A heroine is a woman of distinguished courage or ability, admired for her bravery and noble qualities; Laura Secord easily qualifies and exceeds this definition[i]. Her initiative, quick wit, intelligence and physical fortitude have been inspiring people since her story became widely known. Laura Secord is a genuine icon of Canadian history because 200 years later we are still hearing her story and the effects her actions had on the war of 1812. Laura Ingersoll Secord deserves a place of honour in Canadian history because of her exceptional courage, bravery and heroic act which made a significant impact on the outcome of the battle at Beaver Dams. After reviewing the Criteria outlined in the General Guidelines and Specific Guidelines: for evaluating subjects of potential national historic significance, it only makes sense that Laura Secord receives a commemoration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and be nationally recognized. She clearly meets the outlined criteria which includes; being involved in an action that had a nationally significant impact on Canadian history, being more than 25 years since her death and being a figure of significance prior to the province entering confederation.
Laura Ingersoll was born September 13th 1775 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Laura was seldom free of trouble never really knowing the meaning of a carefree childhood. At age eight her birth mother, Elizabeth Dewey, passed away leaving her to look after her three younger sisters. This was difficult considering her father, Thomas Ingersoll, was an American Officer and constantly had to leave for duty. Her father married twice more and had several children for which Laura was expected to help care for[ii]. In 1795 her father did not wish to live under the United States and government took steps to move his family to Upper Canada on the Kingston Peninsula. He also wanted to take advantage of a greater opportunity to obtain land. Two years after moving to Upper Canada, Laura married a merchant named James Secord becoming Laura Ingersoll Secord, the two of them moved to Queenstone where they started their family[iii]. Laura’s upbringing shows that she was already a strong, competent woman by the time she married. She had learned to take care of others and do whatever was necessary of her in order to fulfill her obligations.
In October of 1812 war had come to Queenstone where Mrs. Secord was living. In 1813 short battles were taking place along the Niagara peninsula since the Americans had declared war on the British Empire in 1812. In the summer of 1813, American troops had taken over parts of the peninsula and during this period, they billeted their troops in the homes of Canadians[iv]. It soon became evident that all measures must be taken in order to prevent the Americans from taking over this area of the British Empire. In 1813 Laura Ingersoll Secord, a 38 year old woman with five children[v], had her home taken over by a group of American officers and was expected serve them dinner. While cleaning up after a dinner she overheard the American officers planning a surprise attack on their British opponents at Beavers Dam, which was under the command of Lieutenant Fitzgibbon. Instead of ignoring what she had heard she talked to her husband and they decided that she would travel the nineteen miles in the scorching sun across treacherous lands to warn Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon, the British military leader in St. Davids. On June 22, 1813 Laura left her home in Queenstone and began the difficult journey.
While fearful of running into unfriendly Indians or American soldiers, Mrs. Secord willingly put herself in harm’s way in order to warn Fitzgibbon of the impending surprise attack. Walking through uneven forest and trying to stay out of sight new fears arose including those of wild animals and rattlesnakes. After walking all day she came upon a group of Iroquois, a group of first nation people, and persuaded them to take her to Fitzgibbons camp. With their help she was able to pass on the information of the surprise attack to Fitzgibbon. With exceptional courage, bravery, endurance and help from some first nations people Mrs. Secord completed her journey[vi]. As a consequence of the information, Laura Secord brought to Fitzgibbons; he was able to place a First Nations band together with his own British detachment in order to intercept the American Detachment[vii]. Laura Secord’s courageous act turned the tables on the Americans plans to surprise the British and gave the British the upper hand leading to the victory at Beaver Dam. Fitzgibbon assembled and equipped his men in anticipation of the American attack.
The British captured 500 American men with a field piece and 50 dragoons saving the British from dramatic bloodshed[viii]. The result being the American troops stayed in Fort George and did not have influence on the Canadian side of the Niagara[ix]. Laura Secord was honoured by the Prince of Wales with a gift of 100 pounds. If the Prince thinks of her as an important person than we as Canadians need to really consider her contribution and the impact it had on Canadian History, particularly our borders. It is possible the information she passed on to Fitzgibbon kept Canada’s borders from changing. Her actions are significant to Canadian history because she helped turn tables on the Americans; the victory took initiative away from the Americans in the Niagara area and gave the British the upper hand. It prevented further advances by the Americans and saved the people living on the Niagara Peninsula from American occupation[x]. Although there are disputes that the action Laura took was not warranted to be considered a heroine it is important to note that Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon confirmed Laura Secord’s trek and allowed the sceptics to finally believe her acts led to a significant change in the outcome of the battle at Beaver Dam.
