The Amazing Story of Priscilla Estes

by David Powell, © 28/8/2001
An early draft of this previously appeared on the Rootsweb Estes mail-list. This version has been expanded and corrections made.

Priscilla Estes was born about 1770, Greenbriar District, Virginia. She was the daughter of Mary Townsend (nee Stone) and Mr Estes. Mr Estes' identity is unproven, however circumstantial evidence suggests it may have been Richard Estes. Traditionally Mary's husband was an Elisha Estes, however there is little evidence for this claim and it is increasingly coming to be discounted.

The story .. briefly .. as a girl Priscilla was captured by Indians. She was adopted by the tribe. Some time latter the tribe was attacked by soldiers, Priscilla was rescued and restored to her family. Priscilla was not intially recognised as a "white" by the soldiers and was almost killed by a blow to her head, she survived the blow and was eventually recognised as being "white".

Over the years I have had quite a few requests for anything on the Priscilla Estes story. It has been hotly discussed on the Estes mail-list, so I decided to collect all the stories about her and put them together in one file. Since the story has been passed down as an oral legend in most cases, there will be differences between the different retellings. I have presented each version seperately, without any changes on my part - it is the story of Priscilla as told by her descendents, after all. The result of this format means that the following may appear somewhat disjointed and confusing, but that's the nature of family stories. Comments in [italics]'s are mine unless otherwise noted.

Please note that since the stories about Priscilla and her capture by Indians etc. are all based on oral tales. There are no written, first-hand accounts of the events. Consequently there are going to be differences in the various tellings, as well as false claims (unintentional) and simple mistakes (eg: with names, dates and places). I am not presenting any of the following as definitive. It is merely a compilation of what facts I know about Priscilla as well as theories and suppositions to fill in the gaps. Thus there are contradictions in the various stories given below. I am also not endorsing one version of the story over another - I have not personally researched Priscilla nor am I a descendent so I am not in a position to critique the various stories.

Here are several versions from Marilyn Merritt:[1]

My 2x great-grandmother tried to leave some history and as she could barely read or write (she was born in 1842) her daughter wrote the history. All of it has checked out but the bit about Priscilla. She has Priscilla listed as a Green, but all documents are Priscilla Estes. Priscilla's family were early settlers of Kentucky. One day when the parents went off to tend the corn field, they left the children with neighbors. Indians came and the couple hid the children in the brush. Priscilla was so afraid she offered herself to them to save the others. My story says she was around 7 at the time of capture and stayed with them for 11 years. Going by the Kentucky cornfield law of 1776-77, where you plant an acre of corn and get to own the land, we figured Priscilla was around 7 at that time. She didn't come home until she was 18. She was rescued when a Captain Le Seiur attacked the village and hit the females in the head with a sword. Priscilla was hit but it didn't penetrate her brain. An old medicine man saved her life. At an at an age of 90-something, Priscilla supposedly traveled to Taylor Co, Iowa, to doctor Nancy Miller Ross when she almost died in 1849 after giving birth to a daughter (Elizabeth Dealy). Priscilla brought graveclothes but saved her with the indian remedies.

Again from Marilyn:

Here is what my gggrandmother wrote:
"Now listen to a little tale, told mother (Priscilla Ross Dealy) by her grandmother who had suffered so much in her early life, her name was Priscilla, of Greenbrier [the death certificate for George Washington Miller, s/o Priscilla and Jacob gives the place of birth for both parents and for Priscilla it says "GreenB" - Donna Hull], her father was an early settler in Kentucky, the indians were very bad, so one day her father and mother went some distance to work in their cornfield and left their children in care of a young married couple. The indians came but before they got there, they hid the children under sheltered tree trunks, my grandmother, she was seven years old, she feared the indians and what they do to whites, she crawled out and told them that she would go with them, to save her sisters. They took her. She was raised by the indians untill she was eighteen years old. They entered a terrible battle which she received a terrible head wound from the white captain, he cut many of the sqaws heads open. She had the back of her head split but did not enter the brain. She was taken care of by an old indian doctor. She learned nearly everything from the indians, their ways of doctrine and what to eat of wild vegetables. My mother learned of them their ways. When we had no food while father was gone, she went to the woods and gathered acorn., elm bark, crab apples, wild gog potatoes, artichokes and other stuff, so we did not starve." (IOWA 1851)

