Laura Ingersoll Secord was an ordinary pioneer woman of her time who did something extraordinary. Her patriotism and courage during the War of 1812 (1812-1815) made her a legendary heroine for generations of future Canadians.
Laura Ingersoll was born on Sept. 13, 1775, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, at that time a British colony. During the American Revolution, which had begun in April 1775, Laura’s father, Thomas Ingersoll, fought on the side of the American colonists against the British. In 1795, however, he moved his family to Upper Canada, a British colony in what later became southern Ontario. Upper Canada was home to many Loyalists—British subjects who left the American Colonies after the United States became independent. In Upper Canada, Laura married a merchant named James Secord. The Secords settled in Queenston, not far from Niagara Falls, and had seven children.
During the War of 1812, the United States and the United Kingdom were vying for control of Upper Canada. In October 1812, while fighting for the British, Laura’s husband was badly wounded in the Battle of Queenston Heights in Upper Canada. In an act of bravery, Laura rescued James from the battlefield and took him home to recover. In June 1813, the Secords were forced to host some U.S. soldiers in their home. Laura learned that the soldiers were planning a surprise attack on a British military post about 12 miles (20 kilometers) away at Beaver Dams. The post was under the command of the British Lieutenant James FitzGibbon. Laura’s husband was not yet well, and so he could not travel to Beaver Dams to warn the British. Again exhibiting great courage, Laura set out on June 22 to inform Lieutenant FitzGibbon of the Americans’ plan. She took a roundabout route to avoid being discovered by U.S. soldiers, walking about 20 miles (32 kilometers) through a dangerous wilderness. Some First Nations people (American Indians) helped Laura on her way, and she made it to FitzGibbon’s headquarters.
On June 24, a group of First Nations warriors allied with the British ambushed U.S. troops led by Colonel Charles Boerstler near Beaver Dams. FitzGibbon later arrived with his own men, and the Americans surrendered. This British and First Nations victory helped protect the Niagara Peninsula, a strip of land that connects Ontario and New York, from U.S. control.
After the war, Laura petitioned the British government for a military pension but was refused. She did not receive official recognition for her patriotism until 1860, when she was 85 years old. That year, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, visited Canada and learned of Laura’s courageous trek in 1813. After returning to England, Albert Edward sent Laura £100 as a reward for her service. Laura died in 1868 and was buried in Chippawa, now part of the city of Niagara Falls. Today, visitors can see her monument in Drummond Hill Cemetery.
Laura Secord has become legendary as a Canadian heroine. Stories grew up around her 1813 adventure. One story tells that she brought a cow on her walk to Beaver Dams to use as camouflage, and that she milked the cow when a U.S. sentry saw her. Another story says that she walked through the wilderness barefoot. Laura has been memorialized in various forms, including books, poems, and even two postage stamps. In 1913, 100 years after she journeyed to Beaver Dams, a Canadian chocolate company sweetened her memory by adopting her name as its own!
Laura’s portrait hangs in Ontario’s Legislative Building, and the Secord Homestead was reconstructed in Queenston, Ontario, in 1971. A statue of Laura is also part of the Valiants Memorial in downtown Ottawa. This memorial honors a number of individuals who played a role in major conflicts throughout Canadian history. In 2003, Laura was declared a person of national historic significance by Canada’s minister of Canadian heritage.