Every Canadian school kid knows her name, and anyone who loves chocolates also knows her name. She is Laura Secord, and an act of bravery on her part would change the course of the War of 1812, change Canada and set in motion a great deal of events that would lead to the Canada of today.
Born on Sept. 13, 1775 in Great Barrington, to Thomas and Elizabeth Ingersoll, Secord would be joined by three sisters in 1779, 1781 and 1783 until her mother sadly passed away in 1784. Her father would marry Mercy Smith in 1785, who would die from tuberculosis in 1789. Her father had also served for the American revolutionaries during the American Revolutionary War, and rose through the ranks eventually becoming the magistrate for the area. Following the death of Mercy, Thomas again remained, this time in 1789 to Sarah Backus. The couple would have an additional four girls and three boys.
When Shays’ Rebellion erupted in the area in 1789, he helped to suppress it and rose to the rank of major. Things began to change though when he saw the continued persecution of Loyalists in the area and he realized that with the economic conditions after the Revolutionary War and his own debts, it was unlikely his family would see the prosperity it once had. In 1793, Thomas met Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader, who offered to show him land in Upper Canada. He petitioned John Simcoe, the governor of Upper Canada, for a land grant and received 66,000 acres in the Thames Valley. He would found Oxford-on-the-Thames on that land, which would eventually become Ingersoll, Ontario. The family moved to the new land in 1795.
The family would eventually move to Credit River, near present-day Toronto, where Thomas would run an inn successfully until 1812. His wife would then run the inn until her own death in 1812.
As for Laura, she would marry James Secord, a wealthy man, in 1797. The couple would live in a house they had built in St. Davids, where the first floor was a shop. Secord would give birth to her first child, Mary, in 1799, followed by Charlotte in 1801, Harriet in 1803, Charles in 1809 and Applonia in 1810.
When the War of 1812 began, James Secord served in the First Lincoln Militia under the great Isaac Brockinton. He would be one of the men to carry the body of Brock off the battlefield after the General was killed at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October of 1812. In that battle, James was also injured in the shoulder. When Laura heard of his injury, she rushed to be with him. As she arrived, legend has it that she found three American soldiers about to beat him to death with their gun stocks. She begged them to save her husband and she offered her own in return. American Captain John E. Wool came upon the situation and reprimanded the soldiers. Whether this story happened or not is not known, but it shows her bravery, at least a small glimpse of it.
Her husband’s injury was not embellishment though, and she would spend the next several months nursing him back to health.
On May 27, 1813, the American army launched an attack and captured Fort George, allowing the Americans to capture the Niagara and Queenston area. Men of military age were taken prisoner, but James Secord was not among them.
In the next month, several U.S. soldiers would billet at the home of Secord, which would lead us to the legendary walk of Laura Secord.
It was on June 21, 1813 when Laura Secord was in her home as the American soldiers stayed there. She would hear of the American plan to attack the troops of Lt. James FitzGibbon at Beaver Dams. This attack, if successful would give the Americans control of the Niagara Peninsula.
The next morning, as he husband was still recovering, Secord began to walk to warn Lt. FitzGibbon. She would walk 32 kilometres from Queenston to St. Davids. Along the way, she would come across the camp of Mohawk warriors who led her the rest of the way to the headquarters of FitzGibbon.
With her warning, the small British force and the Mohawk warriors readied for an attack. When the Americans did attack on June 24 at the Battle of Beaver Dams, they would be defeated and many would be taken prisoner.
Secord was not mentioned in any reports following the battle, despite her critical information. It should be noted that FitzGibbon may have purposely kept her name out of the reports to protect her family as he had no issues telling others about her contributions after the war.
In the battle, 600 soldiers with the United States faced 400 Mohawks and 50 British troops. The battle would see 15 Mohawks killed, and 20 British killed, while the Americans lost 25 men, had 50 wounded and 462 captured. The failure of the attack would cause the troops at Fort George to become demoralized and they would abandon the fort on Dec. 10 and rarely sent patrols farther than a mile outside the fort when the occupied it.
Legends of her walk would change over the years. Some said she took a cow with her as an excuse to leave the property, while another says that she went barefoot to warn the troops. Secord herself would say “I left early in the morning” but it is unlikely she left without slippers, although she could have lost a slipper during the walk.
