Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Canada's Paul Revere

I recently mentioned War of 1812 hero Laura Secord, known in Canada as their equivalent of Paul Revere according to U.S. historian Alan Taylor. I'd never heard of the woman, and I'll bet few other Americans have either. I bought Taylor's recent book on the war but - rats - there were few details. So ... off to the Web.

Laura Secord (1775-1868) was born in Great Barrington, Mass., but left for Canada as a child with her loyalist family. On May 27, 1813, she lived in the Niagara Falls area with her husband, James, who still was recovering from war wounds sustained the preceding October. On that day she learned - just how is unclear - that American forces occupying her region were planning a surprise attack on a much smaller group of British troops and Mohawks led by Lieutenant James FitzGibbon. The next morning, leaving her husband, the 38-year-old set off alone on foot through difficult, swampy terrain to warn FitzGibbon. As a result, the Canadian forces were able to set up an ambush and captured most of the American troops - some 500 of them - at the Battle of Beaver Dams. It limited American control of the Niagara Peninsula in one of the war's most strategic victories.

In later years, she told differing stories about how she gained the intelligence. Some think she was protecting an American source who would have faced charges of treason. In any event, it wasn't until much later that the Prince of Wales - Queen Victoria's eldest son and future King Edward VII - heard the story on a visit to Canada and granted her an interview. She was 75. He later sent her a 100-pound award - her only official recognition during her lifetime for her actions. But today, a full-size statue of Laura Secord stands at Valliant's Memorial at Ottawa.

Today, it is likely that even many Canadians know the name only from the Laura Secord Chocolate Company, founded in 1913. The chocolates are supposed to be really good.

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