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FROM THE Heritage Minutes COLLECTION
A part of our heritage...
Most Canadians know the name of Laura Secord, although they may be a bit fuzzy on the subject of her heroic trek that saved the British and Canadian forces at the Battle of Beaver Dams during the War of 1812.
Laura Ingersoll Secord was the young wife of James Secord, a settler in Queenston, Upper Canada. The War of 1812 was very personal to Laura. Like her husband and many others in Upper Canada, Laura had been born in the United States and had relatives across the line. But she was fiercely loyal to the British Crown, and was committed to the defence of the colony.
The story of Laura Secord's famous act of patriotism begins on the evening of June 21, 1813. Several American officers forced their way into the Secord home and ordered Laura to serve them dinner. The food was plentiful, the wine flowed, and as the evening wore on, the officers grew boisterous and carefree, boasting of their plans to crush the remaining British resistance in the area. As Laura quietly washed the dishes, she listened to the voices of the American officers through the thin partition.
"We'll make a surprise move against FitzGibbon at Beaver Dams." It was the voice of Colonel Boerstter. "We will destroy his headquarters and take the whole detachment captive." Laura stood motionless with a warm plate in her hands, realizing that unless Lieutenant FitzGibbon was warned, the entire Niagara peninsula would be lost. She glanced at her husband, who had been wounded six months earlier at the Battle of Queenston Heights and was still barely able to walk. Then, in a tone of quiet determination, Laura told her husband that she was going to take the message to FitzGibbon herself.
At dawn the next morning Laura began her journey dressed in her regular attire of a settler's wife. In some versions of the story, Laura carries a milking pail and leads her cow along the road, as a cover for inquiring American sentries, although there is no hard evidence to support these details. In any case, Laura Secord had to be very careful not to be captured. The traditional punishment for spies was death by firing squad.
Avoiding the main roads, Laura chose a difficult and circuitous 19 mile route to the stone house where FitzGibbon was stationed.
She began by walking along the road to her brother-in-law's farm. At one point her niece Elizabeth joined her, but gave up in exhaustion three hours later, just as they neared Black Swamp.
Alone, Laura entered the most difficult part of her journey. The heat of the June sun was beating down on her, and the brambles tore at her clothing. Whether or not she was barefoot, as some versions of the story claim, the damp bog soon soaked her to the skin. Yet, determined more than ever to accomplish her dangerous undertaking, Laura drove herself on, always listening for the fearsome cry of wolves.
As darkness fell, Laura reached the edge of the swamp. Haunted by the feeling that she was being watched, she climbed the steep escarpment and began moving through the thick undergrowth. When she finally reached a clearing, she found herself surrounded by a band of Iroquois. Though paralysed by fear, she somehow forced herself to speak, managing to make the chief understand the urgency of her mission. Impressed by her courage and sympathetic to her cause, he ordered one of his men to escort Laura to FitzGibbon's headquarters.
An hour later, Laura Secord arrived at the British garrison just in time to warn FitzGibbon of the impending American attack before she collapsed from exhaustion. Here Laura's heroic adventure ends, and the controversy begins.
Was FitzGibbon already braced for the attack, as some assert? Why did he make no mention of Laura's effort in his official reports? It was not until 1827 that he finally referred to Laura in a letter, writing:
"The weather on the 22nd day of June, 1813 was very hot, and Mrs. Secord, whose person was slight and delicate, appeared to have been and no doubt was very much exhausted by the exertion she made in coming to me, and I have ever since held myself personally indebted to her for her conduct upon that occasion..." Laura did not publicly record her story for many years, and it was not until 1860, when she was 85 years old, that she received any formal recognition. The Prince of Wales, upon a visit to Canada, read Laura's account of her wartime adventure, and sent her a gift of 100 pounds for her efforts. From that time on, however, the bravery of Laura Secord has been part of our national folklore.
Heritage Minute Cast