indian War, the Shawnee tribes of the western frontier swept down in a series of raids on the unprotected scattering of settlements of western Virginia.  On July 31, 1755 a band of native warriors attacked the homes of Col. James Patton, The Ingles family, Henry Leonard, the Barger family, and others.  Five settlers were killed — Col. Patton, Casper Barger and Philip Barger Sr., the infant son  of John and Mary Draper Ingles, and the elderly Eleanor (widow of George) Draper.

Mary (Draper) Ingles,  two of her sons (Thomas and George), her sister-in-law Elizabeth “Bettie” (Robinson) Draper, and Henry Leonard were carried off to captivity in the Shawnee villages located north of the Ohio.  Leonard presumably died while being forced to run the gauntlet.  Bettie (Robertson) Draper was eventually ransomed out of captivity in 1761.

Mary Ingles and a German woman who had been taken captive in a different raid escaped after several months in the hands of the Shawnee.  Their flight to freedom took forty days through  intractable wilderness before they reached the settlements again.  The details of the raid, captivity and escape are too extensive to repeat here.  For a good comparison of two versions of the narrative of the Draper’s Meadow Massacre and the captivity and escape of Mary Draper Ingles, see “What Really Happened at Draper’s Meadows”.

After the raid on Draper’s Meadow, the survivors of the native raids moved on to other frontier settlements.  Thomas Ingles, his son William, and Mary (Draper) Ingles moved a few miles west to the New River, where they established Ingle’s Ferry.  That ferry became an essential asset for settlers traveling along the Great Wagon Road to the Wilderness Road and Cumberland Gap.

Mary (Draper) Ingles’ son Thomas returned from Indian captivity after several years, and he resumed living in the New River area.  His brother George Ingles died while in captivity. Mary Ingles and her husband had several additional children after her dramatic escape from captivity.

In the next installment of this series, we shall look at additional settlements on the New River.


1 For more background on the Fry-Jefferson Map, see http://www.lva.virginia.gov/exhibits/fry-jefferson/fry-jeff
2 Information about the history of Augusta County, Virginia is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augusta_County,_Virginia.
4 Connelley, William Elsey and Ellis Merton Coulter, History of Kentucky

5 Chalkley, Lyman, Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia