It is at all times an amiable and honourable sentiment that leads us to enquire into the antecedents of those who, by the greatness of their virtues have added value to the records of human history. Whether such inquiry increases our estimation of such value or not, it must always be instructive, and therefore inspiring. Under this impression I have sought on every hand to learn all that could be gathered of the history of one of Canada’s purest patriots. As Dr. Ryerson aptly says in his U. E. Loyalists and their Times, “the period of the U. E. Loyalists was one of doing, not recording,” therefore little beyond tradition has conserved anything of all that we would now like to know of the heroism, the bravery, the endurance, the trials of that bold army of men and women, who, having laid strong hands on the primeval forest, dug wide and deep the foundations of a nation whose greatness is yet to come. In such a light the simple records that follow will be attractive.
     Laura Secord came of loyal blood. She was the daughter of Mr. Thomas Ingersoll, the founder of the town of Ingersoll, and his wife Sarah, the sister of General John Whiting, of Great Barrington, Berkshire County, Mass. At the close of the War of 1776, Mr. Ingersoll came to Canada on the invitation of Governor Simcoe, an old friend of the family, and founded a settlement on the banks of the Thames in Oxford County. On the change of government, Mr. Ingersoll and his struggling settlement of eighty or ninety families found their prospects blighted and their future imperilled; Mr. Ingersoll therefore saw it necessary to remove to Little York, and shortly afterward settled in the township of Etobicoke. There he resided until some time after the War of 1812-14, when he returned with his family to Oxford County. Here he died, but left behind him worthy successors of his honourable name in his two sons, Charles and James.
     Charles Ingersoll, with that active loyalty and heroic energy which alike characterized his patriotic sister, Mrs. Secord, held prominent positions in the gift of the Government and of the people, and was also a highly respected merchant and trader.
     James Ingersoll, though of a more retiring disposition than his brother, was a prominent figure in Western Canada for many years. He was a magistrate of high repute, and occupied a foremost position in the militia, in which he held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel at the time of his death. This event took place on the 9th August, 1886, at which date he had been Registrar for the County of Oxford fifty-two years.
     That Mrs. Secord should be brave, ready, prompt in action, and fervent [page i] in patriotism is not surprising, seeing that all the events of her childhood and youth were blended with those of the settlement of Upper Canada by the U. E. Loyalists, in whose ranks her family held so honourable a position, and whose character and sentiments were at all times to be depended upon.
     The family of Secord, of which she became so distinguished a member, was also a notable one. Family documents exist which show that in the reign of Louis the Tenth of France a certain Marquis D’Secor was a Marshal of His Majesty’s Household. A son of this Marquis embraced the Protestant religion, as did younger branches of the family. During the persecution of the Huguenots many of them suffered at the stake, and the family estates, situated a La Rochelle, were confiscated. The survivors escaped the massacre of St. Bartholomew by flight to England along with many other noble families, among whom were the Comte de Puys, the Baudeaux, and a Holland family, the Van Cortlandts.
     Eventually five brothers emigrated to America where they settled in New Jersey, purchasing large tracts of land, founding New Rochelle and engaging in lumbering. On the breaking out of the Revolutionary War the family divided, the Loyalists changing their patronym to Secord by placing the prefix “d” at the end of their name. These brothers after, as King’s men, losing, in common with all the Loyalists, their property and estates, emigrated to New Brunswick, again engaging in lumbering and milling operations, and there certain of their descendants are to be found to-day. Some of these, and their sons, again removed to Canada West, where one of them, commonly called “Deaf John Secord,” who married Miss Wartman, of Kingston, was known all along the coast from St. John to Quebec for his hospitalities. Among those show settled in the Niagara