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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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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.