Mary Secord: A Canadian Ballad of 1813 by Fidelis

[Curator’s note: The Mary Secord referred to in this poem is actually Laura Secord. Fidelis was the pen name of Agnes Maule Machar. A later version of this poem can be found here.]

The sweet June moonlight softly fell
    On meadow, wood, and stream
Where, 'neath the crags of Queenston Heights,
    The green waves darkly gleam.

Alone the whip-poor-will’s sad cry
    Blent with the murmuring pines,
Save where the sentry paced his rounds
    Along the Yankee lines.

But, in one lowly cottage home,
    Were sorrow and dismay ;—
Two troubled watchers might not sleep
    For tidings heard that day.

Brave James Secord—no craven heart,
    Beat in that crippled frame
That bore the scars of 'Queenston Heights'—
    —Back to his cabin came.

With tidings of a secret plan
    Fitzgibbon to surprise,
As, with his handful of brave men,
    At Beaver Dam he lies ;—

For Boerstler, with seven hundred men,
    And guns, and warlike store,
Will steal upon our outpost there
    Guarded by scarce two-score !

‘Then, crushed at once, as it must be,
    Our gallant little band !
The foe will press to force the heights
    And sweep the conquered land !

‘Then noble Brock had died in vain !
    —If but Fitzgibbon knew !—
But the poor cripple’s foot is stayed,
    Though brave his heart and true.

Then Mary, bending o’er her babes,
    Looked up, and smiled through tears ; —
‘These are not times for brave men’s wives
    To yield to women's fears !

‘You cannot go to warn our men,—
    They would not let you through ;
But if they'll let a woman pass,
    This errand I will do.’

She soothed away his anxious 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.

Then to her faithful cow she went ;
    —The sentry at the lines
Forgot to watch, as both were lost
    Among the sheltering pines.

The rising sun’s first golden rays
    Glanced through the forest aisles
And lighted up its sombre depths
    With changeful golden smiles.

The fragrant odour of the pines,—
    The birds' fresh carols sweet—
Breathed courage to the trembling heart
    And strength to faltering feet.

And on she pressed, with steadfast tread,
    Her solitary way,
Through tangled brake, and sodden marsh,
    Through all the sultry day ;—

Though for the morning songs of birds,
    She heard the wolf’s hoarse cry,
And saw the rattle-snake glide forth,
    From ferny covert nigh.

She stopped not short for running stream
    —The way found by the will,—
Nor for the pleading voice of friends
    At fair St. David’s Mill.

The British sentry heard her tale
    And cheered her on her way,
But bade her ‘ware the Indian scouts
    That in the covert lay.

Anon,— as cracked a rotten bough,
    Beneath her wary tread,
She heard them shouting through the gloom—
    She heard their war-whoop dread.

But quickly, to the questioning chief,
    She told her errand brave,—
How she had come a weary way
    Fitzgibbon’s men to save !

The red-skin heard, and kindly looked
    Upon the pale-faced 'squaw ;'—
Her faithful courage touched his heart,
    Her weary look he saw.

‘Me go with you’ —was all he said,—
    His warriors waved away, —
He led her safe to Beaver Dam,
    Where brave Fitzgibbon lay.

With throbbing heart her tale she told ;
    Full well Fitzgibbon knew
How great the threatened danger was,
    If such a tale were true !

Then to De Haven swift he sent
    To call him to his side,—
And all the moon-lit summer night,
    Swords clash and troopers ride,—

While Mary, in a farm-house near,
    In dreamless slumber lay,
And woke to find her gallant friends
    Had fought and gained the day !

If e’er Canadian courage fail,
    Or loyalty grow cold,
Or nerveless grow Canadian hearts,
    Then be the story told,—

How woman's will and woman's wit
    Then played its noblest part,
—How British valour saved the land,
    And woman’s dauntless heart !

Source: G. Mercer Adam (ed.) Rose-Belford’s Canadian Monthly and National Review, vol 4, Jan-June 1880. Toronto: Rose-Belford Publishing Co., 1880

Click here to see a later version of this poem, published in 1902, under the title Laura Secord and using Fidelis’ real name, Agnes Maule Machar.

Read about the life of Machar

Read about the Battle of Beaverdams

Read more poems about the War of 1812

Parked at the Mall by Heather Price

Heather Price
Photo by Mike DiBattista, 2009

Daredevils have been at the Falls
1812 brought us cannon balls
Laura Secord was dear
Warned British the U.S. was near
Now we fight to get parked at the mall

Source: Laroque, Corey. Here’s What the Poets are Saying. Niagara Falls, Ont.: Niagara Falls Review, November 21, 2009

This limerick won 1st place in the So You Think You Can Rhyme (2009) Limerick Contest to find Niagara Falls’ Poet Laureate

Read about Heather Price

Go to the Limericks page

A Ballad For Brave Women by Charles Mair

Monument and bust of Laura Secord, heroine of Battle of Beaver Dam, Beaver Dam, Ontario, Canada, stereograph, 1908
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A STORY worth telling, our annals afford,
’Tis the wonderful journey of Laura Secord!
Her poor crippled spouse hobbled home
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡With the news
That Bœrstler was nigh ! “Not a minute to lose,
Not an instant,” said Laura, “for stoppage or pause—
I must hurry and warn our brave troops at Decaws.”
“What ! you !” said her husband “to famish and tire !”
“Yes, me !” said brave Laura, her bosom on fire.
“And how will you pass the gruff sentry ?” said he,
“Who is posted so near us ?”