district were Stephen Secord, the miller of St. David’s, Major David Secord, after whom the village was named, and James Secord, the husband of the heroine of 1812. Stephen Secord died before the War of 1812, leaving a widow and a family of seven sons. Of Major David Secord, the only record I have been able to procure is to be found in A History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States of American, by David Thompson, late of the Royal Scots, as quoted for me by the kind courtesy of Miss Louisa Murray, of Stamford. It is as follows: “The Second Lincoln Militia, under Major David Secord, distinguished themselves in this action [the Battle of Chippewa] by feats of genuine bravery and heroism, stimulated by the example of their gallant leader, which are seldom surpassed even by the most experienced veterans. Their loss was proportionate with that of the regular army.”
     At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Mr. James Secord was living at Queenston, where he had a lumber mill and stores. He held the rank of Captain in the Lincoln Militia until close on the American invasion, but resigned in dudgeon at some action of his superior officer, and thus it is that in the relation of Mrs. Secord’s heroic deed he is not designated by any rank. At the first call to arms, however, Mr. Secord at once offered his services, [page ii] which were gladly accepted, and he was present at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Here he was severely wounded in the leg and shoulder, and lay on the field as one dead, until rescued by his brave wife. He never fully recovered from his wounds, and received an acknowledgment of his voluntary services to the Government in the appointment to the post of Collector of Customs at the Port of Chippewa, which he held until his death in 1841.
     The married life of Mr. and Mrs. Secord was a most happy one. Their third daughter, Mrs. Harriet Smith, who still survives, a cheerful and vivacious lady of eighty-six, says that her father and mother were most devoted to each other, and lived in the closest mutual affection.
     At the date of the Battle of Queenston Heights, the family consisted of four daughters and one son: Mary—with whom the great Tecumseh is said to have been in love—who was married to Dr. Trumbull, Staff-surgeon to the 37th Regiment, and died in Jamaica; Charlotte,  “the belle of Canada,” who died during a visit to Ireland; Harriet—Mrs. Smith—who still survives and lives in great retirement with her eldest daughter at Guelph; and Appolonia, who died at the early age of eighteen. Charles, the only son, lived at Newark, and his surviving children are Mr. James B. Secord, of Niagara, and Alicia, Mr. Isaac Cockburn, of Gravenhurst.
     Two daughters were born to Mr. and Mrs. Secord subsequent to the war, Hannah, who was married to Mr. Carthew, of Guelph, and died in 1884, leaving several sons, and Laura, who was married to Dr. Clarke, of Palmerston, and died young, leaving one daughter, Laura.
     Mrs. Smith relates that she very well remembers her mother setting off for St. David’s, ostensibly to see her brother Charles, who lay sick at the mill, and her father’s ill-concealed agitation during that trying day. What must the night have been to him? She also relates that during the short occupation of Queenston by the invaders, their soldiery were very tyrannical, entering the houses and stores to look for money and help themselves to plunder, and even destroying the bedding, by ripping it up with their swords and bayonets, in the search. Mrs. Secord who had a store of Spanish doubloons, heirlooms, saved them by throwing them into a cauldron of water which hung on a crane over a blazing fire. In this she unconsciously emulated the ready wit of one of her husband’s Huguenot progenitors, a lady, who during the persecution that followed the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, at a period of domiciliary search for incriminating proofs of unorthodoxy, is said to have thrown a copy of the Bible—a doubly precious treasure in those days—into a churn of milk from whence it was afterwards rescued little the worse, thanks to heavy binding and strong clasps.
     Envy having sent a shaft at even so warm and patriotic a breast as that of Mrs. Secord, Col. Fitzgibbon sent her a certificate, dated only a short time before his death, vouching to the facts of the heroic deed. It was evidently one of the cruel necessities of this hard life. The certificate runs as follows: [page iii]



