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Follow the River by James Alexander Thom

by Patty Ann Peal

The year is 1755. The initial setting, a small settlement just west of the Blue Ridge, on the Virginia frontier in Colonial America during the French & Indian War.

This historic novel is based upon the true story of a heroic pioneer woman, Mary Draper Ingles. At the time her ordeal begins, she is a happily married 23-year-old mother of two young boys, heavily pregnant within days of delivering her third child.

She has a fearful premonition which she shrugs away as she sends both her husband and brother off to harvest the grain. Within minutes, her premonition turns into reality as she realizes their little settlement has been overrun by hostile Indians, who are burning cabins and killing her neighbors. Her husband and brother escape with their lives, being away from the settlement working. Mary’s husband returns to the settlement just in time to see his family carried away.

Mary, her two sons, her sister-in-law and another neighbor, are captured and taken on a journey far from their home by a Warrior band of Shawnee Indians, to become slaves. The night of their third day in captivity, on the trail, Mary gives birth to a daughter. She never once cries out. Her strength greatly impresses Captain Wildcat, the chieftain who has kidnapped them. He believes Mary Ingles has “good blood.”

They are taken along the New River to the Ohio River, then westward down the Ohio for many miles. For months, the captives are forced to serve the Shawnee. When she rebuffs Captain Wildcat’s offer to become “his woman,” Mary is given to a couple of traders, and her sons are stripped from her to become adopted sons of Captain Wildcat, because of their “good Ingles blood.”

During a salt-mining trip further downriver, Mary finally sees an opportunity to escape, and she takes it. This book is the story of her true ordeal, how she and another captive, an old Dutch woman, escaped from the Indians and walked over 500 miles as the crow flies, along the rivers and back home to her husband.

James Alexander Thom researched this tale extensively, from family interviews to traversing the length of Mary’s walk himself. Don’t neglect to read the author’s notes at the end of the story. This book is an engrossing testament to the indomitable character and strength of a heroic pioneer woman whose ordeal nearly cost her her life.  It is my all-time favorite book, which I can easily read over and over again.

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