Niagara Gazette

War of 1812

April 29, 2012

Sorting out Laura Secord's War of 1812 role

QUEENSTON, Ont. — — Questions abound to this day whether Laura Secord was really the heroine that she is portrayed in dramatic events of the War of 1812.

She is often credited with putting her life at risk in June 1813 after supposedly overhearing a conversation of several American officers dining at her home in Queenston.

According to that version, the Americans reportedly intended to surprise the British outpost at Beaver Dams (now part of Thorold, Ont.) and capture the officer in charge, Lt. James FitzGibbon. It was deemed urgent that the lieutenant be fully informed about the sneak attack. Since Secord’s husband, James, was disabled, she was determined to deliver the message herself at the crack of dawn.

After walking almost 20 miles, Secord was captured by British Indian allies, the Caughnawaga, and finally taken before Fitzgibbon.

When the attack didn’t occur on June 23 as Secord had predicted, she was then questioned further about her Loyalist upbringing and the details of her story.

Fortunately, for her sake, a Frenchman who had been in charge of the British Indian allies sounded the alarm that the Americans were rapidly approaching.

Some 300 Caughnawaga swung into action — joined by about 100 Mohawk — and attacked Lt. Col. C.G. Boerstler’s rear guard, whipping   the American troops into a state of terror. Boerstler quickly surrendered at what would be known as the Battle of Beaver Dams.

Historian and author Walter R. Boreman (”1812: The War That Forged A Nation”) noted the legend of Laura Secord seemed to mushroom beyond description.

“Her story was elaborated to the point that some versions include details of her driving a mil cow part of the way in an effort   to conceal the real purpose behind her walk. And there are questions of how Secord learned about the pending attack,” Boreman   adds.

Niagara County Historian Catherine Emerson offers a different view of Secord and her famous midnight dash along the Niagara Peninsula to save Canada. Emerson describes Secord’s journey as a mere “Sunday walk” in the woods compared to her U.S. counterpart, Betsy Doyle.

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