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A Canadian heroine warns her countrymen of an American attack

Posted in America, Bravery, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 30 May 2013

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This edited article about Canada originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 274 published on 15 April 1967.

Laura Secord, picture, image, illustration

She had no sooner finished milking when the cow kicked over the pail by Ron Embleton

The Americans were invading Canada! Eight million Americans were confronting less than half a million British and French Canadians – and there were less than 5,000 regular troops in all British North America.

In that summer of 1812, things looked black for Canada, but what happened over the next two years was to be the making of the country.

No one was more determined to fight for their country than James and Laura Secord.

Laura’s parents, whose name was Ingersoll, were among the thousands of Americans who had remained loyal to Britain during the American War of Independence. Persecuted for their loyalty to the Crown, they headed north from Massachusetts after the war ended in 1783, with their eight-year-old daughter, to settle in British territory.

Britain had gained Canada from the French 20 years before. The thousands of English-speaking men and women who settled in Canada at this time were known as the United Empire Loyalists.

The Ingersolls settled in what is now the province of Ontario, and Laura later married James Secord. They lived at Queenston, on the Niagara river.

At this time, the Americans still distrusted the British, who by now were locked in a life-and-death struggle with Napoleon. Disputes over shipping and trade, and over the British impressment of American sailors poisoned relations between the two countries.

But the real cause of the War of 1812 was that the Americans were casting greedy eyes on Canada.

Fortunately, many Americans had no desire to fight, and their troops were badly led. But families like the Secords near the border were filled with dismay that the hated American troops were threatening to invade their new homeland.

A battle was fought near the Secord home. General Sir Isaac Brock, the hero of all Canada, was killed in it, but he had inspired his troops and their Indian allies to defeat the larger American army, which retreated across the border.

While Canada rejoiced, Laura Secord was nursing her husband, who had been desperately wounded in the battle. All through the winter she devotedly nursed him, but by the summer he still could not walk.

Then the Americans returned.

This time, they overran Queenston, and Laura found herself behind the enemy lines. The Canadians had been forced to leave her and her husband behind, as James was too weak to move. Their house was taken over by the Americans, whom Laura was compelled to feed.

Then, one day in June, 1813, she heard two officers discussing a surprise attack that was to be made the following day on the Canadians, who were encamped about 20 miles away. Pretending not to listen, she finished serving the two Americans’ breakfast, then raced upstairs to her husband and told him what she had heard.

James was in despair.

“Even if I was fit,” he lamented, “I’d never get by the Yankee pickets.”

“I could, though,” said Laura eagerly. James was worried. But he reluctantly agreed that perhaps she could.

There were Americans everywhere. Laura got into the clothes she wore to tend the small farm, and went out to milk their cow. And somehow, that morning, things seemed to go wrong. The cow kicked the pail over and moved away – which made the Americans laugh. Then the same thing happened again – and again.

At first, the soldiers were amused, but then they decided Laura must be a bit simple, and turned away.

Finally, the cow bolted to the edge of the forest. Laura followed – her pinching the poor cow had had the desired result! Now was her chance. She plunged straight into the forest, leaving the cow to wander home.

It was a terrifying journey. She had to contend with swamps, swollen creeks, poisonous snakes and fallen trees – to say nothing of the fear of running into American soldiers at any moment. Exhausted, bleeding and hungry, she kept going in what she hoped was the right direction.

Suddenly, terrifying war-whoops rent the air and she was surrounded by 20 howling Indians in full war-paint. It was a terrible moment. She had heard that the Indians in the area were on the British side, but how could she be sure? And even if they were friendly, supposing they would not believe her story?

With hundreds of lives depending on her, she breathed a silent prayer and spoke to the chief.

“I am Canadian,” she said. “I have news for the British commander, of an American attack tomorrow. Take me to him.” Then she collapsed, fainting.

The Indians, who were scouts of the British, carried Laura straight to Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, at Beaver Dams, and she gave him her news. He thanked her and gave orders that every care should be taken of her. The next day, Fitzgibbon and his force of regulars, Canadians and Indians, were ready for the larger American force, and defeated them soundly. Fitzgibbon persuaded the American commander, who feared that his surviving troops might be massacred by the Indians, to surrender to him.

Laura soon recovered from her ordeal and was reunited with her husband. The war dragged on, with the Niagara area the scene of more bitter fighting. In the end, neither side won decisively in the field, but Canada was the real victor. Her stubborn bravery for over two years against huge odds, had forged a nation.

Laura Secord lived on until 1868, a national heroine. When the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, visited Canada in 1860, he met Laura and gave her a handsome present. All Canada rejoiced at the honour done to the brave patriot, who was the most famous living woman to bear the proud title, United Empire Loyalist.

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