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Laura Secord Dies

For the week of Monday October 15, 2012

October 17, 1868, marks the death of the legendary Laura Ingersoll Secord at Chippawa, Ontario (present-day Niagara Falls). At the time of her death at age 93, Laura had not yet realized the full extent of her impact on Canadian history.

Portrait of Laura Secord
© J.R. Robertson
Laura was born an American in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Ingersoll. Growing up, Laura became accustomed to the realities of war; her town was situated along the major route for soldiers in the American Revolution and her father served in the army, fighting against the British. Despite their views on independence, the Ingersoll family decided to take advantage of land opportunities and moved to Upper Canada when Laura was 20 years old. With this move, her loyalties appear to have shifted in favour of the British.

Within two years, Laura married a young Loyalist named James Secord. James worked as a successful merchant in Queenston, an important centre of navigation where merchandise from Montréal was distributed and shipped to remote settlements. When the War of 1812 broke out between Great Britain and the United States, James and Laura Secord demonstrated their unwavering allegiance to the British. James became a sergeant in the local militia and was seriously wounded in the battle of Queenston Heights. For Laura, the true test came in June 1813.

At the time, Queenston was occupied by American soldiers and many citizens were required to provide lodging and food for them. On the evening of June 21, 1813, Laura was serving three officers dinner when she overheard secret plans for an attack on the British outpost at Beaver Dams in two days’ time. With her husband still recovering and time running out, Laura decided to venture to the outpost herself. 

Meeting Between Laura Secord and Lieut. Fitzgibbon, June 1813
© Library and Archives Canada, 1997-229-2, C-011053

Early the next morning, Laura began her trek across 32 kilometres of dangerous and occupied territory. Finally, upon reaching the outpost, she delivered her news to the British commander, Lieutenant Fitzgibbon. Her information proved crucial and the confident American forces found themselves ambushed by a large contingent of Iroquois warriors led by a smaller British force.

Despite her important role in the War of 1812, Laura did not receive much acknowledgement during her lifetime. It was not until 1860, at age 85, that Laura achieved public recognition when the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VII) learned of her heroic deed during his visit to Canada and rewarded her with £100 (worth approximately $11,800).

In the late 19th century, Secord’s contributions were championed by a first generation of women historians who sought recognition for women’s active roles in history. Today, Laura Secord is a household name, remembered as a heroine of the War of 1812 as well as the name of a popular candy business. In 1913, Frank P. O’Connor opened his first candy store on Yonge Street in Toronto, Ontario, and named his company after Laura Secord, whom he viewed as “a Canadian icon of courage, devotion and loyalty.” For her role in the War of 1812, Laura Ingersoll Secord has been designated a national historic person. The location of the 1813 British victory at Battle of Beaver Dams is also commemorated as a national historic site, with some of the credit being given to Secord.

For more information on Laura Secord’s role in the Battle of Beaver Dams, see The Battle of Beaver Dams in the This Week in History archives.

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