In one of three certificates written by Fitzgibbon, he states that she did indeed came to him with information about an American plan to attempt a surprise attack on his men. She battled the weather and terrain, walked through excessively warm and thick forests, for close to 20 miles with no thought other than to accomplish her goal of getting the information to the right person[xi]. Throughout history the military roles of women have been in many cases overlooked. Women helped on the battlefield passing out water to the soldiers, in the camps they were laundresses, seamstresses, and companions to the soldiers. Women were stationed in forts and garrisons as servants in officers’ houses and worked as cooks as well as nursemaids and laundresses and of course. At home, they took care of family and possessions while their men were away at war[xii]. Laura Secord’s act of bravery was typical of pioneer women who worked hard and contributed to the survival of their families[xiii].
Laura’s action shows others that the unimaginable is possible and that one person’s actions can make a difference. Laura Secord was an important figure, in a larger chain of events that brought the war of 1812 to an end. She demonstrated the power of women to influence and shape the course of history[xiv]. If it was not for her heroic efforts many people would have died in the Battle of Beavers Dams. Laura Secord deserves a place of commemoration in Canadian history because it was through her efforts displayed, outstanding courage and persistence that she is called a patriotic heroine[xv] It is strongly suggested that the Historical Sites and Monument Board of Canada recommend Laura Secord to receive recognition as being a nationally historic person who went above and beyond in order to secure the safety of her Country in time of war. This example of a Canadian woman is too valuable to be allowed to disappear into the past. It would be more suitable to eternalize the memory of Laura Secord in order to keep her memory alive. It is believed that one of the best ways of doing so would be to have a national monument erected in her honour[xvi].
[i] Dictionary.com, “Heroine” http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/heroine+ (2011)
[ii] McKenzie, “Laura Secord, The Legend and The Lady” The Canadian Publishers 1971, pg 17
[iii] Donald R. Hickey, “Don’t give up the ship, myths of the war of 1812” Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing 2006, pg 195-196
[iv] W.R. Wilson, “Historical Narratives of Early Canada” Laura Secord Homespun Heroine, http://www.uppercanadahistory.ca/1812/18127.html, (2010)
[v] Pierre Berton, “Flames across the border 1813-1814” The Canadian Publishers 1981, pg 83
[vi] J MacKay Hitsman, “The incredible War of 1812, A Military History” University of Toronto Press 1965, pg 130-139
[vii] Donald R. Hickey, “Don’t give up the ship, myths of the war of 1812” Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing 2006, pg 197
[viii] . Parks Canada “What’s New, Prepared by James Fitzbiggon for Laura Secord” Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Parks Canada http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/rech-srch/clic-click.aspx?/cgi-bin/MsmGo.exe?grab_id=0&page_id=75749&query=laura%20secord&hiword=LAURE%20LAUREN%20LAURO%20SECORDS%20laura%20secord%20 (February 25th 2011)
[ix] Donald R. Hickey, “Don’t give up the ship, myths of the war of 1812”
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing 2006, pg196-197
[x] McKenzie “Laura Secord, The Legend and The Lady” The Canadian Publishers 1971, pg 135
[xi] Parks Canada “What’s New, Prepared by James Fitzbiggon for Laura Secord” Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Parks Canada http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/rech-srch/clic-click.aspx?/cgi-bin/MsmGo.exe?grab_id=0&page_id=75749&query=laura%20secord&hiword=LAURE%20LAUREN%20LAURO%20SECORDS%20laura%20secord%20 (February 25th 2011)
[xii] Articles “The Roles Women Played in the War of 1812” Upper Mississippi Bridge http://umbrigade.tripod.com/articles/women.html (1944)
[xiii] University of Toronto, “Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online” http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?BioId=38629 (2000)
[xiv] Rob Nicholson, MP, Niagara Falls, “On the commemoration of Laura Secord as a Person of National Historic Significance” Media, http://www.robnicholsonmp.ca/EN/3376/45173, (May 25th 2006)
[xv] Laura Secord National Monument Committee, “A national monument to Laura Secord: why it should be erected, an appeal to the people of Canada (1901)” http://www.archive.org/details/nationalmonument00lauruoft page 12-13 (March 10, 2001)
[xvi] Laura Secord National Monument Committee, “A national monument to Laura Secord: why it should be erected, an appeal to the people of Canada (1901)” http://www.archive.org/details/nationalmonument00lauruoft page 12-13 (March 10, 2001)