"We children had no shoes, only one garment to wear but plenty to eat of wild meat and honey, cornbread and pork, vegetables and good pies, we lived here untill 1851 gradually prospered. But the California gold mines were discovered in 1849, father made up his mind to fix and go, there was a little sister borned for which my mother all most lost her life, layed sick a long time, my great grandmother came with grave clothes, she is the one the indians rasied, she lived to be very old. My mother recovered, her babe's name was Anna Elizabeth. Father did not start until July 6, 1851, sold our home and moved to Taylor Co, IA. and was left in care of my mothers brother. One month before she gave birth to a son June 6 1851, she called him John Miller Dealy. Miller was my grandmothers maiden name, Nancy Miller."[1]

The following item from Fonda Baselt starts off mentioning the "Draper Manuscript Papers 9BB", which is a letter from 1843 and recounts the incident in which Priscilla (not named unfortunately) was "rescued" from the Indians. As such it is the oldest recorded evidence of at least part of Priscilla's story.[2]

I have a written family tradition on Priscilla and descendants. It was written by her greatgranddaughter Priscilla Dealy.  The dates and evidence that Pat Finnell sent are correct to my knowledge. They match with my story. Priscilla Dealy was born in 1842. We have tracked Priscilla Estes to 1840 on the census and one family history has her as living with William Ross a son of Nancy Miller Ross in 1860. Priscilla lived to be 90 something. About everyone of Priscilla's descendants have left a story on her behalf. I am getting a copy of Donna's new book and will let you know how correct I believe it is. I sent her a copy of Priscilla's picture to put in her book. Can you believe my 93 year old cousin had a tintype of her after all these years? I inherited a trunk full of genealogy from my uncle. The trunk went to Oregon and Washington in the 1880's with Priscilla Dealy's daughter Nevada Clark (my Greatgrandmother). It had pictures, war records, letters, and a lot of misc. Priscilla gave her lineage back to Priscilla of Greenbrier and on her daughter Nancy's marriage bond I found Jacob and Priscilla Miller's names as parents.[2]
I received the Draper Manuscript Papers 9BB on inter-library loan and read the interesting account of a girl's rescue from the Indians. The letter was written to Lyman Draper by Gen. Henry Lee of Marion Co, KY, and is 25 pages long. It was dated July 1843 so was written many years after the fact. General Lee settled at Lexington, KY, in 1779. Descendants claim that this is Priscilla Estes. No name is ever given in the correspondence. Lee's letter is filed among the correspondence titled "Logan's Campaign of 1786" and the following begins on page 6 of Lee's letter:

"Another girl, perhaps 18 or 20, was badly cut on the side of the head, exposing her brain to view....she was discovered to be a white girl who when a child of perhaps six years had been taken a prisoner from the Greenbriar country....she finally recovered, was taken to Lexington, where she was recognized by some friends there....her parents were notified of her and came and took her home. The remainder of the prisoners were taken to Danville...."

Later on page 10: "Young Clark (Soloman's brother) and a negro was taken from Clark's Station perhaps in September 1786, just before Logans. at the same time, two young boys, sons of Moses Phillips....the oldest about 10 and the other about 6 were killed in a field adjoining Lee's Station while gathering corn on Gen. Henry Lee's farm, 4 miles southeast of Maysville, and also a negro of Phillipps' and two negroes of William Bryan's were taken prisoners and kept some three years".

On page 24: "Soon after the return of the expedition of 87 an exchange of prisoners was effected at Maysville of the Meckacheck prisoners except the Frenchman, the white girl, and an old white woman whose true character was not discovered until reached Limestone on the return of the Expediton....feigned not to know anything of English....probably to learn and communicate to the Indian prisoners the intentions of the white but could afterwards chat merrily enough. She didn't return to the Indians but was inclined to do so."

