Sunday, July 5, 2015

52 Ancestors #27: Kidnapped by Indians

Ancestor: Sarah Shipley (Mitchell) Thompson (1778-1855)

As promised yesterday, Stith Thompson's book quickly provided more blogging fodder. I am slowly starting to sort out all my Robert and Daniel Mitchells and have come to understand that my four times great grandfather, Daniel Mitchell, son of Robert Mitchell and grandson of Robert Mitchell, the original immigrant from Ireland, did not serve in the Revolutionary War -- at least there are no records to indicate he served.

Mitchell family tree as it appeared in Stith Thompson's book; image courtesy

However, his first cousin, also named Daniel Mitchell, son of Daniel Mitchell and grandson of Robert Mitchell, the original immigrant from Ireland, did serve as an ensign in the Virginia Militia beginning in 1779. This Daniel had a brother, also named Robert Mitchell (are you confused yet?).

That Robert Mitchell was born on 22 August 1747, according to his son's family bible, in Pennsylvania or Virginia. He married Naomi Shipley who was born on 26 April 1748, according to the same source. They were likely married in Bedford County, Virginia. He joined his father-in-law and brother-in-law in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, by 1788 and appeared in the 1790 census in that county. After the census was enumerated he and his brother-in-law, David McCord, moved their families to Kentucky. They traveled via the Wilderness Road in a party led by Walter Carruth.

Settlers along the Wilderness Road; image courtesy
of Wikipedia

At the forks of the Wilderness Road where it crossed the Rockcastle river (now near Livingston, Kentucky), the party was attacked by the Potawatomi Indians. Robert's wife, Naomi (Shipley) Mitchell was scalped and died soon afterwards. They buried her at Crab Orchard. Their daughter, Sarah Shipley Mitchell, was carried off and held captive for five years.

Map of Wilderness Road which shows Crab Orchard where Naomi
(Shipley) Mitchell was buried; image courtesy of Virginia Places

According to her headstone, Sarah was born on 31 Dec 1778. She was about 12 years old when she was kidnapped. Her story became family lore and while many had stories, few facts are now known. Her granddaughter, Charlotte (Hobart) Vawter, provided this story to Stith Thompson:

"The child Sarah was taken to the Indian camp and put in custody of an old squaw who treated her kindly. After the first day's tramp the Indians had bear meat for the evening meal and she declared that it was the most delicious food she ever tasted. The Indians cut off her skirts to her knees and greased the bottoms of her feet and with them she walked all the way to Canada.

When the Indian men would get drunk, the old squaw would take her out in the forest, wrap her in a blanket and put her down by a log. Although when she would waken in the morning the snow would be many feet deep, she would be always be warm and comfortable."

She was eventually returned with other captives by the terms of General Anthony Wayne's treaty in 1795 in Chillicothe, Ohio. Her father had died by 1792. Many descendants said he drowned in the Clinch river while searching for his daughter, Sarah.

A heart rending plea for news about new of Sarah was written by her paternal grandmother, Mary Mitchell, wife of Daniel Mitchell. It was dated 1 May 1793 and was addressed to His Excellency Isaac Shelby. It is now part of the Durrett Collection at the University of Chicago.

Transcription of Mary Mitchell's letter which appeared in Stith
Thompson's book; image courtesy of

"Dear Sir,

You will perhaps think strange to receive a letter from a poor old woman who never had the least acquaintance with you; but sir when you hear my story I am very sure you will pity me...My request is in behalf of my grandchild who was taken prisoner by the Indians in the wilderness last fall 2 years. Her name is Sally S. Mitchell, daughter of Robert Mitchell, deceased. As you have frequent opportunity of writing to Governor Blunt I beg of you to mention the matter to he once used his best endeavors to gain intelligence of her. Request him to write to you whether he has ever found out anything certain about her or where she is; and should that gentlemen write you (and I hope he will) please to let me know by a line sent to Mr. Robert Caldwell (from where I could soon get it) whether there is any news of my grandchild...I am now old and very frail and cannot rest contented without trying every method in my power for her redemption from captivity. I hope you will assist me all you can which favor will be thankfully acknowledged by

Your most obedient humble servant, Mary Mitchell"

Upon her release Sarah went to relatives in Washington County, Kentucky, and then to her aunt, Rachel Berry, where she lived until she married John Thompson in 1800.

Sarah "Sally" Shipley (Mitchell) Thompson lived for another 55 years. She seems like a truly independent spirit able to find the good (delicious bear meat) in the midst of terror. I found I quite liked her and want to learn a lot more about her.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme Independent.

Sarah "Sally" Shipley (Mitchell) Thompson was my second cousin five times removed. She was the daughter of Robert and Naomi (Shipley) Mitchell and married John Thompson (1775-1850). Both are interred in Pleasant Grove Cemetery in Washington County, Kentucky.

Daniel Mitchell, Patriot


  1. Hello, thank you for writing up this story. I am currently researching the Mitchell side of my family and find this story fascinating. Sarah's brother John is my 5th Great Grandfather.

    1. I'm glad it was helpful to your research. It's quite a story!

  2. I just found out today thru DNA testing of my mom's youngest brother that Sally is definitely in my family tree. How cool is that!

  3. I was doing some family tree research and was notified that I am a descendant of the Mitchell family. Still trying to figure out where Sarah comes into my family. My great grandfather is Robert Mitchell. This is a great story.