Paul Revere is infamous for his famous ride warning colonial forces of who the British army would march on them. Lesser known is the story of Laura Secord, a British citizen in colonial Canada, who would undertake a very similar journey during the War of 1812. The story of Mrs. Secord not only speaks to the strength and endurance of the female character in the Americas at the beginning of the 19th century. It would play a vital role in the development of a collective Canadian identity. An identity that would eventually mirror the identity of the early United States in calling for its autonomy as a sovereign nation.
The War of 1812 is not the most publicized war from American history. It would be fought against England, who at the onset were embroiled in the Napoleonic wars with France. The main factor that caused the war with the U.S., was the British Navy capturing American sailors and forcing them to serve in the war against the French. At the time of the war Canada was still a colony of England and was attacked by U.S. troops. Battles erupted all around the Great Lakes area. The city of Detroit was lost to the English and the battle for the Niagara Peninsula began.
The stretch of land between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario was highly strategic. It served as the gateway between upper New York and Canada. There were three forts in the area that would be highly contended and all of them would switch hands at some point in the fighting. The Americans began an offensive into the Niagara Peninsula in the spring of the second year of the war. They had been successful in their initial thrust and had captured Fort George, the fort guarding the river flowing out of Lake Ontario. After capturing the Fort, the Americans turned their attention westwards to gain control of this crucial landmass.
Laura was the wife of James Secord, an English citizen who served in the 1st Lincoln Militia, an English militia fighting in the Great Lake area. He had been wounded in the first year of fighting. Laura herself rescued him from the battlefield and took him home to care for him. The following year, the battle-lines having moved, the Americans presently occupied the countryside where the Secords lived. One night with some American soldiers in their house for dinner, Laura overheard the soldiers discussing a surprise attack on a nearby English outpost. With her husband indisposed, Laura took it upon herself to warn the local Lieutenant. The outpost that was in danger of being attacked was twelve miles away by road. Initially she set out at night with her niece, who tired quickly and turned back. Laura continued on her own, making her way through the woods, not sure of the exact path. She followed the Twelve Mile River in an attempt to avoid any roadways. Laura was afraid of being captured by American scouts, and being unable to warn the local English troops. Along the way she stumbled into an encampment of Native Americans. Frightened at first, once she explained what she was doing, she discovered the natives were allies of the British. The chief then took her the rest of the way, ensuring she made it to the British outpost undetected.
Arriving at Beaver Dams she informed the Lieutenant of the planned attack. With this knowledge he was able to gather together some British troops and a force of about 400 natives. Two days after Laura’s arrival, the Americans were ambushed on their way to Beaver Dams. Outnumbered by the collective force of soldiers and natives, the Americans surrendered. While there would be continued action in this area, the battle of Beaver Dams would serve as the end of the Americans advance into the Niagara Peninsula.
While the people that brought about the victory of Beaver Dams were at the time English citizens, their stories would add to a sentiment that would coalesce into the Canadian national identity. The people of the Canadian colonies, saw their role in the War of 1812 as crucial to the protection of English interests in that region. They began to feel that perhaps they didn’t need the protection of the English empire as much as they thought they did before the conflict. It would take several decades for this feeling to manifest into separation from England, but the War of 1812 birthed this idea into the Canadian consciousness. While it would be many years more until she was recognized for her vital contribution to this engagement, Laura Secord would eventually be remembered similarly to the way Paul Revere is enshrined in the U.S. collective memory. Though her story when the facts are shown in a sober light are more impressive than her Southern counterpart.
While this story is more flattering to the British than to the U.S., and on a longer scale, the Canadians, it’s unfortunate that it’s not a more well known narrative. Overlooked by U.S. history, it seems ironic that it shares so many parallels to our own patriotic folklore. It speaks to the equality of women, showing the tenacity and bravery the women who helped settle North America were capable of. It demonstrates the effect that a single person can make on a much larger arena. This story is the ultimate ‘knot’ in the web of history, linking the times of the Revolutionary War with the eventual Canadian independence from England. Exhibiting the way that far off conflicts can ripple across the world and affect the lives and the futures of a completely different set of people.