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“Just wait till you see ;
The foe is approaching, and means to surprise
Our troops, as you tell me. Oh, husband, there flies
No dove with a message so needful as this—
I’ll take it, I’ll bear it, good bye, with a kiss.”
Then a biscuit she ate, tucked her skirts well about,
And a bucket she slung on each arm, and went out

’Twas the bright blush of dawn, when the stars melt from sight,
Dissolved by its breath like a dream of the night ;
When heaven seems opening on man and his pain,
Ere the rude day strengthens, and shuts it again.
But Laura had eyes for her duty alone—
She marked not the glow and the gloom that were thrown
By the nurslings of morn, by the cloud-lands at rest,
By the spells of the East, and the weirds of the West.  
Behind was the foe, full of craft and of guile ;
Before her, a long day of travel and toil.
“No time this for gazing,” said Laura, as near
To the sentry she drew.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“Halt ! you cannot pass here.”
“I cannot pass here ! Why sirrah you drowse,
Are you blind ? Don’t you see I am off to my cows.”
“Well, well you can go.” So she wended her way
To the pasture’s lone side, where the farthest cow lay,
Got her up, caught a teat, and with pail at her knees,
Made her budge, inch by inch, till she drew by degrees
To the edge of the forest. “I’ve hoaxed, on my word,
Both you and the sentry,” said Laura Secord.

With a lingering look at her home, then away
She sped through the wild wood—a wilderness gray—
Nature’s privacy, haunt of a virgin sublime
And the mother who bore her, as ancient as Time ;
Where the linden had space for its fans and its flowers,
The balsam its tents, and the cedar its bowers ;
Where the lord of the forest, the oak, had its realm,
The ash its domain, and its kingdom the elm ;
Where the pine bowed its antlers in tempests, and gave
To the ocean of leaves the wild dash of the wave,
And the mystical hemlock—The forest’s high-priest—
Hung its weird, raking, top-gallant branch to the east.

And denser and deeper the solitude grew,
The underwood thickened, and drenched her with dew ;
She tripped over moss-covered logs, fell, arose,
Sped, and stumbled again by the hour, till her clothes
Were rent by the branches, and thorns, and her feet
Grew tender and way-worn and blistered with heat.
And on, ever on, through the forest she passed,
Her soul in her task, but each pulse beating fast,
For shadowy forms seemed to flit from the glades
And beckon her into their limitless shades :
And mystical sounds—in the forest alone,
Ah! who has not heard them ?—the voices, the moan,
Or the sigh of mute nature, which sinks on the ear,
And fills us with sadness or thrills us with fear ?
And who, lone and lost, in the wilderness deep,
Has not felt the strange fancies, the tremors which creep,
And assemble within, till the heart ’gins to fail,
The courage to flinch, and the cheeks to grow pale,
’Midst the shadows which mantle the spirit that broods
In the sombre, the deep haunted heart of the woods ?

She stopped—it was noonday. The wilds she espied
Seemed solitudes numberless. “Help me !” she cried ;
Her piteous lips parched with thirst, and her eyes
Strained with gazing. The sun in his infinite skies
Looked down on no creature more hapless than she,
For woman is woman where’er she may be.
For a moment she faltered, then came to her side
The heroine’s spirit—the Angel of Pride.
One moment she faltered. Beware ! What is this ?
The coil of the serpent ! the rattlesnake’s hiss !
One moment, then onward, What sounds far and near ?
The howl of the wolf, yet she turned not in fear
Nor bent from her course, till her eye caught a gleam
From the woods of a meadow through which flowed a stream,
Pure and sweet with the savour of leaf and of flower.
By the night dew distilled, and the soft forest shower ;
Pure and cold as its spring in the rock crystalline,
Whence it gurgled and gushed ’twixt the roots of the pine.

And blessed above bliss is the pleasure of thirst,
Where there’s water to quench it ; for pleasure is nursed
In the cradle of pain, and twin marvels are they
Whose inter-dependence is born with our clay.
Yes, blessed is water, and blessed is thirst,  
Where there’s water to quench it ; but this is the worst
Of this life, that we reck not the blessings God sends,
Till denied them. But Laura, who felt she had friends
In heaven as well as on earth, knew to thank
The giver of all things, and gratefully drank.

Once more on the pathway, through swamp and through mire,
Through covert and thicket, through bramble and brier,
She toiled to the highway, then over the hill,
And down the deep valley, and past the new mill,
And through the next woods, till, at sunset, she came
To the first British picket and murmured her name ;
Thence, guarded by Indians, footsore and pale
She was led to Fitzgibbon, and told him her tale.