The handwritten manuscripts are quite difficult to read and the letter becomes "rambling" at times. But the microfilms are readily available on inter-library loan. The Lee letter was very interesting but I don't believe it proves the identity of the white girl or the white woman. I specifically studied the words "Greenbriar country" to be sure that it did not say "Greenbriar county". It does not.[2]

In regards to Priscilla being captured by indians. The Periodical Source Index (aka PERSI, available on CD-ROM from Ancestry Inc) lists many accounts of Indian atrocities in southwest VA published in "Southwest Virginian" and "Mountain Empire Genealogical Quarterly". But I've also gleaned thru my Estes correspondence of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Recently, in March 1995, Pat Finnell suggested the following references (including the previously mentioned "Draper Papers") on the subject of Priscilla's capture:

Descendants have also published 2 books on this line:

A slightly different version comes from another descendent, Cheri Dohnal:[3]

My 5-g grandparents on my mother's side were Jacob Miller and Priscilla Estes. If the story I have about Priscilla's childhood is true, there were at least 3 girls and a boy in *her* generation of Estes family. And if that story is true, it's a very colorful part of the Estes family history. The story has neither been substantiated nor refuted, and it is fairly believeable in my opinion, considering the time period. It is said that when Priscilla was a child, her parents left all but the youngest child(ren) at home under the care of the oldest daughter, who was then about 12 years old. There were two young girls of about 6 and 8 (one of those was Priscilla), a boy about 10 I think, plus the 12 year old. The parents took the tiniest tot(s) with them and went "into town" to the mill to have their grain milled and would be gone for a few days. They told the children at home to stay close to the house and keep an eye out for Indians, who were still making occasional raids on families in the area at that time (about 1775-ish). One day the boy was out drawing water from the nearby creek, his gun right next to him. He saw Indians approaching and panicked, taking his rifle and shooting one of the Indians. This of course infuriated the rest of the Indians, who then killed the boy and headed for the house to raid it. The girls inside heard the commotion and ran for their hiding places. The oldest girl was found by the Indians and although she put up a good fight by jabbing at the Indians with pegs from her loom, they killed her and scalped her while the smaller girls hid away in the corn crib, which was behind or beside the parents' bed. (I have always wondered if this might have been the firewood crib, which would seem more logical). Amazingly, the Indians didn't find them, the story goes, but the youngest (Priscilla) crawled out of her hiding place as the Indians got back outside, and ran after them, saying she wanted to go with them. The Indians started to come after her with apparent intent to kill, until a squaw that was with them stopped them in their tracks. She carried on a very emotional conversation with the males until they finally agreed to let her have the child. She took Priscilla by the hand then and hey rode away from the site of the massacre, but had to walk most of the long way to the tribal grounds while the warriors rode horseback.

Priscilla was raised by the tribe for the next 7 or 8 years, until one day a group of white men raided the Indian village, slaying many of its occupants including women and children. Priscilla got caught amidst a battle involving a large, machete type knife [presumably an officers sword], getting her head sliced once in the process. Although only a flesh wound, it was a deep one that left a scar. The white men brought her back to their own village and society, where she eventually assimilated back into the white man's world and married Jacob. I don't know if they ever realized what family was hers or if she ever saw her the remaining members of her original family again - the story doesn't go into that. Her granddaughter (my ggggrandmother) Lucinda Stufflebeam later used to love to brush her grandmother's long hair, and passed this story down because she learned the story while combing Priscilla's hair. The comb would often "catch" a bit at the place where that scar remained. So Lucinda, who married Mason Eveland, passed that story down to her children, one of whom was my gggrandfather, Henry J. Eveland, who passed it down to his daughter Della, who passed it down to her daughter Beulah, who passed it down to my mother Marjorie, and then to me.[3]

Pat Finnell is another researcher who has investigated Priscilla's story. What follows is an extract of an article that Pat wrote. The original article also includes a discussion on who was Priscilla's father. I have not included that here since that is the subject of a seperate article ("Who married Mary Stone?").[4]

... I have searched records for Montgomery, Greenbrier and Botetourt Counties for information regarding the capture of Priscilla. These counties with Washington Co. were the frontier of VA at that time. A devastating Indian invasion of these counties occurred in May 1778 - many atrocities were committed and some captives were taken. The few settlers north of present Glen Lyn and west of the River were being escorted up river to the more settled area of Montgomery Co. (south of Walker Creek). Capt. Cloyd's company was on duty near Culberson's Bottom May 1778. Col. Preston sent to Henry and Pittsylvania Co. for reinforcements to help guard the frontier - they finally came after repeated requests (Thomas Townsend was among them) and helped build Pearis Fort after giving up chasing the Indians. Joshua Townsend [son of Mary Stone from her first marriage] spent a tour of duty that summer guarding that fort.

