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The Battle of Beaver Dams

This story was originally published June 25, 2012

On June 24, 1813, smack in the middle of the War of 1812, an American force launched what it believed would be a surprise attack against a small British outpost at militia officer John DeCew’s house in present-day Thorold, Ontario. However, First Nations allies of the British were warned of the impending attack and were able to ambush the Americans in the Battle of Beaver Dams.

DeCew House, Beaver Dams, Ontario
© C.P. Meredith/Library and Archives Canada
After their defeat at the Battle of Stoney Creek (located near Hamilton) on June 6, the Americans retreated to Fort George at present-day Niagara-on-the-lake, which they had captured on May 27, 1813. Meanwhile, the British not only sent forces to the Niagara area, they also established a supply depot at DeCew House. However, when the Americans learned of this outpost, they planned to capture it.

Three days prior to the Battle of Beaver Dams, Laura Secord from Queenston had overheard Americans discussing secret plans to attack the British at DeCew House. She journeyed 32 kilometres across dangerous terrain to warn the British of the pending attack.

Benson J. Lossing’s sketch of the battlefield, August 1860, in The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812
© Harper & Brothers
By the time orders were given for the American attack about 500 First Nations allies from Rice Lake, Lower Canada, the Grand River and the Thames River had arrived at DeCew house. One of these men brought word to that the Americans were advancing. The warning gave First Nations leaders John Brant, William Kerr and Dominique Ducharme time to prepare and they ambushed the Americans as they approached Beaver Dams along an enclosed, wooded trail. After about three hours of confused fighting, the American 600-strong force surrendered to a small detachment led by Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon.

Mohawk leader John Norton said of the battle, “The Caughnawaga Indians fought the battle, the Mohawks got the plunder and Fitzgibbon got the credit.” Fitzgibbon gave full credit to the First Nations who fought the battle in his official reports, but the media and the public portrayed him as the victor. Much later, Laura Secord was credited as the heroine who warned Fitzgibbon. The defeat of the Americans was significant as it left the British in control of the Niagara region for the remainder of 1813.

Battle of Beaver Dams is a national historic site; remembered as an important British victory largely accomplished by the First Nations. Laura Ingersoll Secord is a national historic person for her role in the War of 1812.

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

Celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 with us! For more information on the war and commemorative events, visit Commemorating the War of 1812 and War of 1812 Artefacts on the Parks Canada website. Be sure to read other This Week in History stories about the War of 1812 such as: “St. Joseph...the Military Siberia of Upper Canada”, The British Lose Ground, A Warrior's Death, HMS Shannon defeats and captures USS Chesapeake and This Means War!

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