     “I do hereby certify that Mrs. Secord, the wife of James Secord, of Chippewa, Esq., did, in the month of June, 1813, walk from her house in the village of St. David’s to Decamp’s house in Thorold, by a circuitous route of about twenty miles, partly through the woods, to acquaint me that the enemy intended to attempt by surprise to capture a detachment of the 49th Regiment, then under my command; she having obtained such knowledge from good authority, as the event proved. Mrs. Secord was a person of slight and delicate frame; and made the effort in weather excessively warm, and I dreaded at the time that she must suffer in health in consequence of fatigue and anxiety, she having been exposed to danger from the enemy, through whose line of communication she had to pass. The attempt was made on my detachment by the enemy, and his detachment, consisting of upwards of 500 men, with a field-piece and fifty dragoons, was captured in consequence. I write this certificate in a moment of much hurry and from memory, and it is, therefore, thus brief.

“(Signed)     JAMES FITZGIBBON,    
Formerly Lieutenant in the 49th Regiment.”

     It is well to consider this great achievement of Mrs. Secord carefully, that we may be the better able to realize the greatness of the feat. To assist in so doing, it will not be amiss to quote the following, from Coffin’s Chronicles of the War, bearing on the prudential reasons of Proctor’s retreat at Moravian Town. “But whether for advance or for retreat, the by-paths of the forest intermediate were such as the macadamized and locomotive imagination of the present day cannot encompass. A backwoodsman, laden with his axe, wading here, ploutering there, stumbling over rotted trees, protruding stumps, a bit of half-submerged corduroy road for one short space, then an adhesive clay bank, then a mile or two or more of black muck swamp, may, possibly,—clay-clogged and footsore, and with much pain in the small of his back,—find himself at sundown at the foot of a hemlock or cedar, with a fire at his feet, having done manfully about ten miles for his day’s work.” This was written of a time of year when the fall rains predict an approaching winter. Mrs. Secord’s exploit was made on the 23rd of June, a time when the early summer rains that set the fruit and consecrate an abundant harvest with their blessing, nevertheless make clay banks slippery, and streams swift, and of these latter the whole Niagara district was full. Many have now been diverted and some dried up. I am happy to be able to give my readers the heroine’s own simple account of her journey, as furnished me by the courtesy of Mr. Benson J. Lossing, author of the “Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812,” to whom the aged lady in 1862 recounted it in a letter (given in a note in Mr. Lossing’s book), the historian, on his visit to Chippewa in 1860, having failed to see her. She was then eighty-five years of age. [page iv]

     “DEAR SIR,—I will tell you the story in a few words.
     “After going to St. David’s and the recovery of Mr. Secord, we returned again to Queenston, where my courage again was much tried. It was there I gained the secret plan laid to capture Captain Fitzgibbon and his party. I was determined, if possible, to save them. I had much difficulty in getting through the American guards. They were ten miles out in the country.* When I came to a field belonging to a Mr. De Cou, in the neighbourhood of the Beaver Dams, I then had walked nineteen miles. By that time daylight had left me. I yet had a swift stream of water (Twelve-mile Creek) to cross over on an old fallen tree, and to climb a high hill, which fatigued me very much.
     “Before I arrived at the encampment of the Indians, as I approached they all arose with one of their war yells, which, indeed, awed me. You may imagine what my feelings were to behold so many savages. With forced courage I went to one of the chiefs, told him I had great news for his commander, and that he must take me to him or they would all be lost. He did not understand me, but said, ‘Woman! What does woman want here?’ The scene by moonlight to some might have been grand, but to a weak woman certainly terrifying. With difficulty I got one of the chiefs to go with me to their commander. With the intelligence I have him he formed his plans and saved his country. I have ever found the brave and noble Colonel Fitzgibbon a friend to me. May he prosper in the world to come as he has done in this.


     “CHIPPEWA, U.C., Feb. 18, 1861.”

     Mr. Lossing further adds in his letter to me:

     “When, in the summer of 1860, the Prince of Wales visited Queenston the veteran soldiers of the Canada side of the Niagara frontier signed an address to his Royal Highness; Mrs. Secord claimed the privilege of signing it. ‘Wherefore?’ was asked. She told her story, and it was allowed that she [page v] eminently deserved a place among the signers. Her story was repeated to the Prince. He was greatly interested, and learning that the heroine had not much of this world’s goods, sent her $500 soon after his return home, in attestation of his appreciation of her patriotism.”