Many versions of this story have been written but the one I feel is most reliable was written about 1836 and is probably the result of an interview with Margaret (McKenzie) Hall when she was 69 years old. It is by Samuel Kercheval in his "History of the Valley of Virginia" I also checked Kercheval's notes in the Draper collection. In May 1778 she, her sister Elizabeth, and the little daughter of Richard Esty were captured by Shawnees and taken to their home in Ohio. This occurred on New River just north of Wolf Creek. Phil Kavanaugh was killed and Francis Denny was also captured that morning. Mrs. McKenzie, young adult daughter Sally, daughter Mary Ann, perhaps a baby daughter, and teen age son Henley were killed. In 1905 David E. Johnson (relative of the MacKenzies) in his "History of the New River" says that as the father Mordock McKenzie and brother Isaac ran back to the house they met the Estridge girl at Wolf Creek who told them what had occurred. No further mention is made of the Esty/Estridge girl. William Preston, county commander of the militia, in his correspondence mentions the murder on Wolf Creek but does not name names. His correspondence graphically depicts the state of panic on the frontier of Montgomery and Botetourt Cos that spring. All the people on the frontier were moving up river and no settlements were left below Walker's Creek. He still had a few militia posted at Culberson's Bottom and at Island Creek.

Some people have indicated [Priscilla] was bom as early as 1754 which is 7-8 years before her oldest sibling Joshua. Her birth had to have occurred after 1764 when William Townsend's will was written. Most of the family traditions indicate she was a child when the kidnapping occurred. This kidnapping had to have occurred on the frontier and, since she was a child her parents weren't too far away. The frontier was all of inhabited east Tennessee, all of Kentucky, that area of Virginia and now West Virginia approximately west of the east edge of the Alleghanys, and western Pennsylvania. Some of the traditions mention the Greenbrier area. The Indians were not raiding east of this frontier in Virginia. Many of the traditions mention her rescue during a battle. They do not all include the same details but all mention a head wound.

Does this pertain to Priscilla? The Draper Collection 9 BB - 1-20, page 60 Gen. Henry Lee (1758-1846), dated July 1843, wrote regarding the fall 1786 raid on the Shawnee towns in which Joshua Townsend apparently participated: "Another girl perhaps 18 or 20 was badly cut on the side of the head exposing her brain to view. She was discovered to be a white girl who when a child of perhaps 6 years had been taken a prisoner from the Greenbrier country. She finally recovered was taken to Lexington where she was recognized by some family there. Her parents were notified of her and came and took her home." General Lee had participated in this raid. I can't determine which Shawnee town this occurred at - Mackachack or Molunth's Town.[see 5] It is the only raid in which one of the prime objectives was to take Indians as hostages to exchange for white captives. 33 Indian women and children were captured and later exchanged. Margaret and Elizabeth McKenzie made their way to Detroit where they both married and had families. Their father finally located them and brought them back to Virginia about 1796. They both married again and had more children. If I remember correctly the soldier that wounded this white girl was Capt. Thomas Kennedy. Again the story has many variations but Gen. Lee's is the only first hand account I have found.

... I believe that the family of Mr Estes and Mary Stone (except perhaps for Thomas Townsend) were living down the New River maybe as far as Culberson's Bottom by late 1777. When the Indian conflict really heated up in April 1778 they had to flee back up river. I believe that two of the Estes children went with neighbors and/or escorts ahead of the rest of the family, probably due to transportation problems, and were left at the McKenzie's to wait for their parents.  I believe that one daughter (Priscilla) was captured and that one daughter (Mary or Nancy) avoided capture. I believe that Priscilla is the girl wounded and rescued Oct. 1786 in the raid on the Shawnee towns, and that when she was identified, her brother, Joshua Townsend, brought her to his home in Madison Co, KY. Surely Joshua had broadcast her story when he came to Kentucky.

