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Laura Secord

Foremost in the roll of heroines of Canadian history stands the name of Laura Secord. Her husband was a merchant at Queenston and took a prominent part in the stirring events of 1812. He was engaged at the battle of Queenston Heights, and had the honor of being one of the number who bore the lifeless body of Sir Isaac Brock from the battlefield. Later in the day he himself received a serious wound and was left lying helpless on the hillside. His wife, upon hearing that her husband had been wounded, lost no time in going to his assistance, and arrived just in time to thrust herself between her prostrate husband and two brutal soldiers who with uplifted muskets were about to dispatch the defenseless man. She managed to hold the cowardly assassins in check until the timely arrival of an American officer, Captain Wool, who, reprimanding his followers, sent them under guard to the American headquarters, where they were subsequently tried by court-martial and sentenced to several months' imprisonment for their brutal and unsoldierly conduct. The chivalrous officer left poor Secord in the hands of his anxious and grateful wife, and did not even place him upon parole. This humane act of Captain Wool was long remembered by the wounded soldier, and the natural result was a warm and lasting friendship, which endured as long as he lived.

We next hear of Laura in the following summer, two days after the narrow escape of Lieutenant FitzGibbon, in which Mrs. Defield played so important a part. His little band of busy scouts, reinforced by about one hundred and sixty Caughnawaga Indians, had so menaced and annoyed the lines of the enemy that they concluded some decisive step must be taken to rid themselves of this constant source of trouble.

To Colonel Boerstler, of Maryland, was assigned the task. He had displayed consider-able ability as a commander, and with a strong force, consisting of six hundred and thirty men, a company of artillery, two field-pieces, mounted infantry and a troop of dragoons, he was expected to make short shrift of the offensive FitzGibbon and his two score and ten followers. He had other ambitious plans mapped out for himself by which he hoped to subjugate the entire peninsula, but the first and most important step was the capture of FitzGibbon. He felt confident that once he had this wily strategian in his power and commanded the position of Beaver Dam, held by him, the rest would .follow as a matter of course.

On the evening of June 23rd all was in readiness. Detachments had already advanced as far as Queenston, and some of the officers were billeted at the home of Mrs. Secord. From their unguarded conversation the wife of the wounded soldier learned their plans. They were to march on the following morning against FitzGibbon, overcome him, capture Beaver Dam, and use that point as the base of their future operations.

Poor Secord bemoaned his helpless condition, for he knew that unless word of the impending attack could be carried to FitzGibbon, his old comrades would be surprised and fall into the hands of the invading force. His wife, perceiving his agonized condition, immediately determined upon a course of action. FitzGibbon must be warned, and she would warn him. Her husband, realizing the danger that threatened her, was loath to consent to her undertaking the perilous journey, for she was weak and worn out with the anxiety and care of nursing him, and the road lay through dense swamps and was traversed by swollen streams, and she was in danger of being over-taken by the enemy. From Queenston to Beaver Dam was about twelve miles, but as Boerstler had in her presence disclosed his intention of dividing his forces, and marching by different routes, in order to prevent Major De Haren rendering assistance to FitzGibbon, it became necessary for her, in order to avoid their proposed lines of march, to travel nearly twenty miles by unfrequented roads and paths. Unknown to our heroine, this plan of Boerstler was subsequently abandoned.

Laura Secord appreciated the danger that confronted her, but although frail in body she had a stout and loyal heart, and nothing could shake her from her purpose. She did not wait for daylight. In the early morn, before any in the village were stirring, she set out on her perilous mission. At her own gate she was challenged by a sentinel, who allowed her to pass upon being assured that she was going to visit her sick brother. She did halt at his house, where she was again entreated to abandon her purpose. She, however, insisted upon proceeding at once and prevailed upon her niece, Elizabeth Secord, to accompany her. When they reached Shipman's Corners (now the City of St. Catharines) the niece was too footsore to continue the journey and her aunt went on alone. Along the muddy roads, through the flooded swamps and across the swollen streams she plodded, fearing only that the enemy might reach the goal before her.

In her own simple narrative of the event she makes no mention of the hardships she under-went. The foremost thought in her mind, which evidently overshadowed all other feelings, was the speedy delivery of her precious message.

In Mrs. Currie's "Story of Laura Secord," she is quoted as saying: "I left early in the morning, walked nineteen miles in the month of June to a field belonging to a Mr. De Camp, in the neighborhood of the Beaver Dam." The narrative, of which this is a part, was furnished by her forty years after her perilous adventure, and even in the telling of it at that distant date she glides rapidly over those nine-teen miles and does not deem it worth her while to refer to a single incident upon that weary march, although it is well known that one bridge was carried away and that she had to cross the stream by creeping along the trunk of a fallen tree, and that the general condition of the country was such, owing to the recent rains, that her endurance must have been put to the severest test.

When a short distance from FitzGibbon she found herself in an Indian camp. The stories of the cruel tortures inflicted by the savages upon the whites who fell into their hands were enough to strike terror into the heart of the strongest, and Mrs. Secord was terrified at finding herself apparently at their mercy. Her fears were not allayed when several of the warriors came running towards her shouting "Woman!" She, however, preserved her presence of mind, and singling out one of their number whom she took to be a chief, she gave him to understand by signs that she had an important message for FitzGibbon, and that the safety of the Indians themselves depended upon its speedy delivery. The Indians, who proved to be FitzGibbon's friends, conducted her to his station at Beaver Dam, where she communicated to him all she had learned the night before from the incautious American officers. She was then conducted to a place of safety, where she enjoyed much-needed rest of both body and mind.

