What do chocolate and the war of 1812 have in common; just one thing, a name, Laura Secord. Many people today hear the name Laura Secord and think of the Canadian confectionary company, but there was a hero behind that name. But unlike other heroes from the war whose names were praised right after their great victories, Laura lived in relative obscurity for decades after the war had ended. Born Laura Ingersoll on the 13th of September 1775 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, she was the eldest of four born to Thomas Ingersoll and Elizabeth Dewey. When she was eight her mother passed away, her father remarried twice, significantly expanding the family. After the American War of Independence, the Ingersoll’s settled in Upper Canada. While they were living in Queenston, Laura met James Secord, a shopkeeper in the town, and in 1797 they were married, settling first in St. David’s but soon moved back to Queenston just before the start of the War of 1812.
The Secord Home in Queenston, Ontario. The building saw restoration in the 20th-Century, sponsored by the chocolate company that bears Laura’s name.
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Distagon 50mm 1:4 – Rollei RPX 25 @ ASA-25 – Blazinal (1+50) 11:00 @ 20C
Being a citizen of prominence, James served as a sergeant in the 1st Lincoln Militia Regiment, when the American threat from Lewiston, James was posted to the Heights above the town to assist the British units stationed there as well. Laura remained home with their children but did not stand by, going to help move the wounded and injured during the Battle of Queenston Heights in the fall of 1812. James would be injured during the battle. The wounding of James saw the Secord family stay in Queenston, even during the American occupation of the Niagara Region in May of 1813. It is unclear how Laura learned of the possibility of an attack against the British units stationed at the edge of the American occupation zone. Some accounts say that it was boastful American officers billeted in the Secord Home, other accounts are less favourable to Laura Secord on how she overheard the possibility. It would be a secret Laura would carry to her grave. Either way, Laura took it upon herself to make the journey to warn the British. The direct route was twelve miles, but want to avoid American entanglements; Laura made a twenty-mile trip instead through swampy ground.
The ruins of the DeCew House where Laura Secord was brought before James FitzGibbon warning him of the impending attack.
Modified Anniversary Speed Graphic – Fuji Fujinon-W 1:5.6/125 – Fuji Neopan Acros 100 @ ASA-100 – Kodak Tmax Developer (1+4) 5:30 @ 20C
Laura Secord would become lost and tired eventually stumbling upon a camp of Caughnawagas Warriors commanded by Captain Dominque Ducharme attached the British Indian Department. Despite the language barrier she managed to convince the Native troops to bring her to FitzGibbon at DeCew House. The trouble is that this all happened on the 22nd of June before any sort of attack was authorized by the Americans. The attack would eventually come on the 24th of June, and through the efforts of the Caughanawagas and Mohawk Warriors, the Americans were forced to surrender to a ruse played out by FitzGibbon and several other officers. FitzGibbon would see promotion and Laura Secord’s name would fade into obscurity.
The Battle of Beaver Dams Monument near the original battlefield. Laura’s fame is due to this action, and a source of controversy.
Pentax 645 – SMC Pentax A 645 75mm 1:2.8 – Kodak TMax 400 (TMY-2) – Kodak HC-110 Dil. E 7:00 @ 20C
And this is where the controversy really started, Laura’s name would not be mentioned in the after-action report of the battle. While her husband received a small pension from the government for his militia service and wound, any sort of petition to the British Colonial Government for recognition for Laura fell on deaf ears, even with the support of James FitzGibbon who suddenly remembered the young wife who warned of the attack. When James Secord passed away in 1841, there would no longer be a financial safety net for the widow. At least until a chance visit by the future King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales in 1860. The Prince would hear of the brave action of Laura Secord, and the myth and legend would be born. In a country starving for local heroes, Laura Secord would become it. Upon his return to England he would send Laura a financial reward of 100 pounds, that’s 11600.00 pounds in 2017. It would be enough to support the widow until her death in 1863. Today her body rests next to those of her husband in Drummond Hill Cemetary in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
The Laura Secord monument on Queenston Heights. While she did not directly participate in the battle, she did come to drag away her injured husband.
Kodak Pony 135 Model C – Kodak Anaston Lens 44mm ƒ/3.5 – Efke KB 100 @ ASA-100 – Kodak HC-110 Dil. B 5:30 @ 20C
Laura’s story doesn’t stop there; her fame only grew after her death. Songs, poems, and dramatic interpretations were being produced about Laura Secord. She became a genuine folk hero. And like any hero legends about her journey soon began to circle. The legends stated that Laura brought a cow along as camouflage, or that she did the entire journey at night (she actually left early in the day on the 22nd of June), or that she did it all barefoot, all of which have been proven to be false. There were also detractors, stating that her journey was in vain, or completely unnecessary. But FitzGibbon’s letters of support of the Secord’s support requests in the 1820s secured Laura’s place in history as one of the hero’s of the Battle of Beaverdams. Memorials to her sprang up in the early 20th century both at Lundy’s Lane (Drummond Hill Cemetery), and Queenston Heights. The chocolate company that bears her name was established in 1913 and was instrumental in rebuilding and restoring the Secord home in Queenston in 1971. Queenston is also home to Laura Secord Public School, which is to become an additional space for Willowbank School of Restoration Arts. Laura Secord remains a well-known folk hero to this day, her image on postage stamps, and even a statue in Ottawa among the other greats of Canada’s proud history.
The former Laura Secord Public School in Queenston, Ontairo. Today it’s an extension of the Willowbank School of Restoration Arts.
Pentax 645 – SMC Pentax A 645 35mm 1:3.5 – Kodak Tri-X 400 @ ASA-400 – Processing By: Old School Photo Lab
With Files from:
Hickey, Donald R. Don’t Give up the Ship!: Myths of the War of 1812. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2006. Print.
Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1989. Print.
Lossing, Benson John. The Pictorial Field-book of the War of 1812. Gretna, LA: Pelican Pub., 2003. Print.