Donna Hull has written a book on Priscilla and her family, title "Jacob Miller, Our Immigrant...And More". The following is a summary of her version of the story.[7]

Priscilla Estes-Miller, who I knew for years as just Grandma Miller. She was the daughter of Richard Estes and Mary Stone of Lunenburg, Montgomery and Franklin Counties, VA and Madison Co, KY. Richard was the son of Elisha of Henry Co, VA. Mary Stone was the daughter of Richard of Lunenburg Co, VA.

Priscilla was born about 1770, captured by the Shawnee (by Tecumseh's brother) in 1778, rescued 1786 in Michelimachinac, Ohio.[see 8] Her half-brother Joshua Townsend was in the rescue party and later recognised her. He brought her to Madison Co, KY where her siblings and their father were living.

Her folks lived in what is now Giles Co, VA on Walker and Wolf Creeks on New River watershed near Pearisburg, VA. She was a hired girl  for a neighbor, (if her father was off exploring and the mother was in Franklin County, maybe they apprenticed her out) Moredock McKenzie, at the time his home was raided and his 2 daughters taken captive (our branches' version states the people who died. The mother (Mrs. McKenzie), a sister, a brother - goes right down the line even to a brother (not a McKenzie) she mentioned dying in captivity. I feel that was Francis Denny who was taken at the same time. I never could match out story up with who had died until we found that on the McKenzie family). When they were rescued, the three were still in the same village rather than having been split up. We have as many versions of the capture and rescue as there were Miller children, but they all contain similarities, plus it has been documented in quite a few books. The books do not give the human-interest stuff I'd like to know, so would like very much to have the chance to talk with her.

She married in 1788, Madison Co, KY to Jacob "Grandpa" Miller and they raised 11 children in Madison, Montgomery and Estill Counties, KY. 1829 they moved to Fulton Co, Il where Grandpa Miller died of a bleeding nose. Grandma Miller lived to be 93, dying in 1863, probably in Missouri, Kansas or Idaho.

Grandpa Miller had grown up in Augusta, Greenbrier and Monroe Counties VA but was the Daniel Boone explorer type and went to Kentucky in the 1780's. He was a scout for Boone and was at Fort Boonesborough. He fought in the War of 1812 in the Battle of Raisen River and Tippecanoe. There is a Miller Creek named for him near where he lived which is now in Lee Co, KY.

Priscilla always said that she was treated quite well by the Indians. She had been adopted by Karalo, by a sub-chief's (Red Horse) wife who protected her from Indians and whites alike - Karalo tried to defend Priscilla when she was "rescued". Some remember that she was treated like a princess. She learned herbal rememdies that she afterward would use for her children and grandchildren. She would travel far, if one of hers needed care. About 1840, she rushed to the side of a daughter who was dying following childbirth, and she pulled her through with prayers and herb cures.

Marilyn Merritt (and others) questions the McKenzie connection: "The one thing about Moredock McKenzie that bothers me is: It talks of his little or young daughters as children and the hired girl as a young lady. The little girls were mentioned to be around 6 and 7, the hired girl was mentioned as a young lady, but Priscilla was only 6 or 7 too plus the fact in many stories the young lady wasn't captured, but hid and told Moredock what happened." The role of Miss Estridge in the McKenzie story is related in "History of the Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory" by David E. Johnston, 1906. Mr. Johnston states he took his info from the Chapman Ms that were in his possession.[1]

