Advanced Warning to James FitzGibbon
Laura SECORD, a Queenston housewife whose husband had been injured during the BATTLE OF QUEENSTON HEIGHTS, overheard talk regarding the upcoming American attack. With her husband ailing, Secord trekked over 30 km toward Beaver Dams to warn the British troops, allegedly passing through American lines and at great risk to her safety, until she encountered an Aboriginal camp where she found a guide to lead her the rest of the way. Secord warned Fitzgibbon, but since she had no specifics on the advancing US forces, Fitzgibbon waited for more information. On the 24th, Aboriginal scouts reported the American advance to Captain Dominique DUCHARME of the Indian Department. He sent word to Fitzgibbon, and the ambush was on. To his great regret, Boerstler was aware that the Aboriginals had spotted him, but pressed on with his advance.
The Battle of Beaver Dams
A party of 300 Caughnawaga attacked the Americans from the rear along an enclosed, wooded section of the trail near Beaver Dams [Thorold, Ont]. They were soon joined by 100 Mohawk warriors led by Captain William Kerr. After three hours of firing at shadows, the American forces were ready to surrender, but feared what Aboriginal soldiers might do to them as prisoners. Fitzgibbon arrived with 50 soldiers of his own 49th Regiment. According to Fitzgibbon, he was able to begin the process of surrender in part because of the terror the Aboriginal soldiers had instilled in the Americans, and in part because he had persuaded Boerstler that his own force of fewer than 50 regulars was simply the vanguard of a larger British contingent lurking behind the trees and that, if the fighting continued, it might be impossible to control the savagery of the warriors. Still, it was only when Major P. W. De Haren of the 104th Regiment arrived with large reinforcements that a surrender was formally reached, and by De Haren himself. When the dust settled, 5 Aboriginal chiefs and warriors were said to have been killed, and 20-25 wounded. The Americans suffered 25 dead and 50 injured, including the commander, Boerstler.
Aftermath of the Battle of Beaver Dams
It was later generally accepted that "the Cognawaga Indians fought the battle, the Mohawks or Six Nations got the plunder, and FitzGibbon got the credit," a slogan attributed to Mohawk leader John NORTON, who had fought at Beaver Dams. But Fitzgibbon himself noted that the credit that was his due was in seizing an opportunity for using fear, not bullets, rooted in the successful guerilla tactics of the Aboriginal forces. He wrote, "With respect to the affair with Captain (sic) Boerstler, not a shot was fired on our side by any but the Indians. They beat the American detachment into a state of terror, and the only share I claim is taking advantage of a favourable moment to offer them protection from the tomahawk and scalping knife. The Indian Department did the rest." Along with their defeat at STONEY CREEK three weeks earlier, the Battle of Beaver Dams left the Americans convinced that they could not safely venture from the protected confines of Fort George, and it led directly to the dismissal of the ailing Major General Henry DEARBORN, commander of US forces in Upper Canada, by US Secretary of War John Armstrong.
The controversy remains over how much credit for victory should be given to the Aboriginal or British leadership, as well as on how exactly Secord came to hear of the impending American attack. She herself would write many versions of both how she heard of the danger, and how she made her trek, some including the idea of bringing a milk cow and acting as if she was conducting farm business to act as a cover for her true intentions. Regardless, Secord's trek contributed to a decisive British victory in the battle of Beaver Dams.
Author JASON RIDLER
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Watch the Heritage Minute about Canadian herione Laura Secord. See also related online learning resources. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Battle of Beaver Dams National Historic Site
An informative website about the Battle of Beaver Dams National Historic Site in Ontario. From "Canada's Historic Places."
Laura Ingersoll (Secord)
A biography of Laura Ingersoll (Secord), a War of 1812 heroine. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
The De Cew House, Thorold (Ontario)
An image of the De Cew House, in Thorold, Ontario. The house was headquarters of British army officer James Fitzgibbon at the time of the Battle of Beaver Dams in the War of 1812. From the Toronto Public Library.
A biography of George Ryerson, militia officer, teacher, Methodist preacher, and Catholic Apostolic minister. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Laura Secord: a study in Canadian patriotism
Read the text of "Laura Secord: a study in Canadian patriotism," a 1907 address delivered by George Bryce before the Canadian Club of Winnipeg. From archive.org.
Veterans of the War of 1812
View a photo of veterans of the War of 1812. From left to right: John Smoke Johnson, Jacob Warner and John Tutlee. Warner and Tutlee were two of the Iroquois warriors who encountered Laura Secord as she approached the British camp to warn of an impending American invasion. The Iroquois led her to Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, whose troops mobilized and overcame the Americans. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Map: Laura Secord's Route
View a handwritten map purported to show Laura Secord’s route from Queenston to Beaverdams during the War of 1812. Click on the image to enlarge the view. From 1812history.com.
A biography of Dominique Ducharme (baptized François), fur trader, militia officer, office holder, and justice of the peace. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
A biography of James FitzGibbon, soldier and public servant. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Aboriginal People in the Canadian Military: In Defence of their Homelands
Scroll down the page for an illustrated account of how the leaders of the First Nations actively supported the British fight against American forces in the War of 1812. From the website for the Department of National Defence.
Battle of Beaverdams Park
An information site about Battle of Beaverdams Park, which commemorates the June 24, 1813 Battle of Beaverdams. Click on the left side menu for details of other historic and heritage sites in the Niagara region.
Thorold & Beaverdams Historical Society
View colourful stories about Thorold's history and noteworthy personalities.
The fight in the Beechwoods: a study in Canadian history
Read a digitized copy of a book that offers a detailed account of the Battle of Beaver Dams and related events during the War of 1812. From ourroots.ca.
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