Laura's courageous rescue of her husband during the Battle of Queenston Heights and her grueling journey to Beaver Dams to warn of the coming American attack is probably the most unheralded love story in Ontario history.
The most unheralded love story in Ontario
All Canadians know Laura Secord as the patriot who warned of an imminent attack by American soldiers on a British contingent at Beaver Dams during the War of 1812.
A monument in Queenston Heights Park, Queenston, bears the following inscription:
"THIS MONUMENT HAS BEEN ERECTED
GOVERNMENT OF CANADA
LAURA INGERSOLL SECORD
"WHO SAVED HER HUSBAND'S LIFE IN THE BATTLE OF THESE HEIGHTS OCTOBER 13, 1812, AND WHO RISKED HER
OWN IN CONVEYING TO CAPT. FITZGIBB INFORMATION
BY WHICH HE WON THE VICTORY OF BEAVER DAMS"
Those Americans who supported the British during the American Revolutionary War were known as United Empire Loyalists.
England recognized the independence of the United States of America with the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty on April 26, 1783. Less than sixty days later on July 1, 1783, England's King George the Third signed a proclamation granting land in Upper Canada to those Empire Loyalists who wished to leave or were being expelled from the United States.
Laura Ingersoll was born September 13, 1775, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, U.S.A. She, together with her Loyalist family, moved to Upper Canada, now Ontario, in 1795. In 1798, she married James Secord. They had seven children and chose to live in the small village of Queenston in the Niagara region in close proximity to other Empire Loyalists even though she was granted a parcel of land in Uxbridge.
Peter Hunter Esq., the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, granted Laura, the daughter of an Empire Loyalist, 172 acres of land in Uxbridge Township, (Lot 37, Concession 7). She sold the land on August 16, 1819, for sixty-four pounds, ten shillings, the lawful money of Upper Canada. Copies of conveyance records involving the sale are in the archives of the Uxbridge-Scott Museum in Uxbridge and can be viewed to anyone wishing to visit there.
Uxbridge-Scott Museum is one of Ontario's best-kept secrets. The museum is a treasure chest of information and historical detail regarding the Uxbridge-Scott area and its people.
Concession 7, which continues north of Uxbridge as Durham Road 1 should be the most famous address in Canada. This road lays claim to the homes of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Tomas Foster, Leslie Ruth Howard, her deceased husband Bob Dale-Harris and the Thomas Foster Memorial. The land conveyed to Laura Secord by Peter Hunter, the Lieutenant-Governor, is also located on Concession 7.
James Secord, a volunteer citizen solder in the British army, fought in the Battle of Queenston Heights along side Mohawk Warriors and Afro Canadian soldiers on October 13, 1812. Laura, a slight and frail woman of thirty-seven years, learned that James had been wounded; she rushed to the battlefield and found him fallen, covered with blood from a wounded shoulder and knee. With his arms
wrapped about her neck for support, she was able to drag James back to their home in Queenston which was located a short distance from the battlefield. There, she dressed his wounds and was able to nurse him back to partial health. As a result of his injury, James could hardly walk.
During the Battle of Queenston Heights, an American sniper bullet killed Major General Sir Isaac Brock, Military commander of Upper Canada. To honour Sir Isaac Brock, a monument was built in 1856; it towers 56 meters above the battlefield where he fell.
In 1969 the Canadian Government issued a postage stamp commemorating the 200 year anniversary of Major General Brock's birth. You can see an image of Brock's Monument in the background.
In 1813, soldiers of the invading American Army occupied the Secord home in Queenston. Fortunately, the American soldiers were unaware of the cause of Jame's injury and that he was an enlisted soldier in the British Army. Laura, fearing for her husband's safety,
planned to seek help. She overheard the Americans discussing, while they were in drunken stupor, an impending surprise attack on the British encampment near the village of Beaver Dams.
Laura convinced the American soldiers to allow her to visit her ailing half-brother Charles who lived in St. David's, a village located a short distance from Queenston. After arriving in St. David's, Laura and her niece Elizabeth set out to warn the British at Beaver Dams of the American attack.