Page 63: "McKensey's family consisted of himself, his wife, his sons Isaac and Henley, and his daughters Sallie, Elizabeth, Margaret, Mary Anne, a nursing child and a hired girl, a Miss Estridge, a daughter of Richard Estridge."
Page 65: "The small child, Mary Anne, had been gathered up by the hired girl, Estridge, who had slipped into the shed of the house, and concealed herself in a large trough made for holding soap. The child began to fret and cry and the young woman fearing that this would disclose to the Indians her hiding place, let go the child, and it ran out into the room, and an Indian caught it by its ankles and feet, and dashed out its brains against the door facing." ... "The Indians took the two small girls, Elizabeth and Margaret, aged respectively eight and ten years, prisoners, and then ransacked the house, taking a gourd filled with sugar and a large loaf of bread, which had just been baked by the mother, and departed. As soon as the Indians left Miss Estridge came out from her hiding place, and ran up the river to Wolf Creek, where she met Mr. McKensey and his son as hereinbefore related."[1]
It should be noted that the book refers to Miss Estridge (incidently, a commonly used variation of Estes) as a "hired girl". No indication is given as to her age. Some have taken this to mean that she was an older girl, probably in her teens - however there was no "minimum working age" in those days. Children as young as 5 years (and even younger) worked as slaves and hired servants - I have seen a record of a 6yo girl who was shipped (alone) to Virginia to work as a servant. Thus the idea of a young girl, maybe 7yo (tha age most agree Priscilla was when she was captured), spending part of the day working for a neighbour (maybe looking after a baby) is quite feasable. As for Miss Estridge not being captured - note also that Johnston's book was written in 1906 - some 130 or so years after the event and that it is a novelisation.

Marilyn Wagner is another descendent of Priscilla. The story, as passed down her family, says:

Priscilla Estes is the whole reason I started researching my family history although I did not know it was her as I did not have a name or anything to go on. We had a story about a gg grandmother who was captured by the Indians and made to run a gauntlet and I decided to find out if their was any truth to the story and that's how I found Priscilla as she was the one but it turned out she was farther back than gg grandma.  I have a book written by her great grandson from the early 1880's that talks about the large gash she had in her skull from her escapade etc. as she lived with them. Then I found another line through one of Priscilla's other daughters that I had never met, contacted them, and they had the exact same story that ran through their family.[6]

I'm unsure if the photograph is still up, but some time ago a copy of the tintype photograph of Priscilla that was mentioned above could be found on the Estill County, KY, GenWeb page at:

The photograph was submitted by Marilyn Merritt, who'se family owns the original.

[1] Personal correspondence, Marilyn Merritt <>.
[2] Personal correspondence, Fonda Baselt <>.
[3] Personal correspondence, Cheri Dohnal, <>.
[4] Personal correspondence, Pat Finnell, <>. Sources mentioned, but certainly not limited to, include: Rev. War pension applications of Joshua and Thomas Townsend; Pittsylvania Co Deed books; Montgomery Co will and deed books; tax lists for Montgomery, Lunenburg, Pittsylvania and Franklin Co's; Mecklenberg Co deed books; affidavit filed in 1806 at Pendelton, SC by William Cockerham; family records; "History of the Valley of Virginia", Samuel Kercheval; papers in the Drapper Collection, including the notes of Kercheval and "9 BB 1-20, p60".
[5] Comment from Donna Hull, <>: "According to Eckert's historical and documented novel, the McKenzie girls lived in Michelimacinac (or something close to that spelling). It was at the rescue time, the main Shawnee village. The McKenzie girls escaped at the same time as Priscilla was found to be a white girl and rescued. The McKenzie girls found their way to Detroit and married there.
[6] Personal correspondence, Marilyn Wagner <>.
[7] Donna Hull, <>, personal correspondence and her book, "Jacob Miller, Our Immigrant...And More". Some of her sources include: History of the New River Settlement, David E. Johnston, 1906, pp.63-67; Gateway to Empire, Allan W. Eckert, 1983; History of the Valley of Virginia, Samuel Kercheval, 1883, 4th ed. 1925, p.378; Chicago History Abstracts; Chicago from 1816 to 1830, p.101; Giles County, VA History - Families, by Research Committee, Giles Co. Historical Society p.225; Draper Collection 9BB, p.60 (p.1-20), a Narrative by General Henry Lee (1758-1846) dated July 1843 (re: her rescue); research of many family members, the primary ones on the capture and rescue were Pat Finnell, Margaret Millar Hayes and myself (Donna Hull).
[8] Present day Michalimakanac is in the southern peninsula of MI and not in OH. However, the village was burned out and moved 4-5 times. It may have been in what is now MI when Priscilla was captured, but it originally was in central west OH territory - actually at the time it was part of VA.

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