FitzGibbon, taking advantage of the information thus received from such an unexpected source, prepared to meet the enemy. The following official dispatch sent by him to Major De Haren gives in his own words an account of what is generally regarded as the most brilliant achievement of the campaign:

Township of Louth, June 24th, 1813.

"Sir, At De Cou's this morning, about seven o'clock, I received information that about 1,000 of the enemy with two guns were advancing towards me from St. David's. I soon after heard firing of cannon and musketry, and in consequence rode in advance two miles on the St. David's road. I discovered by the firing that the enemy was moving for the road on the mountain. I sent off Cornet McKenzie to order out my detachment of the 49th, consisting of a subaltern and forty-six rank and file, and closed upon the enemy to reconnoiter.

"I discovered him on the mountain road and took up a position on the right of it. My men arrived and pushed on in his front to cut off his retreat, under a fire from his guns, which, however, did no execution. After examining his position, I found it difficult to approach him, there being no wood in front or on the flanks to cover the Indians, and his force (apparently 600) I could not approach. I was here informed that he expected reinforcements. I therefore decided upon summoning him to surrender.

"After the exchange of several propositions between Colonel Boerstler and myself, in the name of Lieut. Colonel De Haren, Lieut. Colonel Boerstler agreed to surrender on the terms stated in the articles of capitulation. On my return to my men to send an officer to superintend the details of the surrender you arrived.

"I have the honor to be, etc.,

(Signed) J. FitzGibbon, "Lieutenant 49th Regiment"

Captain William Kerr, a son-in-law of Brant, with about two hundred and fifty Indians, had for some time been engaged with the enemy. This was the firing referred to in the foregoing despatch. By a clever ruse FitzGibbon convinced the Americans that he was at the head of a large force, and represented to them that he would be unable to hold the Indians in check unless terms of surrender were immediately agreed upon. The American commander surrendered upon the following terms :

"First That Lieut. Colonel Boerstler and the force under his command shall surrender prisoners of war.

"Second. That the officers shall retain their horses, arms and baggage.

'Third. That the non-commissioned officers and soldiers shall lay down their arms at the head of the British column and become prisoners of war.

"Fourth. That the militia and volunteers with Lieut. Colonel Boerstler shall be permitted to return to the United States on parole."

FitzGibbon reluctantly consented to the fourth article when he learned that Dr. Chapin and his plundering band of guerillas were included among the militiamen. He had sufficient reason, however, to be content with his morning's work, and the chagrin of the Americans may well be imagined when they learned that over 600 of their number had laid down their arms to a wily Irishman and forty-six trusty followers. That he gave due credit to Laura Secord for the success of this far-reaching victory is quite evident from the following letter written by himself:

"Thus did a young, delicate woman brave the terrors of the forest in a time of such desultory warfare that the dangers were increased tenfold, to do her duty to her country, and by timely warning save much bloodshed and disaster."

James Second was rewarded for his services by an appointment in the Customs Department at Chippewa and a pension, both of which he enjoyed until his death in 1841.

There was no official recognition by the Canadian Government of the services rendered by his loyal wife. The present King, upon the occasion of his visit to Niagara Falls in 1860, learned her history, and His Royal Highness was so impressed by her loyalty and heroism that he sent her a cheque for 100 sterling. This might be construed as a silent but stinging rebuke to our Government for having taken no steps to provide for the deserving widow. . She lived to the ripe old age of ninety-three years, esteemed and honored by all of her countrymen.

Laura Secord
By Charles Edwin Jakeway, M.D.

On the sacred scroll of glory
Let us blazen forth the story
Of a brave Canadian woman, with the fervid pen of fame;

So that all the world may read it,
And that every heart may heed it,
And rehearse it through the ages to the honor of her name.

In the far-off days of battle,
When the musket's rapid rattle
Far reechoed through the forest, Laura Secord sped along

Deep into the woodland mazy,
Over pathways wild and hazy,
With a firm and fearless footstep and a courage staunch and strong.

She had heard the host preparing,
And at once, with dauntless daring,
Hurried off to give the warning of the fast advancing foe;
And she flitted like a shadow
Far away o'er fen and meadow,
Where the wolf was in the wildwood and the lynx was lying low.

From within the wild recesses
Of the tangled wildernesses
Sounds mysterious pursued her 'long the winding forest-way;
And she heard the gutt'ral growling
Of the bears, that, near her prowling,
Crushed their way through coverts gloomy, with their cubs in noisy play.

Thus for twenty miles she traveled
Over pathways rough and ravelled,
Braving danger for her country like the fabled ones of yore,
Till she reached her destination,
And forewarned the threatened station
Of the wave that was advancing to engulf it deep in gore.

Just in time the welcome warning
Came unto the men, that, scorning
To retire before the foemen, rallied ready for the fray;
And they gave such gallant greeting,
That the foe was soon retreating,
Back in wild dismay and terror on that glorious battle-day.

Few returned to tell the story
Of the conflict sharp and gory
That was won with brilliant glory by that brave Canadian band,
For the host of prisoners captured
Far outnumbered the enraptured
Little group of gallant soldiers fighting for their native land.

Braver deeds are not recorded
In historic treasures hoarded,
Than the march of Laura Secord through the forest long ago;
And no nobler deed of daring
Than the cool and crafty snaring
By the band at Beaver Dam of all that well-appointed foe.

But we know if war should ever
Rage again o'er field and river,
And the hordes of the invader should appear within our land,
Far and wide the trumpets' pealing
Would awake the same old feeling,
And again would deeds of daring sparkle out on every hand.


Heroines of Canadian History, By W. S. Herrington, 1910

 

Canadian Heroines


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