Dehydrated, exhausted and with feet cut and bleeding, Laura Secord pressed on to reach Lt. Fitzgibbon with the message that Upper Canada was about to be taken by America
Quietly, unobtrusively, Laura Secord served the evening meal to the American soldiers billeted in her home against her will in June, 1813. Her husband, James Secord, a sergeant in the local militia, was upstairs, recovering from serious wounds gotten in the capture of York and their own town, Queenston Heights earlier in the War of 1812. Some townsfolk had been captured and taken across the border as prisoners, others escaped to join the British army in the fight against the invaders.
As she poured their wine, Laura overheard the officer and his men planning their next attack. Colonel Boerstler and 650 men with artillery and field guns would be arriving soon. “If we take Fitzgibbon and capture Burlington Heights, Upper Canada will be ours,” the officer said in Laura, A Portrait of Laura Secord by Helen Caister Robinson. Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon led a troop of only 50 men, after all. It would be easy.
When dinner was finally over, Laura rushed to discuss the news with her husband. Since he was in no condition to go, it was decided that Laura would make the trek to Beaver Dams to warn Fitzgibbon of the impending attack. No one else could be trusted with the task.
Laura Secord took the boggy path to avoid capture
In the dark of night, she found her way to the “Black Swamp,” a dangerous path through a boggy area that was longer but would be safer for Laura to take. The soldiers would be travelling on the main road and she did not want to be captured – they would not be pleasant with her family if that happened. The way was hard and Laura lost her shoes in the muck and river on the 32-kilometre journey. Pressing on with haste, she injured her feet on sharp rocks and piercing branches.
Climbing to the top of a ridge, the path disappeared. While Laura tried to find the trail, she found herself surrounded by natives. Alarmed, she forced herself to remain calm. “I want to get to Beaver Dams. Please tell your Chief I must speak to Lieutenant Fitzgibbon.” Finding the Chief, she assured him she was a friend of Fitzgibbon and that her message for him was vital. The Chief ordered one of his men to take Laura to Beaver Dams.
Lieutenant Fitzgibbon heard her urgent message
The native guide rushed Laura through the woods to Fitzgibbon’s headquarters. Exhausted and dehydrated, dirty and without shoes, she met with the Lieutenant. Hesitant at first to accept her information, she was able to convince him of the details that she heard herself. The American troops were about to attack and take control of Upper Canada. Fitzgibbon immediately set a plan into action to interrupt the American’s invasion. Too worn and injured to walk herself, Laura was carried to a nearby home for food, a bed and care of her injuries.
Colonel Boerstler and his men were indeed interrupted. On their arrival at Beaver Dams on June 24, 1813, they were ambushed by 400 Mohawk and Odawa warriors lead by Dominique Ducharme and William Johnson Kerr. The American troops surrendered into the hands of Fitzgibbon’s 50 soldiers. Laura Secord’s undertaking was a success.
Laura Ingersoll Secord was born the daughter of a Patriot
Laura Ingersoll Secord was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on September 13, 1775. Her father, a Patriot against the British at first, tired of the ongoing battles and danger in Massachusetts at the time. He accepted an offer of a land grant in Upper Canada and moved his large family north when Laura was 20 years old. Their new town, Ingersoll, was named after her father.
The son of an officer in Butler’s Rangerscaught Laura’s eye in Upper Canada. James Secord was a young merchant in Queenston who had arrived in the Niagara area in 1778. Laura and James married and had seven children – six girls and one boy.
Receiving almost no recognition, Laura Secord’s brave accomplishment was finally given proper due in 1860 by the visiting Prince of Wales, notes Biographi.ca. Laura died in Chippewa, now known as Niagara Falls, Ontario, in 1868 at age 93.
Laura Secord is recognized as one of Canada’s great heroines.
Laura, A Portrait of Laura Secord by Helen Caister Robinson, Canadian Heroines Series 2, Dundurn Press, Toronto, 1981.
Visit Laura Secord’s Home on the Niagara Heritage Trail.
This article first published in 2007 on Suite101.com. Copyright Susanna McLeod