|The Heroine of Beaver Dams|
|Laura Ingersoll Secord (1775-1868)|
|Much has been written about Laura Ingersoll; some fact, some fiction; but I don't think enough has been said about her involvement in the victory at Beaversams, one of the deciding battles in the War of 1812.|
|The official version of the story can be found on a monument to Laura at Lundy's Lane:
"Laura Secord 1775-1868. To perpetuate the name and fame of Laura Secord who walked alone nearly 20 miles by a circuitous, difficult and perilous route through the woods and swamps and over miry roads to warn a British outpost at De Cew's Falls of an intended attack and thereby enabled Lieut. Fitzgibbon on the 24th of June 1813, with less than 50 men of H.M. 49th Regt., about 15 militiamen and small force of Six Nations and other Indians under Captains William Johnson Kerr and Dominque Ducharme to surprise and attack the enemy at Beechwoods (or Beaverdams), and after a short engagement, to capture Col. Boerstler of the U.S. Army and his entire force of 542 men with two field pieces."
|Laura Ingersoll Secord|
|Though the intent of these words may have been to "perpetuate the name and fame of Laura Secord", it's clear that the credit was actually given to Lieutenant Fitzgibbon and the men of the 49th, who in my opinion, probably played the least significant role in the entire drama.
But first; who was Laura Ingersoll? Like so many of the American Immigrants, more commonly known as United Empire Loyalists, her personna is of a humble farm girl, living in the backwoods of Canada, with little more on her mind than baking the next loaf of bread or milking the cow for supper. The many stories about her life certainly play into this, until she's become almost a fictional character; everything from a chocolateer to a norotious spy. In fact, she was neither.
Laura Ingersoll was born on September 13, 1775 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the daughter of Thomas Ingersoll and Elizabeth Dewey.
|The settlement at Great Barrington or Housatonnuck (The Great Wigwam), was a major trading post on the trail from Fort Orange, near Albany, New York; to Springfield and Massachusetts Bay. The Stockbridge Indians called it Mahaiwe, or the "place down-stream." and the Dutch called it "The New England Trail.", but regardless of it's name, it had been a major commercial center in the region for many years. Early visitors remarked, often with disgust, on how the new settlers and local natives lived and worked together, but the local residents enjoyed this harmony. Young Laura would not have grown up with the prejudices later harbored against the Native Americans or First Canadians.|
|After the Revolutionary War, Western Massachusetts was struck by a severe economic depression. Those who had fought for independance, now found themselves on the verge of bankruptcy, so petitioned the state senate to issue paper money; halt the foreclosure of mortgages on their properties and hopefully prevent imprisonment for those forced into debt when they were unable to pay the high land taxes. When the state senate failed to meet their demands, armed insurgents, under the leadership of Daniel Shays and others, launched what would become known as "Shays Rebellion". Ultimately it failed and many disillusioned Americans headed to Canada. The Ingersoll family was amoung them, and the now 15 year old Laura, began her new life in Upper Canada, unaware of the important role she would later play in it's continuity.
Her father opened a tavern at Queenston, near Niagra, and was no doubt requainted with many old neighbors, including a large group of former natives, who found that they did not have a place in the new America, and followed the 'Loyalists', more than a decade previous.
|Her Secord Family|
|About 1797, Laura would marry, James Secord, a local merchant, who arrived in Canada as a refugee. This was not the first time that the Secords were forced from their land as a result of political or religious persecution.
The name was brought to North America by Ambroise Sicard, a "Saunier" or salt farmer from Mornac, near Marennes, just south of La Rochelle, France. His family had been in the area since the 4th century, but as a Hugenot (Protestant), he was forced to flee with his wife and six children, in 1681; leaving most of his worldly possessions behind, including vineyards, valued at about 40 livres. It is believed that his wife and one child may have perished at sea or died while in England, because by the time he arrived on American soil, he was a single father with a family of five. The name Sicard was derived from Sighard, and could be found in the early records as Secor, Seacord and Secord, the latter being the name that Laura assumed when she married James.
Ambroise's relocation was financed by the London Church's Refugee Committee, who arranged his family's transport to the Colonies, and he became one of the founding fathers of New Rochelle, New York. Considered to be of "Middle Quality" he was given 40 pounds as start up capital. In 1689, he signed an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown, listing his age as 67 and marital status as widowed. In 1696, he purchased 95 acres of land in New Rochelle and in 1710, at the age of 75, he was still residing on that property. The five children accounted for were Ambroise Jr., Daniel, Jacques, Marie and Sylvie.