For a moment her reason forsook her ; she raved,
She laughed, and she cried—“They are saved, they are saved !”
Then her senses returned, and with thanks loud and deep
Sounding sweetly around her she sank into sleep.
And Bœrstler came up, but his movements were known,
His force was surrounded, his scheme was o’erthrown
By a woman’s devotion—on stone be’t engraved—
The foeman was beaten and Burlington saved.

Ah ! faithful to death were our women of yore !
Have they fled with the past to be heard of no more ?
No, no ! Though this laurelled one sleeps in the grave,
We have maidens as true, we have matrons as brave ;
And should Canada ever be forced to the test—
To spend for our country the blood of her best !
When her sons lift the linstock and brandish the sword,
Her daughters will think of brave Laura Secord !

Source: Raise the Flag and Other Patriotic Canadian Songs and Poems. Toronto: Rose Publishing, 1891

Mair originally published this poem possibly in 1888 – the following was written in Grip, July 7, 1888:

The heroic conduct of Mrs. Laura Secord in apprising the British of the contemplated attack of Bœrstler’s forces in 1812, is once again made the subject of a poem, and this time the same hand that gave in Tecumseh, Vide the Week of June 21st. A first rate piece of work by a Canadian author is something uncommon enough to evoke enthusiasm, and the bard of Price Albert rarely fails to “do us proud.” After reading his latest we unanimously shout “Give us Mair, Charles, give us Mair!”

Read about Charles Mair



Laura Secord by Agnes Maule Machar

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.

Laura Secord  Monument
 Drummond Hill Cemetery, Niagara Falls.
Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

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’

Read about the life of Machar

Read about the Battle of Beaverdams

Read more poems about the War of 1812


Laura Secord; or, The Battle of Beaver Dams by Lieut.-Col. J. R. Wilkinson

wilkinson laura

wilkinson laura
Laura Secord warns British commander James FitzGibbon of an impending American attack at Beaver Dams. by Lorne Kidd Smith, 1920. Library and Archives Canada reproduction reference number C-011053

Fought June 24th, 1813. British 47 Regulars and 200 Indians. Americans, 570 with 50 cavalry and 3 guns

She knew, and her heart beat faster,
‡‡The foe would march that day !
And resolved, though only a woman,
‡‡To silently steal away
And warn the outpost at Beaver Dams ;
‡‡Alone, and on foot, to go
Through the dim and awesome forest,
‡‡To evade the vigilant foe.

And no one thought of a woman,
‡‡And she gained a path she knew
In the lonesome, stately forest,
‡‡And over the dark way flew.
On and on with a beating heart,
‡‡And never a pause for rest ;
Twenty miles of dim and distance,
‡‡And the sun low down the west.

Startled sometimes to terror
‡‡By the blood-curdling cry
Of wolves from the faint far distance,
‡‡And sometimes nearer by ;
And hollow sounds and weird whispers
‡‡That rose from the forest deep ;
And ghostly and phantom voices
‡‡That caused her nerves to creep.

But she pauses not, nor falters,
‡‡But presses along the way ;
Noiselessly through the dread distance,
‡‡Through the shadows weird and gray.
In time must the warning be given,
‡‡She must not, must not fail ;
Though rough is the path and toilsome,
‡‡Her courage must prevail.

“To arms ! to arms, FitzGibbon !”
‡‡Came a woman’s thrilling cry ;
“Lose not a precious moment —
‡‡The foe ! the foe is nigh !”
And a woman pale and weary
‡‡Burst on the startled sight
Out from the dark, awesome forest,
‡‡Out of the shadowy night.

“They come ! they come six hundred strong,
‡‡Stealing upon you here !
But I, a weak woman, tell you,
‡‡Prepare and have no fear.”
The handful of British heroes
‡‡Resolved the outpost to save,
With the aid of two hundred Indians,
‡‡Allies cunning and brave.

Still as death the line is waiting
‡‡The onset of the foe ;
And the summer winds make whisper
‡‡In the foliage soft and low.
“Ready !” and each heart beats faster ;
‡‡“Fire low, and without fear.”
And they fired a crashing volley,
‡‡And gave a defiant cheer.

Staggered by the deadly missiles,
‡‡That like a mighty blow
Fell swift on the line advancing,
‡‡Fell on the astonished foe.
And for two long, desperate hours
‡‡The furious fight raged there,
Till the foemen, foiled and beaten,
‡‡Surrendered in despair.

Well done, valiant FitzGibbon !
‡‡Thy name shall live in story ;
Thy daring feat of arms that day
‡‡Is wreathed with fadeless glory.
One other name my song would praise,
‡‡A patriot soul so brave,
That dared the forest’s lonely wilds
‡‡FitzGibbon’s post to save.

Noble woman ! heroic soul !
‡‡We would honor thee to-day ;
Thou canst not, shall not be forgot.
‡‡More lustrous is the ray
Time relects upon thy deed.
‡‡Thy talismanic name —
Canadians, sound it through the land,
‡‡Perpetuate her fadeless fame !

Source: Lieut.-Col. J. R. Wilkinson. Canadian Battlefields and Other Poems. 2nd ed. Toronto, William Briggs, 1901

Click here to see other poems of the Battle of Beaverdams and the War of 1812

wilkinson laura