We recently published two articles: Adult Fiction Novels set in West Virginia and Books that Every West Virginian Should Read. Both are about books of interest to all West Virginians – either being set in West Virginia or having been written by West Virginian authors. They reminded me of my 8th grade teacher, Ms. Canterbury, and the book she taught us during our West Virginia History Class, Follow the River. I recently revisited the novel and wanted to share it with our readers as we conclude Women’s History Month.
Follow the River, by James Alexander Thorn is a fictionalized account of Mary Ingles Draper. Imagine yourself at 23 years old in Pioneer America, the mother of two young boys with a third due at any moment. Standing in the doorway of your cabin while awaiting your husband’s return from crop gathering, you witness the invasion of your small family community by a group of Shawnee Indians. That is precisely what happened to Mary Draper.
I had originally intended to review the book, but I do not want to ruin the ending for you. The journey of Mary Draper from Kentucky, across (present day) West Virginia, following the New River to the general vicinity of Natural Bridge, Virginia is awe inspiring. Mary was taken prisoner by the invading Shawnee during a brutal massacre where she witnessed the death of several friends and family members, including her infant nephew. Her strong resolve and determination during the trip, upon which she delivered her infant daughter, won her the admiration of the Indian chieftain who led the group of invaders. He offered Mary a place as his wife, but she was determined to get back to Draper’s Meadow and back to her husband. By turning the chieftain away, she lost her sons to him.
Mary then had to make the tough choice to leave her infant daughter behind when she made her escape, knowing that to take the child would likely be the death of both of them. In order to make an avenue for escape, she was forced to take up industry within the village and win the trust of the two French traders who purchased her at a slave auction. She finally escaped her captors along with Gheta, an older Dutch woman. I will leave it to you to discover Mary’s journey, whether she sees her sons again and how her husband received her upon her return.
I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in West Virginia history, stories featuring strong female characters, or just the love of a good story. Reading it again, I was a bit surprised that it was acceptable reading material for an 8th grade classroom, but I’m glad it was. The book has strong and brutal moments, so some caution should be taken with children. However, the lessons of perseverance and empathy can be appreciated by all walks of life.