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 until 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, greatly 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. At the start of the conflict James served as a sergeant in the 1st Lincoln Militia where he saw action at the battle of Queenston Heights, and was forced to stay at home over the course of the next year.
By the summer of 1813 American forces had again overrun much of the Niagara Peninsula and on a June evening that year, several American officers were billeted at the Secord’s home. They spoke loudly of their plans to march on a British officer that had been leading raids against their forces from DeCew house and was being a thorn in their side since Stoney Creek. Both James and Laura overheard this conversation, but with James still recovering from his injuries it was Laura who took it upon herself to make the journey to warn the British. The direct route was twelve miles, but wanting to avoid American entanglements, Laura took a twenty mile journey instead. Leaving early, she went first to St. David’s and had her cousin Elizabeth Secord join her, but by Shipman’s Corners (modern day St. Catherines), Elizabeth was far too tired to carry on. Laura however pressed on, following the route of the Twelve Mile River, crossing the river at a fallen log, she stumbled into a Native Camp, she was by this point lost and scared. Explaining to the natives what she had heard, they took her to Lieutenant James FitzGibbon at DeCew House, the very officer the Americans were seeking to destroy. FitzGibbon used her information and was able to secure a victory against the Americans at what is known as the Battle of Beaverdams.
But Laura’s name was never mentioned in the aftermath of the great victory, and she was lost to history. At the end of the war, her husband received a small pension from the government for his service and wound during the war. Even with the support of James FitzGibbon, requests for support from the colonial government at York fell on deaf ears. After James’ death in 1841, Laura was left with no financial support. But it was in 1860 during the visit of the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) that Laura’s story came to the public eye. Upon his return to England he sent Laura a reward of one hundred pounds (7,330 pounds today). Laura Secord passed away three years later, her story now known. She is buried next to her husband at Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls.
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 June 23rd), 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.
Photos: Pentax 645 – SMC Pentax A 645 35mm 1:3.5 – Kodak Tri-X 400, Ilford HP5+, and Kodak Plus-X Pan
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