Three hours into the 30 kilometer journey, Elizabeth became too exhausted to continue, leaving Laura to carry on alone by an indirect route so as to avoid detection by American forces. The 32 km. trek followed Old Swamp Road to Shipman's Corners in St. Catharines, continued along Twelve Mile Creek and then to De Cew Falls. Men from the Six Nations, Mohawk and Caughnawaga tribes assisted and guided her in the final phase of the journey. After walking eighteen hours in temperatures exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit, she arrived at the
De Cew house where Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, Commander of the British forces, interviewed her and learned of the American plan to attack his forces.
On June 22, 1813, when American troops, led by Colonel Boerstler, were marching to Beaver Dams, fifty British regular soldiers commanded by Lt-Fitzgibbon and two hundred Native American warriors from the Iroquois, Caughnawaga and Six Nations tribes, led by Iroquois leader Dominique Ducharme, attacked the American soldiers even though they were vastly outnumbered by the American soldiers. A fierce confrontation ensued, but when
British reinforcements under the command of Lt.-Colonel Bisshopp arrived, the Americans surrendered. American prisoners taken numbered 570.
In the early 1800s, American settler expansion onto Native American territories was uncompromising. Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, Brigadier General and Commander of the Confederation of Native American Tribes, saw the War of 1812 as an opportunity that might never occur again. If an American Native Confederate State permitting Native American negotiations with the United States as equals were to ever happen, it had to be now.
When the United States invaded British North America in June 1812, Tecumseh joined forces with the British fielding 800 Native warriors in repelling American General William Hull. Hull was forced to retreat to Detroit where he later surrendered the city without a struggle.
Britain had just 1200 armed soldiers deployed in Upper Canada in 1812. As demonstrated at the Battle of Beaver Dams, Native American warrior combat involvement was essential regarding British/Canadian success in the war.
The Great Lakes, which separates both counties, required the invading Americans to wedge their main advance into Upper Canada through connecting land corridors which included the Niagara area. A coalition of the British regular army, Native American warriors and citizen volunteers withstood the American army.
It is regrettable that many historical accounts, when referring to the contribution of Native Americans in the War of 1812, often derisively describe Native Americans as "a band of Indians fighting along side the British." Native Americans were co-founders of our country and recognition of their enormous contribution to Canada is past due.
When the cry rang out "Tecumseh is dead" during the Battle of Thames in Moraviantown, Ontario, October 5, 1813, the cry also sounded the loss of the principal architect of the Native American Confederate State in North America. The hopes for a grand alliance of the Native Nations were shattered for this time.
After the victory at Beaver Dams, Laura Secord returned to her husband in Queenston, which again became under British control. The war ended on March 15, 1815, with the American forces returning to the United States.
Twelve years later in 1827, Lieutenant Fitzgibbon wrote concerning Laura Secord:
"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. I have ever since held myself personally indebted to her for her conduct..."
In 1860, forty-seven years after the Battle of Beaver Dams, the Prince of Wales of Great Britain awarded Laura the sum of one hundred gold British sovereigns for her outstanding contribution in the War of 1812. She was eighty-five at the time.
Laura died on October 17, 1868, at the age of 93. A monument showing a striking likeness of her in her thirties was placed in Drummond Hill Cemetery, Lundy's Lane, Niagara Falls, where she was interred next to her husband James. Look for the monument located at the front of the cemetery next to a tall shrine overlooking Lundy's Lane. It's easy to find.
After Laura's death, her modest four room home at 29 Queenston Street, Queenston, was restored and opened to the public. If possible, journey to the Secord home in Queenston and the historical park where the Battle of Queenston Heights was fought and recreate one great moment in Canadian history and experience.
In 1992, the Canadian Post Office issued a postage stamp commemorating Laura Secord. If you look closely, you can see members of the Iroquois, Caughnawaga and Six Nations tribes in the lower right corner of the stamp.
Queenston is only minutes from the Niagara River Gorge flowing down river from Niagara Falls. The view from the roadway above the surging river rushing to Lake Ontario combined with welcoming parks and gardens lined along the top of the gorge is incredible.
It's a wonderful place to picnic, especially where the Floral Clock is found along the River Gorge Roadway.