The second eldest, Daniel, married Catherine Woertman in 1696, and they had a son Daniel, who married Catherine Mabille. Daniel and Catherine had a son James who married Madeliene Badeau and they had a son James, who would later become Laura Ingersoll's husband.
|Young James had arrived in Upper Canada on December 1, 1783, at the age of 10. His father had belonged to Butler's Rangers, fighting alongside the British during the War of Independance, under the leadership of Major John Butler, who was instructed to form eight divisions "composed of men who understood the Native American Indians, be accomplished woodsmen, and have considerable endurance." Their principal duties were to work with 'Loyal Indian Allies' in raids on Frontier outposts of New York and Pennsylvania. They were considered one of the most active and successful Provincial Corps of the Revolutionary War, but being on the losing side, had to start fresh in Canada, along with their native allies.|
|When the War of 1812 broke out, as part of a larger conflict between France and Britain, Isaac Brock was appointed to head up an army to protect Canadian interests along the U.S. borders. The Americans had counted on the support of the Loyalist families and began to launch raids into their territory, not as a retaliatory measure, but what they believed was liberation. What they hadn't counted on was the Anti-American sentiment that was passed down to the children of the UEL, who had lost everything after the Revolutionary War, and were not eager to be brought under the blanket of the United States.
James Secord had joined the "Green Tigers", the 49th Regiment of Infantry under Brock, and fought alongside the Caughnawaga, a military division comprised of Mohawk-speaking Iroquois who were also descendants of United Empire Loyalists. James had been injured in battle and was at home recuperating when a group of American soldiers, burst into his home on the fateful evening of June 21, 1813. They demanded that Laura make them dinner and 'liberated' the Secord family of the contents of their "wine cellar". Laura and James were living comfortably with the income from their mercantile establishment, something that would not have gone unnoticed by the invaders.
As the evening wore on, the wine loosened tongues and Laura overheard a plot to attack the British forces at Beaverdams. Lieutenant James Fitzgibbons had a small force there as a defense against such assaults. Knowing that her husband was unable to walk very far, she decided to go to her brother Charles to see if he could get a message to Fitzgibbons. However, when she arrived at his home, he was in bed with a fever and his sons were off fighting with the militia, so with no other alternative, Laura decided to get the message to him herself. Avoiding the main roads, she chose a circular path through the dense woods and swamps, with the constant threat of wildcats, wolves and rattlesnakes. Her young niece, Elizabeth, accompanied her for part of the journey, but turned back after the first few hours, unable to convince her aunt to do the same.
|Following the general direction of Twelve Mile Creek, she crossed over fields and waded through swamps, eventually losing her light kid mocassins, after being stuck in the mud. But she never gave up.
Worn from exhaustion, she fainted in the woods, but was fortunately discovered by a Mohawk leader, who after hearing her story, ordered one of his men to escort the woman to De Cews House, where Fitzgibbons and his men were staying.
|Though I'm sure he was tempted to dismiss the whole thing as female hysterics, her condition and the fact that she had just tramped 19 miles in the blazing heat, made him take the rumour seriously. So, he dispatched William Johnson Kerr with his army of 50 regulars, including a "small force of Six Nations"; and Dominique Duscharme with a front line force of 450 "other Indians"; namely the Caughnawaga, who were the first to surround the American Army. Each fired off one shot, before taking cover to reload.|
|After being apprised of the situation, James Fitzgibbon rode out to Beaverdams bearing a white flag. He told the American forces to surrender as Prisoners of War, or face the "merciless fury of the Indians". The Americans realizing they'd been ambushed, surrendered, and for years, Fitzgibbons was hailed as the hero at Beaverdams. Laura, not wishing to be executed as a traitor should the Americans win the war, kept quiet, and the English Lieutenant, enjoying his fame, did not include her involvement in any of his reports.|
|Finally, in 1827, he referred to Laura in a letter: "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. And I have ever since held myself personally indebted to her for her conduct upon that occasion..." In 1860, when she was 85 years old, the Prince of Wales, on a visit to Canada, read Laura's account of her wartime adventure, and sent her a gift of 100 pounds for her efforts. No medal for bravery or commission. Just 100 pounds.
Laura Ingersoll Secord died on October 17, 1868 at Chippewa; a true Canadian Heroine.
|Come all ye brave young soldier lads, with your strong and manly bearing.
I'll tell you a tale of a women brave, and her deed of honest daring.
Laura Secord was American born, in the state of Massachusetts,
But she made her home in Canada and proved so faithful to us.
There's American guns and five hundred men,
So the warning must be given.
Laura Ingersoll Secord is the stalwart heart,
Who braved the heat, and the flies and the swamp,
To warn Colonel FitzGibbon.
Soldiers pounding at the door, they've come from across the boarder.
American officers march inside, it's food and drink they order.
In comfort they have dined and drunk, their own success they've toasted,
But they pay no heed to the woman who hears their plan so widely boasted.
"Oh! James I've overheard it all, a surprise attack their making.
FitzGibbon they intend to smash, his men for prisoners taking.
But James, a warning never you'll take, with your wounded knee and shoulder.
I myself must carry it past the sentries and the soldiers."
It's an all day tramp to the British camp, by way of Shipman's Corners.
With snakes and flies, and sweat in her eyes, there is no respite for her.
She's lost her shoes in the muck of the bog, her feet are torn and blistered,
But there's many a soldier lad to be spared, if the message be delivered.
So all you Yankee soldier lads who dare to cross our boarder,
Thinking to save us from ourselves, disturbing British order,
There's women and men, Canadians all of every rank and station,
To stand on guard and keep us free, from Yankee domination!
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