I grew up hearing all about these pioneer ancestors. Mary Draper Ingles’ story survives, not only within the family, but through many books and plays written about her. A huge interstate highway bridge over the New River, near Radford, Virginia, bears her name. I have a picture of my great aunt Mary (another Mary Draper Ingles, born in 1879), at the age of 95, taking part in the ceremony for the grand opening of that bridge (1972). Family names bear witness to the popularity of the Ingles name. I have a brother named Thomas Ingles Apperson and a niece named Elizabeth Ingles Apperson. My mother’s full maiden name was Katherine Ingles Hill. I understand that eighth graders in West Virginia are required to read a novel (historical fiction), based on her life, by James Alexander Thom, entitled Follow the River. I once took a boat ride with other tourists on Claytor Lake and was fascinated to hear the tour guide tell a version of Mary’s story.
My identity has certainly been influenced by this family legacy. I remember hearing my mother tell us the story one evening as my brothers and I snuggled under a quilt before the fireplace. It stirred my imagination and pride to hear about Mary’s ordeal and her struggle to survive. From our vantage point, in Erie, PA, Virginia seemed far away, and we were curious to see Ingles Ferry and the other places Mother described.
Virginia, to my mother, signified home and family. She was born in Richmond, in 1919, and spent most of her summers in Radford, her mother’s home, visiting with cousins, aunts and uncles, in homes named Ingleside and Ingleheim. When Mother was a child, the Ingles clan was well represented throughout Montgomery and Pulaski Counties, all descendants of the Draper and Ingles families, from those branches that chose to stay in the region. Back in the eighteenth century, Mary’s husband, William Ingles, had purchased land on both sides of the New River, and by 1762 started operating a ferry. Within a decade or so he obtained a license to operate an ordinary, or tavern, for travelers along the Wilderness Road (a.k.a. Great Wagon Road). Mother’s family history is interesting to us because it represents our personal heritage, but also because it covers so much American history. Ingles Ferry brought William and Mary into contact with thousands of settlers heading west and was crucial to transportation and commercial trade. Members of the family operated the ferry and tavern well into the nineteenth century.