Brief Biographies Supplementing Canadian History: Chapter 21: Laura Secord
1. Laura Secord's husband came of a family of Huguenots who out of loyalty to their faith lost their property and left their home in Rochelle in 1681 and settled in the State of New York. she herself belonged to a family who suffered much through the same deep-seated loyalty. Her father, Thomas Ingersoll, founder of the town of that name, left his home in Massachusetts at the close of the American war of independence, and was one of the most prominent of the United Empire Loyalists who settled in Ontario. Laura was his eldest child, born in December 1775, and was about twenty years of age when her home in Massachusetts was broken up, and her family became emigrants through a desire to live under the British flag.
2. Laura Ingersoll married James Secord and settled at St. David's, three miles from the Niagara River, later on removing to Queenston, where her husband was a successful merchant. His mother was one of a party of devoted women whom the horrors of war had caused to take refuge in Canada while their husbands and brothers remained to fight. They arrived, five in number, with thirty-one children, at Fort Niagara in 1776, destitute and starving. Mrs. Secord and her children, of whom Laura Ingersoll's husband was the youngest, came in a wagon without food, furniture or clothing. Such a picture of misery was not uncommon at that time in the Niagara peninsula. Before the revolt of the American colonies that fertile district, now the garden of Canada, was unpeopled; at the close of the war its population numbered ten thousand.
3. Queenston, the scene of Laura Secord's exploit, was at that time a place of some importance. Here came ship-loads of merchandise from Montreal to be carried over the precipitous portage and re-shipped in the river above the Falls for the trading-posts in the distant West. At the mouth of the river was the fort and military encampment, a place of strategic importance since the days of Frontenac.
4. In the war of 1812 the Niagara frontier was selected by the Americans as one of the principal points for the invasion of Canada. They crossed the river on the 13th of October and established themselves upon Queenston Heights, where they were routed by General Brock, who lost his life while gallantly leading his men in a charge up the cliff. James Secord was one of those who carried the dying general off the battle-field. In the final assault he was wounded and his wife came to his assistance. Her grandson thus relates the incident:
5. "Just as she reached the spot three American soldiers came up, and two of them raised their muskets to club him to death. My grandmother rushed in between them, telling them to kill her and spare her husband. One of them spoke very roughly and told her to get out of the way, and, shoving her to one side, was about to accomplish his murderous intention." An American officer, arriving at that moment, saved James Secord's life and helped his wife to take him to his own home in safety. Thus inured to hardships and the dreadful risks of war by the stern discipline her own and her husband's families had undergone, and by their present experience, this brave woman was fitted to perform an act of heroism that saved her country from invasion and bloodshed.
6. In June, 1813, the Canadian side of the Niagara River was in the hands of the Americans. General Vincent, who commanded the Canadian forces, had fallen back to the head of the lake. There was an outpost at the Twenty-mile Creek, or Jordan, another at Ten-mile Creek, and between them, at Beaver dams, was stored a large quantity of camp stores and ammunition. Moving freely about from this point was a body of fifty scouts under Lieutenant FitzGibbon, a clever and resourceful officer. It is interesting to note that, even in those days, the red-coat of the British infantry was found to be unsuitable for scouting work. FitzGibbon had no khaki, but he dressed his men in reversible coats, red on one side and gray on the other.
7. Laura Secord was obliged to entertain a number of American officers who were waiting to complete their forces before marching against the Canadian troops at Burlington Heights. She heard them discussing their plans. They proposed next day to seize the post at Beaver Dams and make it their headquarters for the advance to the head of the lake. As soon as they left the house to perfect their arrangements Laura Secord told her husband FitzGibbon must be warned. James Secord was not strong enough for the journey and could not easily pass the pickets; there was no one else to send, so the courageous woman determined to take her life in her hands and attempt the long journey on foot.
8. The distance from Queenston to Beaver Dams by the direct road was thirteen miles, but Laura Secord had heard the officers say that a portion of the troops were to go that way to attack the post at Ten-mile Creek, and she must, therefore, take a circuitous path.
9. She started in the middle of the night. The illness of a brother at St. David's was the excuse that induced the sentry to let her pass. Her relatives at St. David's tried in vain to dissuade her from the journey; in a few minutes she proceeded on her way, accompanied by a niece. Heavy rains had made the road difficult, and in places she had to wade the streams or creep across fallen trees on hands and knees. Fear of interception caused her to make a detour, which after a long and arduous walk brought her to St. Catharines—then called Shipman's Corners. Here her companion's feet became so sore that she could go not further.
10. From St. Catharines Mrs. Secord followed the course of the Twelve-mile Creek, crossing and re-crossing that stream. As she drew near to Beaver dams she had to fear FitzGibbon's Indian allies, who were apt to pay small respect to women. Here is her own statement: "I left early in the morning, walked nineteen miles in the month of June to a field belonging to Mr. DeCamp, in the neighborhood of the Beaver Dams. By this time daylight had left me. Here I found all the Indians encamped. By moonlight the scene was terrifying, and to those unaccustomed to such scenes might be considered grand. Upon advancing to the Indians they all ran and said, with some yells, 'Woman!' which made me tremble. I cannot express the awful feeling it gave me, but I did not lose my presence of mind. I was determined to persevere. I went up to one of the chiefs, made him understand that I had great news for FitzGibbon, and that he must let me pass to his camp, or that he and his party would all be taken.
11. "The chief at first objected to let me pass, but finally consented to go with me to FitzGibbon's station, which was at Beaver Dams, where I had an interview with him. . . . Benefiting by this information Captain FitzGibbon formed his plans accordingly, and captured about five hundred American infantry and fifty mounted dragoons, and a field-piece or two was taken from the enemy. I returned home the next day exhausted and fatigued. I am now advanced in years, and when I look back I wonder how I could have gone through so much fatigue with the fortitude to accomplish it."
12. FitzGibbon said: "Mrs. Secord was a woman of slight and delicate frame and made the effort in excessively hot weather, and I dreaded at the time she must suffer in health in consequence of fatigue and anxiety."
13. A frail and delicate woman walked most of the night and all next day under a tropical sun to warn men of the approach of her country's enemies! No words of praise are needed. The country that can boast such mothers is, upon its own soil, impregnable.
14. Laura Secord lived fifty-five years after the performance of her heroic deed. She died on the 17th of October, 1868, and was buried in the churchyard at Niagara Falls, where a stone has recently been erected to her memory.