Without Secord, it is likely the Americans would have had a deeper foothold in Canada and the shape of Canada would have changed forever.
Following the War of 1812, the Secord’s store was in ruins and the family was deep in poverty with only a small war pension and the rent of their 200 acres of land to support them. In 1815, a sixth child was born, followed by another in 1817.
In 1827, James petitioned the government for employment but Lt. Gov. Peregrine Maitland instead offered Laura the chance to be in charge of the soon-to-be-finished Brock’s Monument. She did accept after a period of time. The monument was completed in 1831 and Secord found out that John Colborne, the new Lt. Gov. Was going to give the charge of the monument to another person. Secord petitioned Colborne to honour the original promise and she included a certificate from FitzGibbon attesting to her contribution during the way. Despite her pleas, she would not get the charge of the monument.
Things did began to improve in 1828 when James became the registrar of the Niagara Surrogate Court. In 1833, he would become a judge and then a customs collector in 1835.
In 1841, James would die from a stroke and was buried at Drummond Hill. The death of James left Laura without any money since his war pension had ended. She sought to have her son take over James’ custom position but this was denied, as was the request for a pension for herself.
Secord would live with her daughter Harriet and her grandchildren in a home on Water Street and would teach school out of the home in an effort to support herself.
The Secords continually tried to petition the government to acknowledge the efforts of Secord in the War of 1812 but these were unsuccessful. In 1860, when Secord was 85, the Prince of Wales visited Canada and found out about her story and that she was an aging widow. He would send her 100 Pounds, worth 12,239 Pounds today. This gift would be the only recognition Secord would receive in her entire life for what she did in June of 1813.
She would die in 1868 at the age of 93.
On her grave marker, it says: “To perpetuate the name and fame of Laura Secord, who walked alone nearly 20 miles by a circuitous difficult and perilous route, through woods and swamps and over miry roads to warn a British outpost at DeCew’s Falls of an intended attack and thereby enabled Lt. FitzGibbon on June 24, 1813 with few than 50 men of the H.M. 49th Regiment, about 15 militia men and a small force of Six Nations and other Indians under Capt. William Johnson Kerr and Dominique Ducharme to surprise and attack the enemy at Beaver DGams and after a short engagement, to capture Col. Bosler of the U.S. Army and his entire force of 542 men with two field pieces.”
In her life, Secord would write two accounts of her walk. One was in 1853 and another in 1861 but neither account contains much in the way of details.
Following her death, the story of Secord began to gain traction in the 1880s when upper class women sought to strengthen the emotional ties between Canadian women and the British Empire. A drama called Laura Secord: The Heroine of 1812 would be written in 1887 and this play would result in many articles and entries in Canadian histories and textbooks going into the 20th Century. This play, while it did get negative reviews, was the first full work of Secord’s story and would help spread her story.
Women pushing for Women’s Suffrage also began to use Secord’s story as part of their message as why women deserved the right to vote and equal rights.
In 1900, The Story of Laura Secord was written by Emma Currie and she would also petition to have a Secord memorial erected in Queenston Heights. The statue was dedicated in 1901 and stands at seven feet tall. In 1905, Secord’s portrait would hang in Parliament.
In 1913, the centennial of the walk, Laura Secord Chocolates would be founded by Frank O’Connor. The first store was located at Yong and Elm Street in Toronto. The chocolates were packaged in a box with an image of Secord on it. By the 1970s, the company was the largest candy retailer in Canada and the name Laura Secord would become known more for the chocolates than her walk. The company states her name was chosen because she was “an icon of courage, devotion and loyalty”
Today, the Secord’s homestead is now part of the Niagara Parks Commission and has a museum and gift shop.
Several schools are named for Laura Secord and in 1992, Canada Post issued a Laura Secord commemorative stamp. In 2003, Secord was declared a Person of National Historic Significance and in 2006, she was one of the 14 statues dedicated at the Valiants Memorial in Ottawa. In 2013, the 200th anniversary of her walk, her image was put on a quarter issued by the Royal Canadian Mint and a postage stamp was made by Canada Post.
Information comes from Wikipedia, Canadian Encyclopedia, War of 1812.ca,