Forget the ice cream and chocolates; Laura Secord - our first spy!
It's not often one gets to meet a direct descendant of Canadian heroine, Laura Secord. Laura might be partly responsible for us remaining Canadian. My opportunity arrived Thursday at Niagara on the Lake's Historical Museum when introduced to Caroline McCormick, President of Friends of Laura Secord. Like her predecessor, Caroline lives in NOTL after moving from Vancouver.
On tap in the War of 1812 Lecture Series was David Hemmings, local historian, author and guest speaker. David has written Laura Ingersoll Secord, A Heroine and Her Family, for sale in the museum. A large crowd filled both upper and lower galleries, and employing informative slides, David explored both family and events, aptly
characterized as the "talk before the walk."
The walk entailed 19 hazardous miles between Queenston and Beaver Dams, after hearing American soldiers boast (loose lips sink ships) about the upcoming attack while quartered in her home. Laura's husband, James, was disabled thanks to previous battles with the Americans, so it was up to Laura on June 22 to set off at 4 a.m. and slip past sentries between Queenston and St. Davids and continue on to
warn British commander Lieutenant James FitzGibbon.
Two days later at The Battle of Beaver Dams, June24, 1813, the American column that marched from Fort George to surprise the British outpost at Beaver Dams, were themselves surprised, and despite a much smaller force, FitzGibbon bluffed the Americans into a surrender. They were a tad fearful of native warriors ("scalping" was mentioned) and thinking themselves surrounded and outnumbered, about 500 Americans, including their wounded commander, were taken prisoner.
As evidenced by her courageous walk, Laura was able-bodied and determined, and she lived for 93 years from 1775-1868. David dispelled the fable that depicts her walking beside a cow, nor was the family connected with ice cream or chocolates.
After the war, Laura and James moved to Chippawa where he was made tax collector. They are buried at the Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls.
I learned a great deal about Laura's family that had moved from Great Barrington, south of Albany, NY to Queenston. Laura's father, Thomas Ingersoll, produced 11 children from three wives, four with Elizabeth Dewey and seven with Sarah Whiting. Mercy Smith was childless. Thomas owned a tavern in Queenston at Queen's Landing and Laura worked there. The Freemasons of Stamford met at Thomas' tavern. James Secord married Laura in 1797. They lived for five years in St. Davids and moved to Queenston in 1802. The invasion on Oct. 13, 1812 involved plunder and ruin for the Secords and probably inspired Laura on her walk. Laura's father, Thomas, died of a stroke in Port Credit in 1812.
After the war, despite the fact that Laura was the British equivalent of Paul Revere, ("the British are coming") Laura was sworn to secrecy but FitzGibbon long remembered her role and attested to it on paper with three "certificates" testifying that it was Laura who allowed him to set a trap for the Americans. It wasn't until 1860 that a nineteen-year old Prince of Wales rewarded Laura with gold coins. There are 560 direct descendants, 300 living but the only remaining Secord line is in Guatemala. At the time of the walk before the talk,
Laura was 38.
The Niagara Parks Commission is preparing to celebrate the War of 1812 Bi-Centennial. Plans are being made for special events beginning in 2012 - visit the official website
http://www.visit1812.com/ for updates on this important milestone shared by Canada and the United States of America - 200 Years of Peace.