     Her sole surviving daughter at this date, says the gift was carried to her mother by ten gentlemen who had formed part of the Prince’s suite.
     A correspondent at Drummondville, to whom I am indebted for several valuable particulars, says: “Mrs. Laura Secord is remembered here as a fine, tall, strong woman. Strong, too, in mind, purpose, determination, and yet womanly and maternal withal. She is spoken of as indeed a brave woman, of strong patriotism and courage.
     “The difficulties and dangers then, were those of a new, uncleared, pathless country increased by lurking foes, and by wandering, untaught Indians.
     “In connection with her chief act of heroism the following anecdote has been told me:—Three American soldiers called at her log house at Queenston to ask for water. One of them said, ‘You have a nice place here, missis, when we come for good to this country we’ll divide the land, and I’ll take this here for my share.’ Mrs. Secord was so nettled by the thoughts expressed that although the men were civil and respectful, she replied sharply, ‘You scoundrel you, all you’ll ever get here will be six feet of earth!’
     “When they were gone her heart reproached her for her heat, because the men had not molested her nor her property.” (Yet her indignation was righteous, since they were invaders in the worst sense of the term, having no lawful cause for their invasion.) “Two days after two of the men returned. They said to Mrs. Secord, ‘You were right about the six feet of earth, missis!’ The third man had been killed.”
     In speaking of the heroine, Mr. James B. Secord, of Niagara, says in a letter to me, “My grandmother was of a modest disposition, and did not care to have her exploit mentioned, as she did not think she had done any thing extraordinary. She was the very last one to mention the affair, and unless asked would never say any thing about it.”
     This noble-minded and heroic woman died in 1868, aged ninety-three years. She lies in Drummondville Churchyard, by the side of the husband she loved so well. Nothing but a simple headstone, half defaced, marks the place where the sacred ashes lie. But surely we who enjoy the happiness she so largely secured for us, we who have known how to honour Brock and Brant, will also know how to honour Tecumseh and LAURA SECORD; the heroine as well as the heroes of our Province—of our common Dominion—and will no longer delay to do it, lest Time should snatch the happy opportunity from us.


     TORONTO, 4th August, 1887. [page vi]

     NOTE.—The headstone of Laura Secord is three feet high, and eighteen inches wide, and has the following:

Died, Oct. 17, 1868.
Aged 93 years.

The headstone of her husband has the following:

Who departed this life on the 22nd day of Feb., 1841,
In the 68th year of his age.
Universally and deservedly lamented as a sincere Friend, a kind and indulgent
Parent, and an affectionate Husband. [page vii]


* The American sentries were out ten miles into the country; that is, at any point commanding a possible line of communication within a radius of ten miles from Fort George, Mrs. Secord might come upon an American sentry. The deep woods, therefore, were her only security. These she must thread to the best of her ability, with what knowledge she might possess of the woodman’s craft, for even a blazed path was not safe. And by this means she must get out of American cover and into British lines. To do this she must take a most circuitous route, as she tells us, all round “by Twelve-mile Creek,” whose port is St. Catharines, climbing the ridge that is now cut through by the Welland Canal, and thus doubling upon what would have been the straight route, and coming on Fitzgibbon from the back, from the way of his supports, for Major de Haren lay at Twelve-mile Creek, but not within several miles of where the heroine crossed it. And it was dark, and within a few hours of the intended surprise when she reached it. To go to De Haren, even though it might have been nearer at that point—it may not have been so, however—was a greater risk to Fitzgibbon, whose safety she was labouring to secure, than to send him aid which might only reach him after the event. Forgetting her exhaustion she proceeds, fulfills her errand, and saves her country. And shall that country let her memory die? [back]

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