“There’s this story from my hometown of Bradford, Virginia about this woman named Mary Draper Ingles who, during the 1750s, was kidnapped by a group of Native Americans. She might have had a child at the time, but she was kidnapped by these Natives and then eventually escaped and then followed the rivers from Ohio back to Virginia where she lived in Bradford for a while until she died but there’s several parts of the town that remember her including an annual theater production.”
The informant for this piece is a man in his early 50s who was raised in a small town called Bradford in southwest Virginia in the New River Valley. This area had broader ties to Appalachian culture as a whole and he lived there throughout his childhood and teens. This story is a local story about a real woman but whose kidnapping and return is sometimes doubted. Regardless, the town uses the story to establish a local identity, especially in the form of an annual theater production.
This story was shared with me during an encounter with my informant wherein I asked if he had any examples of local Appalachian folk culture. The conversation occurred in his backyard alongside family and friends.
I find this story fascinating as the figure of the piece is entirely real. Mary Draper Ingles was a real woman who was kidnapped by Native Americas in the 1750s. However, the story of her return has become crucial for the identity of Bradford, Virginia. She is a proud figurehead for the community, which ties the community to their specific place and argues their right to exist. What is even more interesting is how the town still romanticizes the story. As mentioned above, the town hosts an annual theater production about her. While this might veer outside of folklore because it features authored literature, the traditions done around the piece are more folkloric in nature. This places the story in a strange level of liminality. It is both real and fiction, authored and folklore. This binary is interesting and is used by the natives of Bradford to establish identity.