During the so-called war of 1812-14 between England and the United States, Laura Secord, the wife of a crippled British veteran, saved the British forces from surprise and possible destruction by the heroic action narrated in the ballad. Her home lay near the celebrated Queenston Heights, a few miles from the Falls of Niagara.
Softly the spell of moonlight fell
‡‡On the swift river’s flow,
On the gray crags of Queenston Heights,
‡‡And the green waves below.
Alone the whip-poor-will’s sad cry
‡‡Blent with the murmuring pines,
Save where the sentry paced his rounds
‡‡Along th’ invading lines.
But in one lowly cottage home
‡‡Were trouble and dismay ;
Two anxious watchers could not sleep
‡‡For tidings heard that day ;
Brave James Secord, with troubled heart,
‡‡And weary crippled frame,
That bore the scars of Queenston Heights,
‡‡Back to his cottage came ;
For he had learned a dark design
‡‡Fitzgibbon to surprise,
As with a handful of brave men
‡‡At Beaver Dam he lies.
‘And Boerstler, with eight hundred men,
‡‡Is moving from the shore
To steal upon our outpost there,
‡‡Guarded by scarce two score !
‘Then, wiping out, as well he may,
‡‡That gallant little band,
The foe will sweep his onward way
‡‡O’er the defenceless land.
‘Then noble Brock had died in vain—
‡‡If but Fitzgibbon knew !’—
And the poor cripple’s heart is fain
‡‡To press the journey through.
But Laura, bending o’er her babes,
‡‡Said, smiling through her tears :
‘These are not times for brave men’s wives
‡‡To yield to craven fears.
‘You cannot go to warn our men,
‡‡Or slip the outposts through ;
But if perchance they let me pass,
‡‡This errand I will do.’
She soothed his anxious doubts and fears :
‡‡She knew the forest way ;
She put her trust in Him who hears
‡‡His children when they pray !
Soon as the rosy flush of dawn
‡‡Glowed through the purple air,
She rose to household tasks—and kissed
‡‡Her babes with whispered prayer.
To milk her grazing cow she went ;
‡‡The sentry at the lines
Forgot to watch, as both were lost
‡‡Amid the sheltering pines.
The rising sun’s first golden rays
‡‡Gleamed through the forest dim,
And through its leafy arches rang
‡‡The birds’ sweet morning hymn.
The fragrant odour of the pines,
‡‡The carols gay and sweet,
Gave courage to the fluttering heart,
‡‡And strength to faltering feet.
And on she pressed, with steadfast tread,
‡‡Her solitary way,
O’er tangled brake and sodden swamp
‡‡Through all the sultry day.
Though, for the morning songs of birds
‡‡She heard the wolf’s hoarse cry,
And saw the rattlesnake glide forth,
‡‡As swift she hurried by.
Nor dark morass nor rushing stream
‡‡Could balk the steadfast will,
Nor pleading voice of anxious friends
‡‡Where stood St. David’s Mill.
The British sentry heard her tale,
‡‡And cheered her on her way ;
But bade her ‘ware the Indian scouts
‡‡Who in the covert lay.
Anon, as cracked a rotten bough
‡‡Beneath her wary feet,
She heard their war-whoop through the gloom,
‡‡Their steps advancing fleet ;
But quickly to the questioning chief
‡‡She told her errand grave
How she had walked the livelong day
‡‡Fitzgibbon’s men to save !
The redskin heard, and kindly gazed
‡‡Upon the pale-faced squaw ;
Her faithful courage touched his heart,
‡‡Her weary look he saw.
‘Me go with you’ was all he said,
‡‡And through the forest gray
He led her safe to Beaver Dam,
‡‡Where brave Fitzgibbon lay.
With throbbing heart she told her tale ;
‡‡They heard with anxious heed,
Who knew how grave the crisis was.
‡‡How urgent was the need !
Then there was riding far and near,
‡‡And mustering to and fro
Of troops and Indians from the rear
‡‡To meet the coming foe ;
And such the bold, determined stand
‡‡Those few brave soldiers made—
So fiercely fought the Indian band
‡‡From forest ambuscade,—
That Boerstler in the first surprise
‡‡Surrendered in despair,
To force so small it scarce could serve
‡‡To keep the prisoners there !
While the brave weary messenger
‡‡In dreamless slumber lay,
And woke to find her gallant friends
‡‡Were masters of the fray.
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
If e’er Canadian courage fail,
‡‡Or loyalty grow cold,
Or nerveless grow Canadian hearts,
‡‡Then be the story told—
How British gallantry and skill
‡‡There played their noblest part,
Yet scarce had won if there had failed
‡‡One woman’s dauntless heart !
Source: Agnes Maule Machar. Lays of the ‘True North’ and Other Canadian Poems. 2nd enlarged ed. London: E. Stock, 1902
Click here to see an earlier version of this poem, published in 1880, under the title Mary Secord and using Machar’s pen name ‘Fidelis’